Skip to main content

What keeps me awake at night - The dilemmas of a working mother

Tuesday, Midday. Phone call from nursery: "I'm really sorry... you know I wouldn't normally call you... temperature 38 degsC... " Every working mother's nightmare.

Quite how the adrenalin rush caused me to think I could teach an observed lesson with a snotty two-year-old in tow, I am not sure. But there I was, standing in the school reception with my daughter, with just 15 minutes to go until lesson time.

I was wondering if I could get away with having her in the classroom. It would be unprofessional if I did, and possibly illegal. Or at least a health and safety risk.

But it would also be unprofessional to go home when no cover was available, leaving my teaching assistant to manage on her own. Everyone had been off sick that week and I knew that childless staff and those beyond the baby days were judging - not least the headteacher. So what to do?

In my case, a colleague and fellow working mother rescued me, doubling up her class and mine and sending me home with my unwell child. Then my husband took two days off (annual leave) to care for her. But I knew that the leadership team was counting every hour I had missed and carefully adding them up to the three emergency days permitted before docking my pay.

Just yesterday I talked to a woman whose contract allows no emergency parental time at all. I know my colleagues scan the cover list voraciously each day looking for the dreaded "personal" comment next to people's names, gossiping about why they are not in front of their class.

I went to an interview this week. I did not get the job. The person that did, warranted I am sure, was younger; child free. I am not saying that an illegal decision was made with regards to equal opportunities. But I imagine this person had more opportunity to prepare an outstanding lesson and 10-minute vision presentation than me. I did my preparation while shovelling fish fingers and beans into my child's mouth, sitting in semi-darkness waiting for her to fall asleep and in the car at the interview school after four hours' sleep, having been woken five times for milk, medicine and lost blankets.

I love my daughter dearly; she has brought immeasurable joy to my life. But before I embarked on the journey of motherhood I had no idea how much it would affect my career. I used to want to be a head - and part of me still does. I used to look at older teaching colleagues (female and male) and wonder why they had stayed in the same position in the same school for so long. Now I know. They are just too damn tired from lying awake (and being woken) at night to do anything else.

The writer is a teacher in Suffolk. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you