Mums: Why Are We So Hard On Ourselves?

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On Monday night I did not sleep well.

The wind was howling away at our windows, which meant Elfie, who’s a light sleeper when there’s background noises, spent the night shouting out in her sleep. It used to be alarming but it’s now generally pure comedy: she says the funniest things in her sleep and is always SO cross – “NO HUX, THE LEGO IS MINE!!!” – but it doesn’t half keep me awake.

I had that kind of sleep that is never satisfying, too. I could hear my rose bush tap tap tapping on the downstairs windows and felt unsettled so kept making mini pilgrimages down the stairs: had I locked the back door? Yes. Did I blow that candle out? Of course.

The next morning the children woke up at 7.30am, something that has happened three times this week and is simultaneously glorious and a disaster: try washing, feeding, dressing and bundling a 3 and a 5 year old out the door in an hour, it doesn’t work. Makes a lovely change from those 5.30am wakeups, though.

why are women so hard on themselves

Anyway, I was tired and grumpy. Elfie wasn’t very happy with me as we’d woken too late to make pancakes (pancake day being on a par with Christmas as far as she’s concerned), Hux wasn’t very happy because I’ve confiscated the sellotape he uses to stick ALL his toys together (hence why it’s been confiscated) and I wasn’t happy because, hello, sleep deprivation.

I did the school run and, as always, sat down ready to work at 9.30am. Only nothing happened. My brain was farting, I couldn’t focus on a task, my mind would not settle. I felt like a three year old after a lunch of Ribena and e numbers, hyped up and unable to concentrate.

So I did what anyone would do. I refreshed Twitter and Feedly for hours, made mindless comments on Facebook statuses, dusted my windowsills, plumped my cushions. I cleaned the loo, growled at the state of the recycling bin, washed my sheets. Spent money I can’t afford on expensive skincare I don’t need (scratch that, I totally need it) and browsed dresses I will never wear.

In the end I realised I was so hyped up on lack of sleep that I went to lie down and catch up. But only after three hours of wasted procrastination, time I did nothing with but sit at my desk and make myself feel guilty for not doing productive work.

This self-flagellation is a common theme in my life. And I don’t know why.

If I stop and look at all that I do every single day, it’s really quite amazing: bringing up two lovely children; driving them to schools, nurseries, clubs, playdates; maintaining a clean house; cooking all meals from scratch; caretaking when they have the flu; caretaking myself when I have the flu; practicing spellings and writing; reading books; running a business; writing a column for a national newspaper (no biggie); attempting to have a relationship; managing the household budget; working out where we’re going to live next year so we’re in the right catchment area; organizing my ASOS returns; washing my hair; going to the gym… I bet your list looks a bit like this too, and if it were anyone else I’d be slapping them on the back, offering them a drink and asking if they were actually superwoman.

But not myself.

why are women so hard on themselves

When I have a day where I am so tired, overaught and stressed that I am too jittery to sit down and write 800 words of copy about single parenting, why is it that I give myself such a hard time? What I should be saying is, “Dear Alice, that you are too busy bossing being a great mum to actually write about being one. And that is just fine. Chill out! Look after yourself! Eat Hobnobs and watch Netflix!”

What I actually do is sink into a hole, telling myself I’m a crap writer, a terrible businesswoman, that nobody will ever want to employ me again. Wondering why I don’t have time to read Harry Potter to Elfie, make a Book Day costume from scratch, cook those bloody pancakes, get a boyfriend AND wash my hair more often. WHAT A BAD PERSON I MUST BE ;)

The thing is, nobody’s perfect. And until I became a mum I don’t think I was that bothered about being perfect. At work, I was always happy if I knew I’d given it my best, and if other people weren’t happy with my best then that was their problem. I guess now, working for myself and for my children, my goals and aspirations are set by me and only me. And I’m afraid I’m a bit of a perfectionist.

This striving for perfection is something I discuss often with my good mum friends. We collectively feel the need to be perfect – to handle everything life throws at us, maintaining those perfect Pinterest-worthy homes and those Hollywood-worthy relationships. My mum says she didn’t feel such pressure in her day – so why do we put this on ourselves? Is this all a product of the Instagram generation?

It’s not sustainable though.

December nearly cracked me, but I can’t be shooting off to spa hotels to re-charge every couple of weeks. It’s all about taking a foot off the accelerator: realising we can’t be everything to everyone, we’re never going to be perfect all the time.

If I had a shitty nights sleep I need to be OK with having an easy day afterwards. If it’s half term I need to not book in a crapload of work. I need to put myself and things I enjoy first, and work second. Then the work will come so much easier.

Basically, I should treat myself like I would treat a friend. With kindness, care and complete understanding.

More self-care, less self-flagellation.

You too?

7 Comments
  1. Ah, interesting – I’m the opposite! When I was working, I was constantly worried about not living up to expectations, not deserving the wage I was being paid, screwing up something important in some way – total imposter syndrome. Now that I’m looking after my daughter, I figure life is too unpredictable to try to control everything so I’m much more able to go with the flow and ignore the dusty windowsills.

    (love that organising your ASOS returns is on the list, though)

  2. This is me and I’ve no idea why we are so hard on ourselves. If I take a day off – because I’m really not in the right frame of mind to create content – I feel so guilty! You are doing a great job and you should definitely have more sofa, biscuits and TV time. Have a great weekend. x

  3. Totally me too. Have had a serious lack of motivation since Christmas, and do enjoy reading rubbish books, and watching endless reruns of Greys Anatomy. Am now too tired to chastise myself so have decided to just go with the flow and wait for my mojo to come back. It makes a pleasant change.

  4. Hi Alice, this is very true. We are really hard on ourselves, the whole time. Sleep deprivation is a killer. Last Friday I had an assessment centre for a promotion at work. On Thursday I received a note through my door saying that the road outside my flat was being resurfaced between the hours of 8pm and 5am Thursday night to Friday morning. Added to that Cygnet has a cold, one of those stinking ones where green snot pours from his nose constantly. We were both awake at 3am (in fact I hadn’t managed to get to sleep at all) so I decided to let him watch the diggers from the lounge window. It was actually quite fun. I knew then that my assessment centre was going to be an embarrassing car crash. I went for it anyway (I was tempted to call in sick) so had 3 espressos and 2 berocca boost. It was horrendous. I was shit. I could barely string a sentence together let alone stage a meeting on climate change. Oh well. It is not failure we should fear but the lack of courage to try. At least I had the courage…

    Dreading the feedback though…

  5. Yup all of that – and accepting that other people really don’t see most of the wobbles and the mess and just think you’re doing ok even when you feel like a total mess – hang on in there, you’re doing great

  6. Wilf also loves to tape all his toys together! That made me laugh out loud. I’m pretty hard on myself too, especially when you’re in the throws on having a little baby and feeling like you’re getting NOTHING done. I always pep talk my friends and wish I could do it to myself, it’s certainly a skill to learn how to be kind to yourself x

  7. Oh so after with this Alice!! My expectations of myslef are ridiculous and I’m so hard on my self of I ‘fail’

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