The Mummy Whisperer wrote an interesting post the other day about whether you can have it all as a mother, as did the ever-articulate Muddling Along. There never seems to be the perfect solution to the perpetual juggling act. I have found myself having this conversation a great deal recently with mums I know well about how you can juggle work and children: it’s been on our collective minds I guess because our children all start school in September.
It seems to me that, as a mother, you are on duty 24/7, whether or not you go to work. This is not to be disparaging to fathers, especially the stay-at-home kind. They do an awesome job that, in many ways, is harder than being a stay-at-home mum, because stay-at-home-dads are not universally accepted yet: they are a rarity rather than the norm. But for mothers who work, there is always motherhood, because it is a state-of-mind rather than the switch-on, switch-off state that I assume fathers adopt. This may well be something to do with the way that men function emotionally: I have grown up with the belief that women have emotional responses to most situations and like to talk things through, whereas men are much more straightforward, keep things in and are better at compartmentalising work and private lives.
The mothers that I know who work have made the point to me that, even though both they and their husbands go to work, they find that they (the mothers) are the ones responsible for making sure that forms are filled in, uniforms ready, middle-of-the-night-cuddles given. They mention that their husbands or partners seem to switch into work mode when leaving the house, and don’t become Dad again until they are back from the office. I have definitely observed this in DH: he leaves with his ‘game face’ on, and needs time upon returning to divest himself of the trappings of his work before he becomes Dad and Husband once again. I have never had that ability.
When I worked after LBG was born though, I never really had that separation of work and home. Even when working, LBG was at the back of my mind. I wondered if she was OK, I reminded myself she needed a new coat, or that I had to call x to arrange a play date. Yet now that I am a stay-at-home mum, I recognise that there were moments of ‘adulthood’ in my working day that I just don’t get now. I am learning to insert ‘grown-up time’ into my schedule so that I have a break from the relentlessness of motherhood.
But here’s the thing. It’s taken four years of parenthood, many more years of being a woman, and I have made an unexpected discovery about myself: I have realised now that I don’t care about having it all. I don’t want it all. I don’t to be pulled in two different directions: to have the stress of coming home early to collect a sick child, then working late into the night when I just want to sit and cuddle them. Neither do I want a work wardrobe that I panic about getting detritus on when feeding the children breakfast. I don’t want to juggle so many things that I feel I am managing to achieve nothing. I don’t care that I am ‘just a mum‘.
I grew up with a female Prime Minister: a daily reminder that it is possible for women to achieve as much as men. I had two working class parents who were raised by women who stayed at home: the very idea that women could run the country was revolutionary. And my parents did all they could to give me the best start, the greatest chance, the firm belief that I could do anything. I was the very first person in the family to go to University.
I went to work, ironically helping families to better juggle careers and parenthood, carrying great aspirations with me. But the more I worked, the smaller my aspirations became. The older I got, the less keen I was on making huge strides. And then came my babies, the lack of sleep, the constantly-being-on-duty, the wanting to spend time with them. And I am now realising that this is enough: what I have right now. I have everything I ever dreamed off when I was eight: a wonderful husband who I adore; two bright, funny children; a house (OK, so it doesn’t have a picket fence, but they are hardly practical); a dog. And I am not ‘just a mum‘: I am able to do a lot for our children because my wonderful husband works such long hours. Those long hours mean I need to be available for The Girls, which could ruin my plans if I wanted a conventional job. But I have discovered and embraced the internet with this blog. Through it I have made local connections that have the potential to lead to interesting projects at a pace that suits me. I will be a Parent Class Rep next year, helping them support the school our girls attend. I have been asked to teach some of these parents how to bake. I am involved in setting up a craft group. I am in training to walk London with Shine again in 10 weeks’ time. But mostly I get to spend time with my children. And that is all that I need.
By the way, none of the photographs are strictly necessary. I just like throwing in gratuitous photographs.