I kept my children a secret

I was 31 when I had my first child. We’d been living in Jakarta for 5 months when she was born. I was a long way from family but I had an amazing support network of friends and fellow new mothers to talk to. When I think about how we got together for coffee while talking about nappy rash, boobs and bottles – I also remember a lot of conversations about careers, future study, travel and the current rate of the rupiah against the dollar.

The group was like any group of women, amongst them was a chef, a nurse, a lawyer, a teacher and a few of the woman had already began studying either for a career change or just to improve their chances when returning to work. I just assumed I’d take a year off and then return to the world of HR and recruitment – I loved the industry and I’d watched other woman take time off for children and return to work. No big deal, right?

Except it didn’t quite work that way. To say my career faced some obstacles would be an understatement. We moved, I became pregnant again, I was told “we don’t do part-time” by the office in KL (the same company I had worked for in Australia) and then we moved again, and again, and again. In each location I would find the same thing, a network of displaced women. Women who’d all assumed and hoped that finding work in their new country would just fall in to place.

Eventually though, it did all work out. We moved to Canada and after getting the house set up and the children in school, I investigated hiring someone who I could trust to look after the Little Travelers (Hello Rona – we miss you so much!) and I went and got myself a job back in the industry I loved.

In those first few weeks back at work I came home exhilarated. People asked my advice, I went to meetings, I found people jobs, jobs that they really needed and wanted – people thanked me. I spoke to different companies about their recruitment needs. I went on sales calls. All of the things I had taken for granted before children, I now lived for. It was as if my brain exploded, words I’d forgotten returned to my vocabulary.

I just never mentioned my children.

For the first month my desk was bare. There were no pictures of Travelers 1, 2, 3 and 4 – I didn’t bring them up in conversation. At the time, the guy who sat in the cubicle behind me was about 25, I’d listen as he explained his woes of tiredness to me. He was so busy. “You should’ve come last night!  The DJ was awesome – he didn’t come on until 1 though” and I’d smile to myself thinking that it was about the same time that the youngest little traveler woke up and wouldn’t go back to sleep. For that entire first month I went to work dressed as one woman and came home and became another.


Tell me which one of these terms sounds appealing to you?

School Mum
Soccer Mum
Stay at Home Mum
Class Mum
Stage Mum
Tiger Mum

Or, if you really want to make a woman feel good, try calling her “Mumsy”, as in, her hair/jeans are a little “mumsy”. Why thank you very much!

Being called a “Mum” still has an undertone. We all know it, we’ve all talked about it, there’s been films, books, articles, it’s all been said before, but we still haven’t quite worked out how to change the perception. If we choose to have a few years at home with our children, how do we deal with the image change. How do you deal with the person at the dinner party who has assumed your days have been spent painting your nails in front of Oprah while reading about Kim Kardashian and a desperate Housewife. If only Stay at Home Mums really got to stay at home.

After I’d been at work for a month there were a few changes. The area that I was working in experienced some growth. My role changed and expanded. As time moved on we hired another person, then another and another and then we moved to our own office because we’d outgrown the one we were in. In my new office my desk was littered with pictures of The Little Travelers, I spoke about them daily and it’s highly likely I bored my colleagues with stories of their conversations. The Little Travelers had people in the office that they adored and looked forward to those trips to the office where there was a possibility of a sneaky Mars Bar from one of Mums work friends.

When I look back at that time in my life I realize I needed to compartmentalize those two women. I was nervous about returning to work and feeling very insecure about my time away. I felt tremendous guilt about leaving a baby at home and not being able to have the same presence in my the little travelers lives. I wanted to be able to just put my head down and get on with the job.

That’s what all us “Mumsy” folk want. We just want to get on with the job, wherever that may be.

Have you ever kept your children a secret?

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  1. Well no, I haven’t felt the need to, but I can see why you did. I think it gets worse (well it feels worse); the mumsy perception, the more children you have. FWIW I hate the yummy mummy tag too, even though it’s meant to be complimentary…. I am not just a mum, I am ME, whihc actually came first. Tha’ts why I think it is perfectly fine to keep your children a secret, as they are another part of your life, but not the only part.

  2. We became “travelers” after one year of marriage and way before children.  So I got to work. Then we moved from Abu Dhabi to Balikpapan, Indonesia. As I handed in my resignation letter, my boss said, “Oh, Indonesia!  We have a hotel in Jakarta. I’ll write the manager  because I am sure they would love to have you.”  Yeah, not Jakarta.   Balikpapan. On Borneo. Where there was one hotel of any note. But you know, my elder daughter was born when we lived there, and I have never looked back.  Loved being full time mother.  Teacher. Craft instructor. Cooking guru.  Driver. Home room mom.  Grade level coordinator. Counselor.  Mediator. Etc.,  etc.  My two are off at university now and I wouldn’t trade those years for ANYTHING.  Even if I did want to resign every now and again. 

  3. I haven’t exactly hidden them but I downplay the “mum” part of my life when I’m out with other adults. Given that I write and run a charity, I’m not lying around painting my nails either; in fact I’m usually running at full pace, but because it’s all from home it sounds so well, mum-ish!

  4. You’re so right about so many things. I remember a colleague jokingly saying a meeting “how many kids have you got now? About 10 right??” Yummy Mummy is a hideous term, we are constantly told not to call our little girls pretty yet here’s the same idea just served up to a different age group of women. I loved your comment. Thanks

  5. So many familiar names! I have three lots of friends that were in Balikpapan and G traveled there regularly. I remember the job adverts in the paper in Indonesia “must be under 30, unmarried and attractive”. 

  6. You hit the nail on the head, so many of us do try and downplay the “Mum” in social situations. It’s like arriving at the fancy restaurant in your people mover with cherios stuck to the seats – very hard to look cool.

  7. Kirsty, I’m one of the lucky ones who met you during your career in Canada.  I say lucky because you always added a lively spark to conversations. 

    For what it’s worth, when I’m hiring, I am very interested in people who have run a household.  There is no better teacher of consequences, accountability and juggling priorities than a family with small children.  You gals are awesome!

    Your former colleague,

  8. And, now, in Kuala Lumpur, they add: Chinese only or Malay only.  Where I come from you,  are not allowed to prefer an ethnicity!  Ah, well. All part of being a traveler.

  9. Far out Mrs, are you in my head?! I just got off the phone from someone and we were talking a LOT  regarding work. I was explaining to her that I wanted to make sure my next role was in an agency where I could lie by omission and forget to tell anyone about my children. So I can just be “Lucy who is really good at her job”, rather than “Lucy who has three kids who might be good at her job…”

    I love that you make so much sense – in turn, you lift all my guilt away.


  10. Now that my boobs aren’t advertising the fact that I’m a mum (which leaky breast pads tend to do…), I might be able to get away with the whole ‘omission’ thing…except, my son goes to the school I teach at. And he simply insists on calling me Mummy. Dammit.

  11. Nope! My problem with working and reason I stopped when my daughter was 18 months old was that people *expected* me to compartmentalize, as in: This is where you work.  Please leave all maternal feelings and obligations at the door.  

    I seek a place of work where I *don’t* need to keep my mommy self and my other self separate, where walking out of the office to visit my son in a nursery 50 feet away “just to visit” or to nurse him or because I feel like it will make perfect sense, where bringing my baby on the job to feed him or her will be fine, where leaving the job at 2PM to catch the Christmas play will be fine.  Most office cultures are simply not there yet, which I why I choose to stay away from them.  

  12. You are definitely not on your own on this one. As you now know! xo

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