Juggling work and motherhood, and feeling like you suck at both
I reached this point personally many years ago, and felt it each time I returned to work after baby number 1, 2 and 3.
I was undertaking two full time roles - working and parenting - and feeling like I was doing a crap job at both. I’ve always been the type of person to give my all, to be the best I can be in any given situation, and before I experienced the joy (note hint of sarcasm) of juggling work and motherhood, I succeeded in pretty much everything I took on. Pre kids, I smashed my career. I gave no less than 100% to my work (whilst working for a corporate and whilst running my own business) and I knew I was crushing it.
Then I had babies, and I applied the same work ethic to parenting. I set my standards high, and I was smug in the knowledge that I was bossing this parenting lark. I upped the ante and I felt great, satisfied that I couldn’t possibly give any more or do any better. Then I went back to work, and I naively expected to slip back into being the badass career woman I once was, whilst continuing to be Mary bloody Poppins at home.
The bar that had been set in our household was so high that of course, I was never going to reach it, and ultimately, having only experienced the feeling of ‘winning’ at work and ’winning ‘at home, combine the two roles and I now felt like I was losing both races.
I’ve thought about it so much over the years, and it remains a favoured theme amongst many mums. It seems a lot of us are (or have been at some point) in the same sinking boat, where we feel we’re just not good enough at work AND good enough at being mum simultaneously. We’re not as good as we could be, or should be, or used to be. I spent many years simultaneously nurturing a small business and small people, and I don’t think there was a time when I felt like I was great at both.
There may have been some exceptions, some infrequent bursts where I felt I was doing a-ok, but they were short-lived. When I reduced my work hours to focus on home more, I felt like a great mum once again. However, work suffered - cue me feeling like I was doing a bad job in that department. So I’d tip the balance in the other direction and increase nursery days or wrap around care. I’d get on top of work again and experience a sense of achievement once more, but then I’d feel like I was neglecting my babies, and not being the best mummy I knew I could be, should be, once was…
This conflict and inner turmoil went on for years. The constant feeling of doing just enough, being just enough in fact no, always feeling not good enough in both work and in my role as mum, was exhausting. And God it doesn't half chip away at your self confidence and self belief. Despite other people declaring they ‘don’t know how you do it, you must be wonder woman’ you just feel like you’re not doing the best you could be….
So where have these crippling expectations come from? Society? Our partners? Parents? Grandparents? Ourselves? Our bosses? Bloody sodding Facebook? Everywhere we turn there’s someone or something making us feel like we’re not good enough. We’re doing too much of this, or not enough of that. We’re not doing enough for our children, giving enough, being enough. We should be working. We should stay at home. We should be baking flans and making homemade ice cream, knocking up our own costumes for world book day, teaching our toddler to count to 20 in Mandarin. Eating sodding quinoa and doing yoga twice a week, and don’t forget to contour sweetie (excuse me, con-flippin-what?)
As mums we’re not helping our kids create homework masterpieces in the 15 minutes we have between getting home from school and putting the dinner on, or the 15 minutes we have between cleaning up after dinner and getting them in the bath and into bed.
There’s always the smug little shit who trots into the playground brandishing a creation similar to something Mister Maker himself might whip up - made up of no less than 43 yogurt pots (M&S of course), 167 milk bottle tops, 3 cardboard boxes, 67 lolly sticks, and finished off with Farrow and Ball paint (Cooking Apple Green).
And there’s us, our kids homework scribbled on the back of a fag packet. Ok so that’s all made up, but you get my gist. However I was once enraged when my (then) 5 year old entered a pumpkin decorating competition at his previous school, and his was clearly the only pumpkin that hadn’t been decorated by an olympian parent who’d spent £58 at Hobbycraft and dedicated 17 man hours to it.
Then there’s ‘that mum’ who only feeds her kids homemade this, that and the other, while we’re having cheesy pasta and frubes (not in the same bowl, though anything goes in my house) for the third night in a row. Don’t forget we should be establishing Montessori principles in the home (Monte-sorry, come again?) Shit and I haven’t done any supported reading this week! Whatsapp beeps - who’s baking cakes for the summer fair? Not me, I haven’t even bathed the kids this week, I don’t know where their fuckarsing drinks bottles are (again) and I’m not even sure they’ve got clean sodding underpants for the morning (sniff the crotch, yep those ones are ok).
No wonder we don’t know what the fuck’s going on!
And then there’s work. More is expected from us there too. Why can’t we make the 6pm meeting, or work Saturday? Choo Choo, all aboard, next stop Guilt Central! Why aren’t we gunning for that promotion? At work, we’re masters of disguise, no one would ever suspect under the veneer of self assured confidence, that actually, we’re feeling like shit because we’re not achieving half as much as we used to, pre kids. Why aren’t we as good as we used to be? We’re not as high up as we would’ve been or earning as much as we used to. So and so is climbing the ladder faster and she’s been in the game half as long as you… you know you could’ve done more, stayed later, given more, but you had to leave at 3pm for the school run. You had to call in sick last week because your 6 year old had an ear infection - again. Was that report good enough? You feel unreliable, flakey. You’re worried people think you’re a part timer.
I’ve lost clients because I couldn’t deliver, because it was the summer holidays and I Simply. Couldn’t. Fucking. Juggle it.
It seems today, expectations on working mums have never been so high, whether those expectations are from external sources or from our own punishing selves. Either way it’s time to say STOP! It’s time to reclaim the right to enjoy the children we so wanted AND enjoy the careers we’ve worked so hard to build (if you’re working for career satisfaction), and recognise that, do you know what… we’re doing the best we bloody can and that’s enough.
Here’s some simple tips to help you realise that what you are doing is enough:
*Identify and accept the trade-offs and sacrifices. There’s going to be compromises - end of. We need to be certain about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and remind ourselves of this when mum guilt kicks in. Why are you working - Career? Sanity? Necessity? Write down your reasons and remind yourself you’re doing it for you and your family. If you miss assembly when your child is getting an award and are subsequently wracked with guilt, remind yourself that you’re working so you can have that family holiday this year, the day at the zoo, or the themed birthday party your 5 year old wants! Know your reasons, make your decisions, and stand firm.
*Lower your standards. I don’t mean ‘go all out lazy’ and start sending your kids to school unwashed, with a bag of wotsits and a can of coke for breakie (although my boys would probably love that!) I’m simply saying the bar has been raised so bloody high that falling short is inevitable. Stop looking at picture-perfect mums in parenting magazines and online, the ones with spotlessly clean houses and a tray of warm muffins coming out of the oven just in time for the school run - life’s not like that. Stay away from Jolly Janice and her perfect life. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful, and our kids will be better off having a happy, relaxed, good-humoured mum rather than an anxious, over stretched and worn out one. And if they don’t brush their teeth for the whole ‘recommended 2 minutes’ one night - so what. ‘Good enough’ is good enough.
*Stay away from Judgemental Judy’s - we all know one, or ten. In fact they’re bloody everywhere, infiltrating the playgrounds like nits. Looking down from on high, judging our parenting skills, what we feed our kids, how much TV they watch, what level their precious child has reached in swimming (don’t give a damn to be frank Janet). We all parent differently. We all praise and discipline our kids differently. But guaranteed, everyone’s doing the best they can and we’re probably already our own worst critics, and therefore don’t we deserve encouragement and support from one another, not criticism? Yes we bloody do!
*Remind yourself that you’re valued and you’re doing a great job at work. You might leave early sometimes or take time off to nurse sick children, but what you’re doing is admirable. You’re raising children! Wow! That in itself is a truly amazing thing! Anyone with kids will understand, and those without well, they can fuck the fuck off, and the likelihood is one day they’ll have kids of their own and then they’ll know all too well what it’s like. Remind yourself you’re doing your best, and remind yourself what you wanted - you wanted to have children, so don’t be afraid to go home and enjoy them. They’re what’s ultimately most important, and they won’t be small forever.
*Be open to change regarding work. If something is really not working for you, think about how you can change it. I recently closed the door on a career that spanned 15 years because it was no longer working for me. I couldn’t change how I felt, the overwhelm, the lack of joy, the constant feeling of being at the back of the race, and it impacted me, my life and my kids. So I changed it. Not an easy decision, but a necessary one. I was unhappy in a job that I was doing ‘for my family’ but then I realised my boys don’t care if we live in a 6 bed new build or a 3 bed semi that’s half the size. They don’t care if I’m driving a brand new 7 seater or a 7 year old banger - they’re only going to crush mini cheddars into the seats anyway, FFS. They’re just as happy going to the park and playing in the leaves as they are having an expensive day out, as long as they’re with the ones they love. They’re as happy going on a camping holiday in the UK as they are going on a 5* holiday to the Algarve. Get my point? It was me thinking that my kids needed all this, deserved this life I was working for. I was wrong. What they want is a happy, relaxed, good humoured mum, and if I give myself permission to mess up sometimes and apologise for it or laugh it off, I give them permission to make mistakes too. And they certainly don’t care if the house doesn’t get cleaned this week! Hurrah!
*Decide to change your mindset as of now and realise that guilt is just a feeling. It’s a choice. We can change it (I do appreciate it’s more difficult for some). Don’t indulge in self deprecating thoughts and don’t get sucked into the chronicles of mum fails in the playground (although I think this is how a lot of us mums bond) Adopt the ‘zero fucks to what other people think’ approach, and don’t apologise for it. Make your decisions - whether it’s child care choices, working part time or full time, utilising wrap around care - and stick to them. Have courage in your convictions and know you are doing the best for YOU and YOUR family. Sod what anyone else thinks. You have the right to choose, but if you choose it, make a promise that that’s what you’re going to do and you’re not going to feel guilty about it.
So, wonderful women - please lower the bar to a realistic, attainable height. Being a working mum is hard enough, so please don’t beat yourself up. Remind yourself that what you’re doing - you’re doing for you and your family, and what works for you all.
You’re doing a great job, your kids adore you, and they’re going to turn out just fine! Now go and pour yourself a glass of wine....
Much love, Fran xxx
ABOUT FRAN GRANT
Wife to a very lucky husband. Mum to 3 beautiful little boys. Gym, yoga and self care enthusiast. Lover of food, coffee, wine and gin. Self confessed bookworm and book hoarder. Advocate for keeping the magic of reading alive for today’s children. And last but not least - Writer (currently trying my hand at kids fiction and rhyming stories). Thanks for visiting my site - expect to see posts mainly related to reading and writing, with occasional musings about family, parenting and life in general. Oh, and plenty of book reviews! Hope you enjoy! Much love, Fran x