NB: I know it’s not entirely the ‘done’ thing to talk about money, because OMG we’re British and when it comes to our wallets we keep our mouths closed, but this is something I can’t stop thinking about. And therefore something I wanted to write about. So there.
Raising kids is an expensive business. We all know that.
But how expensive is it to be a working (single) mum? That’s what I’ve been wondering.
When I accepted my job I didn’t really work out how much it would cost me. I had a basic idea in my head – Hux would need to go to nursery 3 days a week and I was already paying pre-school fees for him and a few extra hours over my free 15 for Elfie – but surely because I’d be, you know, earning a salary, working out how much it would cost me seemed a bit pointless.
When you become a mum, you learn how to be tired. There are the different sorts of tired; that hazy newborn stage when you’re up all night and are urged to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ so end up zoned out in front of Jeremy Kyle while you feed the baby. The tiredness in these weeks meant I don’t remember those days save for lots of sofa and TV, but at least there was minimal pressure to get out of my pyjamas all day.
Then there’s the tiredness you get with a slightly older baby who just doesn’t want to sleep through the night. The incessant nights of never sleeping more than two hours in a row, resulting in a mama who can get up, comfort her baby back to sleep and crawl back in her own bed without even realising she’s woken up.
Next you’re presented with the toddler who considers 5.30am a lie-in. Yet you can’t go to bed when she does because, you know, those box sets won’t watch themselves and if you don’t keep those eyes open til at least 9pm you won’t get any alone time whatsoever.
But these days, oh these days I have the single-working-mum tiredness. And that my friends is something else altogether.
We’re out of the house and on our way to my mum/nursery by 7.15am so I’m required to be out of bed and on my way to dressed by 6am. That, my friends, still hurts like a punch in the face each and every day. As one who has never been a morning person I spend the first fifteen minutes of each day practicing my sailor swearing and wondering how much it would hurt to break a bone. Because at least then I’d get to go back to bed.
The upshot of this is that by the time I get to the train station at 8am I am pretty much fully awake and with a full face of make-up on feeling ready to take on the world with a cup of tea that may or may not end up on a stranger (sorry, man on the 8.22 to Euston on Monday). This feeling of world conqueror would never come to me until at least 10am in the old days, so there you go – I now have two more hours each day to make a difference. Boom!
This doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes enjoy a little sleep on the train though. Never underestimate the restorative qualities of a 30 minute upright power nap. Unless you end up in a town fifty miles away from yours on a Sunday evening because you fell asleep on a kind stranger’s shoulder… never again.
Once I’m at work I’m surprised to find out that my job requires a fair bit of thought; deep thinking about strategies, statistics, results, proposals. I can’t zone out, can’t sleep with my eyes open, can’t watch Millionaire Matchmaker. Welcome to the real world. There are meetings and presentations that require intelligent input and by the time 5.30pm rolls around (HOMETIME!) my brain is quite literally spent, devoid of any conversation or leftover intelligence.
All that thinking, it wipes you out. And yesterday I was so knackered from just being ON and THINKING and DOING that I got home, took my bra off (the first thing I do as soon as I walk through the front door at 7.30pm) and had a good productive weep. This single-working-mum thing, it’s so hard. It drains you mentally, physically, even emotionally, until you’re not sure there’s anything left.
But then I thought – who am I doing this for?
I’m doing this because my career is super important to my family; my children rely on me as the breadwinner in the house so it’s crucial I work hard. I’m doing this to show them how important it is to work hard so they can do a job you love and get paid well for it. And I’m doing it to show them that while life is not a walk in the park you can find happiness in hard graft and success.
I might be falling over from tiredness but for those little people I am setting the best example I know how. And you know what? I’ve never been happier than now: I’m doing it, I’m making a difference.
Now can someone tweet me at 11pm and tell me to turn off Orange Is The New Black?
Yesterday Kirstie Allsopp was hit with a shitstorm. If you live under a rock (or, you know, you’re not on Twitter) and missed the showdown between everyone’s favourite property presenter and what seemed like women everywhere, Kirstie gave an interview with the Telegraph in which she suggested women should forget about working on their careers and settle down to have children much sooner in life:
“At the moment, women have 15 years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home and have a baby. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue.”
The world went mad and Kirstie was lambasted for being ‘the world’s worst feminist’. The reaction she received was something I always consider to be the most negative side of twitter – she was attacked with vitriol and nastiness for sharing her opinion.
And you know what? As a feminist and a staunch career gal I kind of agree with her point of view. Let me explain.
I dropped out of Uni at 19 and immediately got a job in Telesales. I worked my butt off and progressed through a career in Recruitment to get to where I wanted to be, working in Digital Marketing. But from the age of 18 I had suffered from endometriosis, and having gone through operations and hormone therapy I was told that my fertility may be compromised.
Which is why, when I got married, I was keen to test out this womb of mine as quickly as I could.
When Elfie came along I wasn’t actively trying to get pregnant; turns out I’m about as fertile as Katy Price so don’t get your sperm anywhere near me thanks. A sneeze is literally all it takes and BOOM! I’m knocked up.
I was 24 when Elfie was born and 26 when Hux arrived. Yes I had to compromise my career in the early days when I had newborns to take care of, but look at me now! I’m doing what I want to do, making it work for both me and my young family. I’d never regret having children so young and I find it exciting that I get to be a younger mother (because I am, in general, at least 10 years younger than most of Elfie’s friends mums).
I’m so much more driven in my career than I used to be and I can hand-on-heart say my life is a hundred times more fulfilling. Not that yours isn’t if you aren’t a parent, but I used to waste my days, spending my them hungover doing nothing of note. Now I squeeze the most out of each and every day and my life is genuinely full of fun. I travel, I work hard, I read, I socialise. I am a much nicer person because I know the compromise and the love it takes to nurture young people and I enjoy every single day. I don’t exist, I live, and this is something that was missing from my life before I had kids.
You could argue that if I’d waited to start a family I might have found myself in a more stable relationship and consequently would not be bringing my children up in a single parent family. But we have no guarantees in life and I wasn’t willing to risk the fact I might not be able to have children. And if I’d waited I wouldn’t have my beautiful Elfie and Huxley… and the world would be a much darker place without their respective dress and bumblebee obsessions.
What’s your take on Kirstie’s opinion? Is she bringing shame on the world of feminism or do you think she possibly – maybe – has a teeny tiny point?
Four years ago all I wanted to do was be a mum. I had it all planned out: give up work, have a baby, make cakes, cook every recipe Annabel Karmel ever wrote, drink coffee with new mum friends, have more babies. I didn’t think this plan through: I don’t like coffee for a start (unless we’re talking Espresso Martinis, natch).
Three years and ten months ago – four weeks after Elfie was born – I realised that being a stay at home mum was Not Me. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike the new role I found myself thrown into. But I hadn’t realised how different my life would be, how freaked out I would feel at the expectation from not just myself but people around me to be a completely different person just because a 6lb ball of baby had popped out of me. I also hadn’t realised how much the thing I was looking forward to saying goodbye to forever – my work – contributed to the essence of who I was. Targets, successes, hard clients, presentations, meetings; I missed the stimulation of my job like I’d never expected to. My work friends were pushing on with their careers, moving to New York, becoming pop stars, launching businesses. I felt left behind.
But I felt totally selfish feeling that way. I had everything I ever wanted, there was no financial pressure on me to go back to work, I had plenty of empty days with no pressure to fill them with anything but coffee (yuck) and babies. Meanwhile I saw other mums struggling with work and raising their kids because they had to; I felt totally ungrateful that I missed my career and, it has to be said, like this yearning for something more than motherhood made me less of a mum.
Nevertheless I had to do something about it. When Elfie was six weeks old I started working for myself. Slowly at first, a couple of small clients, working hard on my blog. I accepted a part-time freelance gig project managing a couple of brands three days a week but had to leave when the job went full-time and I couldn’t with a nine month old at home. I pottered around again, consulting on small projects, blogging my little heart out, getting divorced. The need to earn money became more of A Thing as I embarked on my single life, I had to generate an income to sustain a household of three. But I always missed that happiness I found in an office, the camaraderie, the gossip, the adrenaline of pitching to a bunch of people.
You don’t get so much of that when you’re working at home in your PJs with The Real Housewives of Atlanta in the background. If any clients are reading this I’m only joking. I much prefer Millionaire Matchmaker.
As the kids have grown older – Hux is at pre-school two mornings a week since turning two and Elfie is starting school in September – the urge to work harder on my career has grown. I’ve done as much as I can working from home but I always feel like I should be doing more. I should be at networking events – impossible because they’re either over breakfast super early or glasses of wine in the evening. I should be hitting up my old rolodex for new business leads, pitching to prospects, hiring a couple of talented freelancers to take care of my day-to-day so I can look after the bigger picture. Then the guilt returns again… how can I consider doing all that when I have two babies at home who need their mummy to be around? I make enough money to keep us afloat and sustain a Waitrose habit, why am I hungrily wanting more out of our lives? It’s back and forth, back and forth.
Last week I had to make a decision… I was offered a job contract working as Digital Editor for a project I’ve worked on before. An amazing brand, an amazing team, the only kicker being that it was a five day a week London-based position. Uh-ho.
It shouldn’t have been a difficult decision. It’s a freelance job so I wouldn’t be tied to a contract, I’d still have evenings and weekends to work on my blog and other projects plus I’d be in the Big City so could lunch with my old work pals. But again the guilt consumed me. I couldn’t imagine being out of the house and away from the children from 7.30am-7pm, running them around from nursery to pre-school to grannies. Could I? What if they were sad/tired/cold/hungry and needed their mummy for a cuddle?
This has been one time when I have put myself first and said actually, yes I can do this. Our little family of three, WE can do this.
Hux and Elfie are going to watch their Mama work her butt off five days a week and I think it is going to be a positive experience for all of us. I’ve managed to get Hux into a fantastic nursery three mornings, I’d planned to send him there from September anyway, and he’ll spend the additional time with his Grannie. Elfie’s at pre-school four mornings and one full day a week so she’ll barely notice the difference (her Grannie is her favourite person in the whole wide world so any extra time with her is a bonus).
It’s going to be a BUSY couple of months for us all but I’ve made a mental promise to take my two away for a little holiday once the madness is over. I’m going to be a commuter, in an office, with work colleagues, heels, lunches out and meetings. I’m SO excited.
I’m still feeling the guilt of not being there for them 24/7 like I have for the last four years; I’m going to miss their delicious little faces like nothing I’ve ever known before but that’s going to make the time we spend together all the sweeter. And I guess all this guilt and worry I’ve been feeling about being away from my children means that actually, I might be a pretty good mum after all.
I don’t often get on my soapbox about things – I really don’t. I like to give people and situations the benefit of the doubt, waiting for them to play out before I form opinions or get ranty. Which is what I was doing with a story I read in The Independent yesterday morning.
In a nutshell, a breastfeeding mother was at Sports Direct’s Nottingham store and sat down to feed her son while her husband shopped. Totally innocuous, until a member of staff forced her to leave the store because she was breastfeeding. According to news reports she was left crying on the busy shopping street outside, I imagine feeling embarrassed and trying to feed her hungry baby in the rain.
This is NOT ON in so many different ways.
Firstly, it is illegal for businesses to discriminate breastfeeding mothers under The Equality Act of 2010, so Sports Direct have broken the law. Secondly, the incident was in January and the mother concerned has contacted the store five times with no comment or apology. The story broke in local and national press on Thursday… still nothing.
I loved that I was able to breastfeed Hux, which is exactly what I’m doing in both these photos so Sports Direct might like to AVERT THEIR EYES OMG. I took him everywhere with me, feeding him at the local rugby club, in restaurants, in cafe’s, in shops. It was my right to: if the guy next to me on the bench at Euston station could eat his Gregg’s sausage roll then my baby was going to take a minute to enjoy his lunch, too. Though let’s be honest, my baby’s lunch would have been a whole lot more nutritious.
But I was always aware that I was breastfeeding defiantly. I kept in mind that there could be some jackass who might challenge what I was doing and I would never have put my breast away without a fight. Actually, I would never have put my breast away: I knew that as a woman feeding her child it was my legal right to do it wherever I wanted at whatever age they were. It’s not a provocative business, every breastfeeding woman I know is fully capable of feeding her child without titillating (excuse the pun) or exposing anything untoward. Lest us forget this is what our breasts are there for, after all. We are mammals and breasts were there long before bottles.
We as a society will never move forward with our collective attitude towards breastfeeding – that it’s wrong to do it in public, it should be kept behind closed doors – until attitudes change. And if one of the biggest clothing retailers in the UK are going so wrong with this then how will the rest of the public learn? It was wrong of Sports Direct to discharge the breastfeeding mother from their shop but it is unforgivable that they have not given an apology or an explanation. As a society that has embraced public urination – I dined opposite a public urinal on Hoxton Square a few weeks ago – how is this show of defiance from Sports Direct still acceptable?
They need to man up, apologise for the embarrassment caused and take a good look at their staff training. And I wonder what will happen the next time a member of their PR team gets challenged breastfeeding a baby in public?
My lovely friend Alison from The Motherhood wrote a piece recently that really resonated with me. She says that she spends a lot of her time amazed that she’s a grown-up, and even more that she’s a mother. I nodded my way through all this because I have a confession to make: for the last ten years I have been pretending to be an adult. I might have turned 18, I might be driving a car, boozing it up and voting in elections but the thing is, I’m actually still about seventeen.
Every time I walk into a shop to buy alcohol and don’t get asked to show ID I stop for a moment and think – really? Don’t they know I’m underage and shouldn’t be drinking this ten quid bottle of wine? How can they be sure I’m not going to go round the back and neck it with my friends on our BMXs? Never mind the fact I’m in Waitrose and am toting my membership card, my free tea, car keys sensible handbag and two children… I still feel the guilt of doing something a little bit naughty.
Similarly, I totally feel guilt when my mum texts me and doesn’t put kisses on the end. I think, uh-ho, what have I done wrong? Did I stay out too late again? Did she catch me kissing another boy (hasn’t happened since I was 16, honest). Did I get in trouble at school for skiving drama to go to Topshop? Did I accidentally go into my overdraft and she found out about it (this never happens, I promise mum!)?
Then it comes to these two mini people who apparently I am in sole charge of 80% of the time. When we’re in public and one of them yells “MUMMY!” it still takes me a couple of moments to realise they’re talking to me. I relate more to my kids than the other mums at pre-school (probably cos they’re actual grown-ups) and would totally shop at Zara Kids if I was only a couple of feet shorter. At a party recently I ended up in the TV room watching Saturday night TV with the teenagers because the adults were talking about adult things and at that same party someone asked me how I was enjoying University. I like to play with Lego, PlayDoh and am totally cool with that.
I worry that I don’t have conversations about finance or politics because frankly, it bores me. My jokes are crude, my pop culture interests revolve around Kim Kardashian and I don’t really have an off switch when it comes to wine or cocktails. I buy shampoo that I’m sure is targeted at 16 year olds (hi, Soap and Glory!). I listen to the Frozen soundtrack even when the kids aren’t with me and I wear a bright red GShock watch. My favourite outfit revolves around skinny jeans and my Liberty print Vans and I TOTALLY get where Michael Scott is coming from. THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID.
The one thing that does make me feel a bit like a grownup is my forehead wrinkles. And they can be fixed by Botox so are not even relevant.
Is this normal? Need I feel necessarily worried as I enjoy the kids’ baked beans with a glass of wine and a Beyonce singalong this evening (hey, it’s Friday!). No word of a lie, to celebrate the weekend I’m currently jamming to a playlist that would mostly have not been out of place in my favourite club 11 years ago: TLC and Missy Elliot YO! Please tell me there are some other teen mothers like me (well, mentally at least) out there. And then lets go out and get irresponsibly hungover together, yeah?
Above: daytime drinking with @Photogirluk. Definitely not sensible adult behaviour. Loads of fun though.