Anyone who knows me would probably describe me as a confident, fairly bright individual who always works hard. Even at university I was renowned for being the only one who actually read the entire reading list every week! I was one of those annoying pupils who was in the hockey team, the debating team, chair of my college (blah blah) so I was used to juggling a million things.
Naturally when I got pregnant I therefore immediately assumed I could fit it all in, be a super mum, continue my career and maintain my relatively small pre-baby figure.
But as every Mum knows it’s never quite that simple is it?
The Career question
I have to be honest and admit I never considered for one second giving up work.
My Mum never did and I turned out OK and I just don’t think I’m built to stay at home – though I have immense respect for those that do, it’s just not for me.
But at 6 months when I started my daughter at nursery I did feel the pang of guilt, as I was overcome with thoughts of “I’m a terrible mother” and had to put up with the endless comments from people like “oh you’re going back to work are you?” and even once someone said to me “is the lure of spreadsheets just too much for you?”
I wanted to scream “no actually I have a mortgage to pay and I didn’t work myself into the ground for the last 10 years to give up” but rather than say this I always felt I had to justify the decision and give them a million reasons why it was genuinely OK and my daughter would survive!
And actually it was OK, but partly because I engineered it so. I took a job with less travel, a job which was close to where I lived and my daughter’s nursery. This meant I could drop her at the last-minute and pick her up as early as possible. In my head those precious extra minutes made all the difference to her wellbeing. Not that I think she noticed, but it made me feel better!
She’s older now but I still ensure I’m there for every assembly, every sports day and am even heavily involved in the PTA – partly because I’m just that type of person but I think partly I’m motivated selfishly by the thought that at least if I’m fundraising I’m contributing in some way and I am not just that awful “working Mum” that puts her child in afterschool club every day!
The support network
I am lucky to have a fantastic and large family, however unfortunately they all live over the other side of the country and I am therefore not blessed with a granny that can do school runs or cover days when my daughter is sick.
My husband is an incredibly supportive and thoughtful man but works hard and travels a lot, so whilst he helps out it has always fallen to me to do the school run, the pick-ups, the lift to Brownies, the Drs appointments, the birthday parties …you get the idea!
I’m lucky to have an amazing group of supportive “Mummy” friends who step in when I have an emergency (usually stuck in traffic!), but I’m conscious that there’s only so often you can call on people before it starts becoming a burden rather than a friendship as they are all juggling their own crazy lives.
I have to put my hand up here and say that I am a fairly 1950’s wife – I admit it I like fussing over my husband (there I’ve said it!).
I like cooking, I am slightly obsessed with Jamie recipes and endeavour to make one for him every night. (30 minute meals has been a god send!), I also really want my daughter to have a healthy relationship with food, know where her food comes from and see it being made rather than watch Mummy put a box in a microwave!
However this noble mission takes yet more time and means I probably eat more than I used to when I was living on those calorie controlled boxes. I’ll often take a second helping and usually sip a glass of vino whilst cooking. It’s my way of relaxing I tell myself!
The sacrificial lamb
So in this whirlwind of holding down a job, looking after a family and throwing myself in to voluntary activities for no reason, have I dropped a ball?
Yes – somewhere along the line I dropped the ball labelled “me”. I somehow became last on the long list of priorities.
The gym visits became less and less, the comfort eating (and drinking!) increased and my only exercise is one 30 minute swimming session a week. I only manage to do this as my daughter has a 30 minute lesson herself, so I swim while she does in the next door pool.
Of course I don’t even do this every week, as I would be wracked with our old friend “Mummy guilt” if I don’t watch the occasional lesson and clap enthusiastically like all the other Mummies!
So what’s the answer?
This is a question I think I and every other mother struggles with.
I’ve watched many of my friends give up work and devote themselves to the job of “Super Mum”. I initially envied them, in my eyes they appeared to have it all. Time to go to the gym, real quality time with their children and never having to worry about a spreadsheet again!
Yet over the years I’ve found they’re battling their own dilemmas.
One told me that she felt guilty as her child wasn’t in nursery and might be missing out. Was she doing enough to stimulate her child at home? Others are frustrated because they want to work but just can’t make it fit around school schedules. Some have amazing post baby figures, but are still lurching from one diet plan to the next as they feel they could do more.
On reflection I’d say my whirlwind is made up of different elements but it appears we’re all in one and are all battling our own demons!
Is it time Mums stopped beating themselves up?
We need to accept we all have different challenges, we all have busy lives, but we’re all doing a fantastic job just to keep our heads above water and we should give ourselves some credit that our children are still surviving and will survive even if their Mummy misses the odd school play!
At the end of the day if we don’t make time for ourselves we’ll end up collapsed in a heap of spreadsheets/school posters/diet plans/recipes (delete as appropriate) and we’ll be no good to anyone.
Written by Vicki: a full-time working Opti-Mum who attempts to work in IT software whilst juggling being a wife and Mum to her beautiful daughter, Charlotte.