Did you know our generation of women have it easier than ever? In fact life is peachy.
We have chipped away at the glass ceiling and slowly dug our manicured nails through the cracks. We can have babies without men, years past our prime, with a surgically enhanced face that never takes us past 29. We can shag whoever we fancy and broadcast it to the world. We can work where we want, dress as we please and do as much or as little as we feel like. We are completely free and unrestrained and we can have it all, right now, easy peasy. Or can we?
Those staunch Victorian suffragettes, throwing themselves in front of horses for the female vote, have a lot to answer for. Those peace loving hippies of the 60’s singing about free love and equality, have a lot answer for. Those power dressing, pussy-bow wearing, shoulder-pad wielding business women of the 80’s acting like men for a fraction of the recognition, have a lot to answer for. These women wanted choice, liberation and freedom so that we could live a life unleashed. But what they never imagined was that along with winning us the right to Have It All, the women of the 2,000’s are still expected to Do It All. And mums with ambition have it the hardest.
Before having kids these woman had a taste of the Everything, and now their need for motherhood has been sated they are coming to the harsh realisation that equality is really just a big myth. In the eyes of your baby only the mummy is the mummy and you are needed around the clock, no matter how much we are told that we can be lots of things at once. You can’t tick motherhood off your To Do list and move on. Going back to being that carefree girl while also being a mum may be Having It All, but it’s bloody hard work, because it means spinning more plates than our little lady hands can manage. And woe behold the woman who drops a plate and sends it crashing to the floor, because she will feel a bigger failure than any stifled housewife of the 1950’s ever did. So how do these Supermums do it? Or just your average, everyday mum that craves a little something more?
I’m a mother of two small children with my own business. I also live in a different country from my family (read ‘people that can help me out’) and I’m in the process of promoting my first novel of a three book publishing deal. People ask me two questions; ‘How do you do it?’ and ‘Why do you put so much on your (spinning) plate?’
Why? That’s the easy bit. Because us women have the freedom to, and it seems like a disrespectful waste of brave women’s lives not to take life by its ever decreasing balls and squeeze as much out of it as we can. Because I have a brain I want to use, dreams I want to see materialise and ambition to reach my zenith. The trickier question is How? How a woman juggles what she juggles (and let’s face it, every mother runs the life of more than one person) is the million dollar question. We read about the celebrities that ping back into their size 6 bikinis the day after giving birth whilst blogging with one hand and breastfeeding twins with the other, and the female FTSE 100 Directors with five children, who turn over a 6 figure salary and feed the homeless in their spare time. Those articles tell you what you could be, what you should be, what your flaws and weaknesses are by not even coming close. They are a lie. They don’t tell you what it takes to Have It All, they don’t show you the behind the scenes and they don’t show you the women’s tears of desperation at trying to prove themselves to the world. I’m here to tell you the harsh truth. If you want to find the magic balance between the ‘I have tos’ and the ‘I want tos’ in your life; if you want to be a mum who goes back to school, writes a novel, starts her own business or takes up a new hobby, then this is the Top Ten Countdown of what it takes. Whether it’s worth the hard work, only you can answer…
1. YOU WILL BE CALLED SELFISH
I’m not sure when it became selfish to do what makes you happy, or if it’s just a mum thing (do dads get told working overtime or playing golf on the weekend is selfish?), but it’s a fact. So be ready for it. Smile, tell the world the best mum is a happy mum, and in your head give them the finger.
2. SLEEP CEASES TO EXIST
Your children will need you and they are your number one priority, and when they are ill or hurt or scared only mummy will do and that’s your full time job. They won’t care if you got to bed late or have a migraine, because if they want to watch Postman Pat at 6am then you will too. So deal with it. Because you have 24 hours in your day, and once you have dealt with your ‘Have tos’ what is left for you is not all that much, so sleep will be affected. Which leads me on to …
3. SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE
If you really want to fulfil your ambitions while being a mum of little ones then you have to sacrifice something. And I suggest it’s not your marriage!The same as you make time for the kids, make time for your partner, because it’s all too easy to stick them on the back burner and think they can look after themselves. They can, but it builds resentment and distance and you need them now more than ever. Instead give up TV (seriously, who cares what happens in Eastenders? You have your own exciting life now!), the News (don’t panic, you will be amazed how you won’t miss the important stuff without tuning in every two hours and reading a newspaper front to back) and swap pampering and hot soaks in the bath for showers and a quick fix. There, you have a whole evening now.
4. GET A ROUTINE & GET ORGANISED If you know when your kids will be asleep by and when dinner will be over with, you can plan your evening activities. Especially the mornings before the school/work run and the bedtime routines. Think ahead so you aren’t looking for the kid’s gym gear or your car keys when you are already late. It’s as simple as that.
5. GET HELP It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you clever. Not even the most organised of women can run a home, children, a job, study, look presentable, feed her family and have time to sleep and breath all in one day. Not on her own, no matter what celebrity Mega Mums say. If you can afford it, put the kids in playgroup a few morning a week or ask Grandma to have them occassionally. Get a cleaner for a couple of hours a week to do the tough stuff (for the same price as the night out you have no time for any more, but more useful) and you can keep on top of it the rest of the time. See if your partner can take some of the load. Teach your kids to clear up after themselves. Get a take-away once in a while. Have a babysitting circle among friends so you can save money and take it in turns to get out of the house. No one judges you when you say ‘I can’t manage all of this, will you give me a hand please?’…in fact you’re making others feel better about themselves, because you are human after all.
6. LET IT GO
You won’t be able to get everything done. There, I said it. There will be days your child goes to school with a creased uniform, or you have to go to a meeting with your hair scrunched up in a Peppa Pig bobble pony tail, or you find yourself bringing in the washing at midnight because it’s been outside for three days and the neighbours think you have died. It doesn’t matter. Like Queen Elsa says (and if you don’t know who she is, you need to spend more time with your kids) ‘Let it go, let it go, and I’ll rise like the break of dawn. Let it go, let it go, that perfect girl is gone!’
7. SET BOUNDARIES
You need to decide what gets done and when, so break up your precious 24hrs into chunks. In our household waking time until school time is all about the kids, as is from when I pick them up until bedtime. The daytime is spent juggling the house, errands and work. Evenings are work and my partner. Weekends are sacred family time, so not even supermarkets or To Do lists get a look in. By doing that I feel I have all areas covered, and if a client calls outside of their contractual hours – tough – they can wait until the next day. If you reply to emails at midnight, then you are only setting yourself up for working into the early hours of the morning. You have control over who gets dealt with and when.
8. EXPECT TO FEEL GUILTY, FOREVER
Every mum feels guilty. From the moment you see that little blue line appear on the pregnancy test you feel guilty, you feel like you are doing it all wrong and that everyone is better at it than you. And it only gets worse the more things you try to fit in around the kids. You feel bad when you promised to colour in the Disney Princess picture but you remember you have to make an urgent call. You feel bad that you ran out of time and had to buy a cake for the school fete instead of make one, like all the homely crafty mummies did. You feel bad when you have to cancel a client meeting because your child has an ear ache. You feel bad that you have just looked up from your laptop and realised your husband has been home for two hours and you didn’t notice. You will feel guilty about everything, but you would anyway, so keep going. No one hates you.
9. DREAM BIG BUT START SMALL
Be realistic. The younger your children are, the more they need you and the less you can manage. Start thinking of ideas and keep them in your head, move on to making notes and plans, then on to research…eventually, when you can delegate, juggle and even go to the loo without company, you can start seeing your dreams become a reality. And if it takes two years instead of two month, who cares? They are your deadlines, you can move them.
10. BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Don’t kill yourself. It’s ok to stop, have a day off, do nothing, treat yourself to something nice. It’s ok. I give you permission to sit down, cuddle the kids and ignore your To Do list. Live in the moment for a little bit, it’s nice there.
There will be days when you wonder why you are doing this to yourself, and everyone around you will too. But when your book is published, you get your degree or the job of your dreams you will look back on it (much as you do now after nine months of being pregnant and giving birth) and think ‘there, that wasn’t so bad! Now, what can I do next?’
A mother with ambition has a bright future ahead of her. She will live longer, because she will have exercised her brain and her craving for something more. Her marriage will be stronger, because she will have exciting wondrous things filling up her life that she can share with her life partner. She will be happy, hopeful, excited and full of positivity for the unknown. Her family will benefit from that, because there’s nothing better than a happy mum. And once those children she cherished and juggled, fought for and fought with, carried and cuddled through her busy life have gone to live their own life, she won’t get empty nest syndrome. Why? Because she lined her nest with more than just fluffy chicks. In fact she taught her babies how to fly by showing them how she too has soared the skies, and one day they will join her in places so high that they will have the world at their fingertips. So go on then, off you go , life is waiting for you…