I have two alternative titles for this blog, ‘Working Mum: Reality Bites!’ and ‘Fifty fifty parenting: Fat chance!’
This time last week, I agreed to undertake a piece of work, which I knew meant working full time this week and working long hours. I did so on the basis that it is the middle of May, still freezing and I want to upgrade our tent to a caravan for the half term holidays.
Now, I have a friend who is a mum and works full time, passionately in love with her career and highly motivated to strive for the next promotion. Their family is set up for both her and her husband working full time. They both willing embrace what they call fifty fifty parenting – each accepting their share of daily parenting tasks and household responsibilities. They have a whole wall in their kitchen dedicated to detailing their and their children’s timetable for each day: detailing drop off time, pick up times, out of school activities, uniform and kit requirements, snacks required and everyone’s meals for the day. It also allocates to my friend and her husband their chores for the day. Their freezer is pre-stocked with batch cooked meals, all labelled and ordered. Theirs is a well-oiled machine.
This is what my working week looks like in comparison:
Two of the girls meals this week have been hastily bought pizza and chicken nuggets and chips, there is a load in the washing machine that has been there since Monday, similarly one in the drier and the three piles of laundry that I sorted on the landing on Sunday night are still there, growing…No-one’s bedding has been changed, all the bins are over-flowing, I have ironed uniform at 6am every day, the fridge is stacked with mouldy berries, the bathrooms need cleaning, I have only exercised once and I have done the school run twice this week in my scruffs, without showering and without make up (yikes!).
On Tuesday, I went into Leeds to work, leaving before the girls woke up and returning home at 8.30pm. This is what happened:
Dan allowed H, just turned 7, to do her own hair and her sisters’, despite me having lined up another mum – scruffy girls at school. I wonder if he remembered for once to clean their teeth. Mid-afternoon I receive annoyed texts from my lovely husband, who had agreed to help, complaining about the inconvenient time of H’s gymnastics drop off. A little later, more angry texts about a miscommunication with the gymnastics instructor who had given lovely husband a dressing down about arriving at the wrong time and H arriving in her leotard only and no tracksuit. Forward to 6.30pm, a phone call with lovely husband shouting at me, and I can hear wailing daughters in the background: the dog has killed the hamster. Darling, why are you shouting at me, instead of consoling the kids?
I arrive home at 8.30pm – all three children are still in their uniform in front of the TV, not bathed and not having a bed time story and certainly not close to being in bed on a school night. There are shoes, cardigans, coats and bags trailed all around downstairs and the remains of pasta and sauce spread across the kitchen table and the work tops. The contents of the hamster cage are still spewed over the floor of the playroom upstairs and L brings me the dead hamster in an empty Lurpack tub. Lovely husband complains bitterly about his awful day and is short tempered with the girls and me.
Yesterday, sweating as I batted back the hundreds of emails filling my inbox, frantically trying to turn documents for a 3.30pm deadline, I managed to squeeze in a shower at 3pm and at 5pm, I did the most unprofessional all parties conference call of my career: Dan’s embarrassing clock chiming loudly in the background, the dog barking, the Worst Witch blaring from the TV and the children intermittently, asking “Mummy”…not to mention me packing them in the car mid call to get them to swimming class on time.
Today, I am sat in the office, waiting for completion monies to transfer so we can convene a call to complete the share acquisition we have worked on, wondering when the money will land and if I will get home for pick up, having accidentally double booked a play date, let down a friend and missed Friday’s celebration assembly when, of course, H was awarded the Head Teachers award.
How do I feel?
I feel glad that the deal will be achieved within the week – yes it’s been a tough week but it has just been a week and we’ve booked that caravan! I certainly don’t want to do this week in, week out. I am grateful I don’t have to – the joy of working as a self-employed consultant. Good decision.
I am also buzzing slightly – I have genuinely enjoyed the work and I know that I have had a large part to play in driving the deal to complete within a very tight timeframe. I feel confident in my abilities (though it’s hard for me to tell you that). It’s been hard going and having been out of this world for so long, there are things I cannot remember, but after 18 months of dipping back in and out, I have learnt to trust my instincts. Equally, whilst I have had the adrenalin of a looming deadline and felt driven by client expectations, I feel really aware that as a mum, I really don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I have been able to laugh freely when obstacles have appeared and have felt calm and assured. And I feel lucky – I sense that I have been alone in that, hearing the worry and caution in the tones of others on the many calls, that inability to step back and realise it’s not the end of the world. I want to tell them about the dead hamster and not to worry about missing semi-colons.
Equally, whilst I know Mummy working like this is not something I want the girls to see all the time, I don’t mind them seeing a bit of it. It opens their minds about what women can achieve.
What they haven’t seen is that whilst for 3 out of 5 days I have done drop off and pick up, I have been working for two hours before they get up and for 4 hours after they are in bed. But that is the decision I have made and I make those sacrifices willingly, still seeing them more than I otherwise would in a typical office.
The questions that are puzzling me are not about me though. They are about this notion of fifty fifty parenting. I will go home tonight, shattered having worked 50 plus hours in 5 days as well as being mum. The house is a pig-sty, there is over a week’s worth of laundry to do. Dan is training for a coast to coast bike ride and so will be out on his bike for 6 hours tomorrow (did I mention he still managed to go for 2 rides after work this week?), meaning tomorrow I am on the ballet run and so the house will remain a mess until Sunday.
Our everyday lives are not geared towards fifty fifty parenting and nor do we want them to be. I am happy and long to be in the home and I am better at it. But if we have decided that I am doing some work, then do we need to make more of a switch?
Dan will acknowledge that since I have gone back to work, I still do everything I did before when I was at home full time. But this week has magnified the imbalance and has caused me to question whether my decision in April to step back from growing my own business because the balance was wrong, was just about me. Was it all really down to my desire to be at home more? Would I have felt the same, if we had shared out our responsibilities to reflect a different partnership, respecting that I was now doing two jobs?
Neither Dan or I would want it to be fifty fifty, but how about eighty twenty (isn’t that the golden number for everything?!)? Do we need to be more like my friend, formalising and timetabling our roles? We couldn’t go that far, we are woolly edged, impulsive and we like it (I often think our home is like the Weasley’s in Harry Potter), but I have to confess, a touch of that order and discipline might be called for. I wonder….
In the meantime, kerrytalks is back. I have missed it and I have lots to say – watch this space!
Ps. Before I go, in case you get the wrong idea, I just want to acknowledge all the wonderful things Dan does for us. This blog shines a spotlight on a perfect storm of the pressures of being busy working parents to three young girls and a murderous dog and is not meant to be an expose of Dan’s shortcomings! I love and adore him and wouldn’t swap him for the world (Ryan Gosling in La La Land maybe!).
Pps. Please note that the piece of work referred to above was undertaken for a law firm on a consultancy basis and not for Serenwood, a business consultancy with which I am also associated and which highly values work life balance.