Recently I sat down, scrolled through my calendar and discovered something slightly shocking.
I have not been in my house alone since the 20th September.
Furthermore, thanks to Elfie and Hux’s dad working away for a few weeks (and Elfie’s various 2/4/5am antics) I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since 15th November. Factor in the long days and a manageable bit (A LOT) of work stress and I was, by the beginning of this week, about ready to go a bit bonkers.
The one shining beacon in the craziness of the bonkersness was this coming weekend. I’d (kind of) cleared the diary and decided to be as low key as possible. With nothing planned, this weekend was going to be all about ME.
It is now 4pm Saturday and so far today I have: had a lie-in (10am, BOOM), cooked a brilliant breakfast, had a shower, read the beginning chapters of two books, watched my first episode of Made in Chelsea, been invited to a party, baked banana bread, watched a film, done an hour’s work and spent 30 minutes looking at eyebrow shapes.
I can’t go to the gym because I went last night- after a gin and tonic which was a massive rookie mistake – I don’t want to go swimming because I painstakingly blow dried my hair last night and I can’t clean because that was done on Thursday. I did my supermarket shop yesterday, I don’t want to work because I promised myself I wouldn’t, I refuse to go to the shops because it’s Saturday and I’m not mental and I can’t nap because I’m not tired.
I miss the kids.
Sidenote: why does Made In Chelsea have a weird yellowy filter on it, like Instagram? It’s really annoying me, real life doesn’t look like this. Or maybe it does when your bank account has lots more money in it? Maybe you just grow yellowy lenses over your retinas and everything literally looks more rosy?
I have three hours left until I leave for Bryony’s house to watch the X Factor and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with all this time… apart from eat Banana Bread and the block of Duchy Organics stilton I have in the fridge that’s been calling my name all morning. Or maybe I’ll spend those three hours trying to figure out the intricacies of the various relationships in Made in Chelsea? I could be here a while. But then what happens tomorrow?
Don’t get me wrong, I think that as a hard-working mother, or a someone who works hard, or is a mother, WHATEVER, time to yourself is so incredibly important. I sometimes feel like I spend so much of my time serving others – the children or those at work – that I forget about myself. I can go days and days and days without realising that I do exist to relax and spend time on my own and not just to be busy busy busy busy. I know I have my evenings after the kids go to bed at 7.30 but these are invariably spend working, cooking, bleaching or washing. SO BUSY.
What do you do with your alone time? I NEED INSPIRATION!
A couple of things have happened recently that have made me wonder if I’m a bad mum.
I’m not being completely fair on myself – I think I’m actually a pretty OK mum most of the time and I even have my moments when my parenting might actually be considered quite good. Not including the moment this morning when Elfie found it appropriate to whack me on the derriere, of course.
But take last Wednesday, for instance. I turned up as normal to Hux’s nursery, popped him in the arms of his favourite carer with a kiss and a “bye bye, love you, see you later” only to be confronted with hugely confused faces. Because Hux doesn’t go to nursery on Wednesdays – he never has. Wednesdays are a pre-school day, in the next village along. Oops.
You think I would have learnt the first time I did this.
Then there was the time that Elfie threw an unfamiliar pair of knickers into the laundry basket. “Where did these come from?” I asked her. Apparently Miss L had to put them on her because she’d gone to school with no underwear on.
That was the last time she was allowed to dress herself.
And then there was the evening she came home from school to proudly show me the book she’d taken to read with her teacher that day:
But you see, the things I have realized is that the symptoms of being a bad mum seem to be very similar to the symptoms of being a very busy working single mum. Yes, we might dash out the door without their/our coats once in a while or end up having to scribble on the back of an envelope in lieu of the required permission slip that got lost in last week’s ‘to do’ pile… but that’s part and parcel of working 11 hour days, isn’t it?
The key is finding the balance. When I worked for myself it was always really hard to turn off and pay attention to the kids once they were at home. Now, I know that between the hours of 6 and 7.30 we have dedicated family time and that is the most important part of the day. The weekends are even more precious so we try to do stuff as a family; swimming, seeing friends, cooking a big old roast then settling down to watch a film together.
But then there’s nothing balanced about our mental morning routine, scrambling to find recorders, book bags, water bottles and, erm, the correct knickers, before jumping in the car. I like turning up to work looking vaguely human so need to spend three minutes slapping makeup on and sorting my hair out so we always end up legging it out the door ten minutes late. Then there’s me checking I locked the front door twice and returning once more to make sure I turned my hair straighteners off.
I’m sure this stress could be eradicated by getting up 30 minutes earlier but I literally can’t speak before 6.30am and monster mummy is no fun for anyone.
So for now I will just wear my ‘I’m not a bad mum, just a single working one’ tshirt and hope the rest of the world understands.
The internet has given me many wonderful things. ASOS Premier, Facebook messenger, the DM’s sidebar of shame.
But by far the best thing about the internet is the people I have met online. Typing that out still feels a bit weird: seeing the phrase ‘the people I have met online’ conjures up images of old men wearing dirty string vests in their bedrooms with the curtains shut, tapping away at a big old CPUs and massive monitors. Not women who are like me, women who make me laugh, make me feel inspired and make me want to thank Sir Tim Berners-Lee for the magnificent invention that is the World Wide Web.
One of these women is my friend Emma.
Now, Emma will protest until she’s blue in the face that she’s not inspiring, she’s just a normal mum and wife. BUT DON’T LET THAT FOOL YOU! Emma is one of the most magnificent women I have ever met and she’s honestly made me sit and ponder my own life on more than one occasion. She selflessly started a charity, First Days, when she realised there was a need to provide and distribute basic equipment – clothing, bedding, furniture – for struggling new parents in her local area. Throughout 2014 the charity has gone from strength to strength, culminating in Emma’s well-deserved inclusion on the shortlist of Tesco’s Mum of The Year. Oh yes, Emma is a mum, too!
I asked Emma to answer a few questions for me on how she started First Days and the roller coaster ride that has been juggling her own charity and family life. Have a read – feel inspired – and if you ever get the chance to pick Emma’s brains over a glass of wine you absolutely must… she’s a LOT of fun.
You can donate easily to First Days by texting ‘FDCC11 £5′ to 70070 (change the ‘£5′ if you want to give a different amount) – all donations go to help families with young children in need.
- Tell me a little bit about First Days and why you decided to start it.
The concept is really simple – we collect baby and toddler clothes, equipment, furniture and toys and redistribute them to families in need. The stuff comes from families who no longer need it or businesses who want to donate surplus stock. The families in need are referred by other services – like children’s centres, social services, churches and housing associations.
I decided to start it when friends and neighbours generously gave us bags and bags of their second hand baby things. It was all in such good condition and there was just so much – I knew there must have been people out there who needed it more than me. I wasn’t sure what to do about it – then a friend told me about some research she was doing into single mothers in the area we live – she said that there was a practical need that wasn’t being fulfilled – ends that just weren’t meeting in their tight budgets. I know it sounds cheesy but I couldn’t just sit back and watch this happening whilst my cupboards were stuffed full of baby stuff that we never got round to using. So, I talked to people in the community and applied for some start up funding. I was granted it and First Days was born (my third baby!).
- You must deal with a lot of difficult situations in your day-to-day working life. What’s been the most surprising thing about the families you help since you started the charity?
They are never how you might imagine. I have not come across a mother who isn’t trying very hard to do the best for her children. I was asked to find a play pen for a teenage mum for her 8 months old baby. I could have thought ‘oh she wants it because she can’t be bothered to look after her son’ but what I found was a young girl who was preparing home made baby food and needed somewhere safe to put him whilst she was cooking in her tiny flat. She spent a lot of money on fresh ingredients because her baby’s weaning diet was so important to her. The most surprising thing is that we are fed so many stereotypes about how people in poverty live their lives and the majority – if not all of them – are generalisations and just plain lies.
- What do you love most about what you do?
I love being able to help people. It’s a miss-world-esque cliche but it’s the truth. It is such a struggle for the families I work with to just make it to the end of the week with enough money for food. To know that I’ve showed kindness to people who are feeling desperate is fantastic – to be able to take pressure off is incredibly rewarding.
- And what are the low points?
The emotions. I have had to face my own prejudices, assumptions and judgements. I always thought I was a fair and non-judgmental person but I’ve been really challenged. Once I pulled up at a house, just off a road I’ve driven down many times, where I was delivering clothes to a family who were in desperate need. I arrived and looked at the house. It was bigger than mine and had a garage and my immediate thought was ‘oh. They can’t need much! They’ve got a garage! I don’t have a garage!!’ I went in and quickly realised that the family I was there to help lived in one of the rooms. There were 4 other families living in that house. I dropped the stuff to them and got back in my car and cried all the way home. I couldn’t believe the conditions they were living in and how quickly I had jumped to conclusions. Starting a charity from scratch is all consuming and takes an extraordinary amount of time, money and help from friends and family but – whilst there have been low points – it has been so worth it.
- What’s been the one stand-out amazing moment for you since the start of First Days?
We became a registered charity in July this year, which was a fantastic milestone. It was suddenly something bigger than an idea that grew from my kitchen table. It is suddenly a real, recognised organisation. That was a real turning point for me to look at it and think – wow, I’m a part of this! Personally, recently being shortlisted for the Tesco Mum of the Year award in recognition of the work I have done has been a real honour.
- You have two young children and your own charity; without using that awful phrase of ‘how DO you do it?!’, erm, how DO you do it? ;)
Ha! I think when you’re passionate about something you find the time to do it, I genuinely enjoy the work – which I think is really rare. I am also supported by a fantastic board of Trustees and hardworking volunteers. Don’t get me wrong though, I have a husband who does a LOT at home and I live very near to a lot of family who can step in to help with the children if we need it – things are hectic, sometimes stressful and exhausting but it’s exactly how I like it, for now!
- Talk to me about your Christmas campaign, #ShareMyChristmas. How can we get involved?
It’s very simple: we want all families to experience the Christmas they deserve. We work with families who have to choose between Christmas Dinner or presents and we don’t want them to have to make that choice for their children. So we are providing children in poverty with Christmas presents to lighten the load for their parents. Getting involved is simple – take a picture of something festive, share it on social media with the hashtag #sharemychristmas and donate by texting ‘FDCC11 £X’ (X being the amount you want to donate!) to 70070. There are other ways to donate on our website too – www.firstdays.net. I am so excited to #sharemychristmas with other families!
- What’s in store next year for First Days?
I have big plans, as always! One thing I’m really keen on is meeting with people who are interested in setting up a similar project where they live. I want to see communities empowered in every town and city in the UK to help one another, in such a simple and practical way. Watch this space!
For the longest time I believed that ‘having it all’ revolved around ‘what the outside world thinks you have’. I thought it meant how big your house was, how new your car was, what your husband did, how well behaved your kids were, what clothes you wore.
And it wasn’t until I found myself at actual rock-bottom, as a single parent with no reliable income and zero husbands, that I realised how wrong I was. Having it all is absolutely nothing to do with what you have and is absolutely everything to do with who you are.
Here’s the thing as I see it: we have an insane amount of outside influences in our lives. Blogs, media, friends, co-workers. And it’s so easy to look at all these influences attaining society’s idea of success and think, well, this is what it means to be have it all, isn’t it? And so we strive for these things that we see as measures of success and happiness with little or no knowledge of whether or not it’s going to make us happy.
We go from thinking we have to have THE CAREER (check) to THE KIDS (check) to THE HOUSE (check) to THE CAR AND THE CLOTHES AND THE HANDBAGS AND THE RESTAURANTS… and it’s exhausting. Keeping up with the Joneses becomes a full-time job and actually, who says that having all that stuff will really make you happy?
I used to be one of those people. I was so desperate for the world to see that I was living out someone else’s idea of perfection that I totally lost my way. I didn’t understand how I wasn’t happy when, to an outsider looking in, I had everything you could ever want. The big house (cripplingly expensive), the lovely children (ok, they really are lovely), the car, the opportunity to be a stay at home mum, the nights in fancy restaurants, the nice handbags. For a while I really did have it all, except I didn’t.
Where I went wrong is that I didn’t understand that my version of ‘having it all’ might be different to the media’s, to what is generally accepted as being a life that you strive for. Even though I woke up on Monday morning with a whole week of nothing but being a mum ahead of me – a situation so many women dream of – I was drowning. There was nothing more daunting to me than working out how on earth I could fill five days with toddler groups, coffees, nap times and educational play (still not sure what this entails). As much as I wanted to be I just couldn’t make myself one of those (incredible, admirable) women who was a happy full-time mum.
To them I say: wow. Being a full-time mum, it really is the hardest job in the world.
It wasn’t until now that I realised the meaning of ‘having it all’. Yet there’s never been a time in my life when so many outsiders looking in have said to me, hey Alice, I don’t know how you do it.
But you know how I do it? I do it because this is my having it all. It turns out that my version of having it all is getting up in the morning and spending a couple of hours with my children (we had chocolate pancakes this morning!) before taking them to places I know they will be educated, well-looked after and loved. My having it all is spending 9 hours a day running a team, working my business mind, accomplishing professional goals. My having it all is earning good money so I can build my little family a really great life and maybe get my hair or nails done once in a while and feeling happy that I’ve worked to deserve it. My having it all is coming home after a busy day to cuddles with my two little people on the sofa and eating the weekend’s leftovers for supper, knowing I’ve given my all to the day.
I don’t have a husband to support me, a huge big house or a no-pressure open-ended maternity leave. But THAT’S OK, because all those things didn’t make me happy, anyway. Looking back I can say that now, though life has never been so challenging, I really do have it all. And it is such a relief to have finally discovered what that means.
When you’re a mother, the default mode seems to be GUILT. I thought this was just me until I started talking to my mum friends and realised this guilt phenomenon is universal. From what I can tell, save a few books by G Ford or your parenting practitioner of choice, we’re all pretty clueless when it comes to this parenting journey. Which means you’re always second guessing your choices, wondering if you make the best decisions when it comes to your children.
For example, in the last 48 hours I have felt guilty over the following things (and more, but I only have around 800 words here): giving rice cakes to the kids for a snack instead of blueberries, making Elfie go to nursery for the day when she was clinging onto my leg crying, sending her to bed early because she was mean to Hux (and tired), not giving them a bath because we were all too knackered for the nightly splish splash, not fastening Hux’s nighttime nappy properly meaning it leaked in bed and he was sad, leaving the school uniform purchase til August and therefore not being able to find navy P.E. shorts…
It doesn’t end. I feel guilty because I work too much, but when I’m not working I don’t think it’s enough. I feel guilty because Elfie got to the age of almost-four before going to nursery yet Hux is there at two. I feel guilty that I enjoy my work but I’m doing it at the expense of missing the final throes of his babyhood (when I’m home I sniff his head A LOT).
I’m digressing here, because my current mode of guilt is all about school. Elfie starts school tomorrow and I literally haven’t spent any time feeling sad about it. My Facebook timeline is full of mums waxing lyrical about the beginning of the school year but to be honest I’m feeling… well, I’m not sure how I’m feeling.
I know that Elfie doesn’t like nursery; they make her try fruit every day and she likes only blueberries, bananas and strawberries which is uber stressful on the orange and apple days. Yet she’s hugely excited about the prospect of big school and can’t wait to get there, so I guess I’m excited about that. I’m stressed about the aforementioned school uniform (buy it in JULY, people, JULY!), the last bits of which I’m picking up tonight, 12 hours before she starts. I’m proud of how cute she looks in her school uniform and I’m kind of relieved that I won’t be paying £60 a day for her to be in childcare any more.
I’m also starting a new job on the day she starts school, so much of my mind is on that. I’m saying goodbye to my four day weeks at the lovely London IKEA office and starting my first full-time permanent job since 2010 at a big London agency’s satellite base in Milton Keynes. I’m very excited about so much of it – running a team, using my knowledge, managing accounts, working for a big name in the industry – but mostly I’m excited that it’s precisely a seven minute commute in the car. No more leaving work at 5.30 and getting home at 8pm! No more delayed trains! No more feeling so tired that I dribble on a stranger’s shoulder during the morning commute! I’m going to miss my colleagues so much though. And the MeatMission burgers.
But then I realise I’m thinking too much about my new job instead of the start of school and I’m slapped with the working mum guilt again. I read a Nora Ephron quote this morning and it made me feel dreadful:
“I have a theory that children remember two things — when you weren’t there and when they threw up”
It was posted by a working mum on a blog… hashtag solidarity, hey sister?
Luckily I was there when Hux threw up last week (all over the car, thanks buddy) but I can’t believe their childhood memories will be made up of time I wasn’t there. Instead I believe they’ll grow up proud of their mum who worked as hard as she could to build a future for them. The holidays we took, the precious evenings reading books on the sofa.
And the burgers, they’ll definitely remember the burgers.
I love to talk with my mum about how motherhood has changed since I was born. For example, after I was born she was able to get used to being a mum for a whole week in a special hospital filled with maternity nurses who would take care of your baby for you – making sure new mums learned all the new skills they needed for child rearing and most importantly got lots of sleep! Can you even imagine being able to do that these days?
Which is why I’m happy to share this infographic with you from Benenden. How many of these facts about the evolution of motherhood did you know? The first modern Caesarean (I’ve had two!) was performed in 1881, I shudder to think of what would have happened to me when Elfie was born had that not been invented (she would have been coming out feet first for a start. Ouch). And can you imagine not being privy to those magical 12 and 20 week 3D ultrasounds, invented in 1987?
But most shockingly their survey results revel that 1 in 5 mothers suffer negativity when breastfeeding in public. I’ve written on this subject before and LOVE to see mothers breastfeed in public: I truly believe that it’s the most natural thing in the world (breastfeeding Hux was so special) and to think that women have to go through this makes me feel sick. According to the survey the group most likely to disagree are those sixty or over, so let’s hope this school of thought is well on the way out.
Take a look at the evolution of Parenthood:
Thank-you Benenden for partnering with More Than Toast.