(Picture pinched from hilarious Facebook/Twitter @manwhohasitall– which I insist you follow immediately, if you do not already).
I work part time- I’m letting my colleagues down!
I work full time- I’m letting my family down!
I work from home- I don’t pay my kids enough attention when I’m with them!
I work in an office- I’m never with them!
I’ve lost my touch! I’m crap! I’m failing at both things!
Welcome to the cacophony of inner voices that haunts the mind of the mother who works, like a malevolent chorus in a very bad musical about maternal guilt.
We’re told by certain newspapers, and the internet at large, that we’re letting both our employers and/or our children down, with such exhausting frequency that it amplifies our own self-doubt to the point where we think that we were stupid to ever think we could ‘have it all’. (And we’re not trying to have it all, are we? We’re trying to go to work, and have kids- something that dads have been allowed to do for, oh, ages).
We feel like we’re not doing well enough at our jobs, and we’re not doing well enough at mumming.
But, in the juggle of working and parenting, I don’t think it’s the actual work or parenting that suffers.
Of course not every mum who works is great at their job. Because- here’s a secret- we are actually people, as well as Working Mums. Some people are good at their jobs, some people are crap, and some are in the middle. And not every working parent is a good parent, either- because, newsflash, not all people are good at being parents.
But, among the women I know- full time, part time, work from home or frequent flyer- the evidence I see in both their successes at work, and the happy faces of their kids, is that those who devote their lives and column inches to tearing down working women who also have families can insert their bullshit opinions back where they came from, thank you kindly.
No, for me the real juggle of being a working parent- the ball that most often, in reality, gets dropped- is myself.
We keep the plates (or perhaps that should be the fidget-spinners) of family and work turning, but it’s a bloody herculean effort to keep ourselves together in the middle of it.
This blog post started to brew when I was half-running for the tram on my way to a work function the other night. It started at 7pm- fine if you can go straight from the office to the do, not fine if you have to finish work, then go home for the pick-up-teatime-bedtime shift in between. I knew that, when I arrived at the event, my colleagues would see a normal person, ready for some wholesome team building fun and only slightly late.
What my colleagues wouldn’t see is that I had kiwi juice smeared in with my touche éclat, because my daughter suddenly wanted pudding after all when I was in the middle of putting on make-up- a task for which I had allotted precisely seven minutes.
They wouldn’t have heard me, in the two minutes I had allocated to have a wee and mask the smell of mounting panic with a squirt of deodorant, trying to explain what periods are to a four year old boy, because obvs the wee and the armpit-spritz were not in private.
They wouldn’t know that my fellow parent and I had seen each other for around thirty seconds, and exchanged probably less than twenty words, most of which were ‘I’ve given them their tea, he needs a poo, have a good time bye.’
And they wouldn’t have heard the strangled yells emanating from the bathroom, because somebody had the toy lifeboat that it was definitely somebody else’s turn to have, as I rather gratefully shut the front door behind me.
All of this is the stuff of family life, and it’s fine and good. But sometimes it’s hard to come out of it all on the other side- the work side- looking like a fully functioning, washed and composed human being.
And sometimes, the cracks show.
It’s the little things- like my mascara, the last, but arguably most crucial, item of make up. More often than not, time runs out in the morning, and I have to drop my tools like a Crystal Maze contestant abandoning a challenge (Come out! Come out!), and go to work with naked lashes.
If I’m lucky, I’ll remember to put it on in the lift at work while someone (who has clearly never had to decant Weetabix into a different bowl because it was THE WRONG BOWL I WANT THE BLACK BOWL DADDY GIVES ME THE BLACK BOWL at 6.57am) gives me the side eye. If I’m lucky, I won’t go through the whole day looking like a hungover mole because I forget to put it on at all. If I’m lucky, I won’t stab myself in the eye with the wand but not have time to sort it out, and arrive in the office with a streak of black down my face, which I will forget to wipe off, because of the ten thousand things in my brain.
Then there was the time (two times, actually), when I wore mismatching shoes. The first time, it was one black high-heeled boot and one brown low-heeled boot. The second time, tragically, it was one black knee high boot and one silver trainer.
And there’s the stuff that comes out of your handbag. Nobody warns you about this before you have kids. The other day, I started a meeting by pulling a pen out of my bag- swiftly followed by a collection of acorns and dried leaves that have been there since last autumn. A work friend once delivered a cutting remark in the office, before turning on her heel, dropping her handbag and watching in horror as a pair of her daughter’s underpants fell out.
The potential for indignity never ends. I know one parent (a Working Dad!) who spent the duration of a meeting wondering what the smell of poo was… until he looked down at his sleeve.
All of this doesn’t (repeat doesn’t) make us any worse at our jobs, but it can leave us feeling pretty frazzled, pretty much all of the time.
I don’t expect or deserve any sympathy and/or congratulations for any of this. As my work friend said the other day, and made me snort my latte out of my nose: we are living in a giant pit of our own making. Or to couch it in more social media-friendly terms: this was our choice, and we wouldn’t change it. (#soblessed).
No, I’m not here for head pats. I’m hear to say this…
To the mum who realises half way through a meeting that she has a My Little Pony sticker on each boob, and has to hastily rearrange her arms to cover them…
To the woman holding an important phone call from her kitchen table while making thumbs-up gestures and mouthing ‘FIREMAN SAM!’ with a manic grin, at a toddler who has bollocked on all bloody day about watching Fireman Sam, until the moment when Mummy has to make a phone call and suddenly Fireman Sam is the worst…
To all of us:
Stop feeling like you’re letting people down- your boss, your kids- when in reality the only person you should be looking after better is yourself. Stop beating yourself up and repeat after me: we got this.
We got this. Our shoes may not match and our mascara may be smeared above our eyebrows, and breadstick crumbs might spray from our handbags when we open them. But our kids are OK. Our work is good. And we got this.