Back in the day – let’s call it BC (before children) I thought I was always busy; no time for anything – getting to a gym class was a feat, doing the weekly shop hard work, making time to catch up with friends always a challenge. Never left the office before 6.30/7.00pm. What was I thinking??? I was clearly luxuriating in oodles of time – all I can say is I must have been a dab hand at wasting it!
Yet I know that not to be true. I was genuinely busy … and then deciding (without giving any thought to how I might accommodate the biggest time stealer ever) that the time was right to start a family. After a rocky start the miracle occurred – my gorgeous boy arrived and I had been given the best gift ever. Did I think about how I was going to juggle being a mum and my new found self-employed status? – of course I didn’t. I just “knew” everything was going to be fine. My first jolt back to reality came when I was strolling through the maternity ward in a state of bliss to find a new mother frantically tapping away on a laptop, taking a work call and trying to feed her new born at the same time. To say I was horrified was an understatement – how could she? Did she not know how lucky she was? She must have seen the horror on my face as she made a point of seeking me out in the “day room” later to point out this was child number 4 and if they wanted a meal on their plates then her working all the hours she could was not optional. I was rightly “put in my place” and decided never to judge another mother again. (okay so maybe just a few times I’ve fallen by the wayside there).
So somehow after six months off, I went back to work and found a new definition to the word “busy” – not to mention sleep deprived. I managed to get through the fog and keep the plates spinning and a few years later, my beautiful daughter arrived all guns a-blazing. This time I was going to suss this new born lark! I would have a routine to beat all routines (Gina Ford eat your heart out). That lasted about 4 days before chaos ensued and I was lucky to ever blow dry my hair again. This time I was back at work within 4 months and before I knew it major milestones were passing by – nurseries, primary schools, secondary schools and now university. I have no idea where the time has gone and I am also acutely aware of how each stage of our children’s life brings with it a different challenge. You think nothing can rival the sleep deprivation of the early years until you hit the worry of the teenage ones and even when they’ve left home they still manage to consume your thoughts.
So I find myself today on a train on the way to see my son down in Cornwall who has managed to slice open his finger on a knife whilst cutting an avocado – I have subsequently discovered this is a modern day problem! After refusing to let me come to the hospital for his first operation last weekend – a second operation tomorrow to repair the damaged nerves led to an admission that “it would be good to have mum here after all”. And so I have juggled my diary and am on my way. Something that I’m sure every working mum I know would do without a second thought.
Reflecting back on my years as a working mum I do sometimes wonder how I managed to pull it off (not that it’s ever a completed project!). I remember reading the best-selling novel by Allison Pearson “I don’t know how she does it” – the story of the frantically busy career woman and mother trying to do it all. The part where she needs to bring in mince pies for the Christmas fair and finds herself buying some from the local supermarket, bashing them with a rolling pin and sprinkling them with icing sugar to make them look homemade resonated so much. It goes without saying that I wanted to not only be good at my job but also keep up with the Alpha Mums at the school gate – if there were mince pies to be made – I was sure as hell not going to send my little ones in with M&S Finest (well maybe once in a while).
As a working mum we becomes masters at short cutting the system – stapling hems on fancy dress costumes continues to haunt me. We are always trying to make the most of every spare minute in the day – laptops in hairdressers, squeezing in conference calls between school pick-ups, juggling diaries to make sure we are always at every parents evening, school concert and doctor’s appointments – many a night I’ve fallen asleep at my laptop either finishing a client proposal or a shopping delivery order (never sure which one had the highest priority). The list is endless.
I know I’m not alone; I’m surrounded by wonderful female friends who have all managed to successfully juggle the highs and lows of motherhood with their careers – perhaps they haven’t always managed to achieve the dizzy heights they may have wanted to but I know they are all enriched by choosing to continue to work at the same time as doing their most important job – raising their children.
Some people might say I work too hard – but I was raised by people with strong work ethics – my grandmother worked until she was 85, my Father was 73 when he retired and my mother did a part time degree when I went to school – every day she’d drop me at school in Hammersmith and take the tube all the way to Elephant and Castle to go to Teacher Training college; she then enjoyed a successful career as a teacher until the age of 67. Working hard is in my bones.
I hope that when my children are grown up they will have positive thoughts about me choosing to be a working mum and I’ve been a good role model for them. I remember way back when my son was 7 and he asked me why I had to work. I gave him the full on explanation of how mummy helped to pay for all the lovely things we did as a family and how lucky we were to go on nice holidays etc etc. He promptly replied “Well Tom’s mum doesn’t work and they have a swimming pool” – oh well – Can’t win them all.
So looking back, would I have done things differently? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sometimes a little envious of ladies who lunch and gym and don’t have to worry about pipelines, meeting a client deadline or how they were going to get to London when the train drivers were on strike – but it’s short lived. And to all you ladies out there who have chosen not to work, or can’t because your personal situation doesn’t allow you to … I salute you. Motherhood is not a job to be taken lightly. I also massively salute you ladies who don’t have children and work your socks off too – let’s hear it for the sisterhood.