Whilst heavy with my first child, in the heady days after our honeymoon, past the gruesome everything-makes-me-want-to-puke-phase, I remember a feeling of contentment. Everyone was partaking in guess the gender, rubbing the bump without permission, wondering if said child will be early or late, and listening to countless experienced mothers sharing their birth stories. It was all so... sublime.
Waiting-for-baby-days involved me sitting around with my bump and my feet up, colour-coding birth plans and creating painstaking playlists to breathe to when the moment finally arrived.
Fast forward a few years, a house move, a career promotion and two more offspring and sublime is a word I've now taken to understanding is a description of the measurement of my after work gin before you put any feature of fruit on top of it. I think I have been screaming 'who the hell forgot to tell me how damn difficult this is?' inside my head every since BigL took her first earthly breath.
This could be a recount about the humorous debacles pertaining to motherhood, but there have been many not so funny moments that make me wonder how I should prepare the 3G for the road ahead.
It seems that people are so caught up on telling parents-to-be how natural everything is; being pregnant, giving birth, breastfeeding, being a working mum. I constantly get asked by newbie mums back in the workplace - how do you do it with three, I can barely do it with one? My answer is usually a wry smile and a mumble about how I can't leave one child in a handbag so I just get on with it. And of course, most mothers / parents do. This is what we signed up for, after all.
But after reading Rachel Kelly's article in The Sunday Times about how "modern female lifestyles are to blame" for the ratio of anti-depressants being higher with women than men, I noticed how many of her points ran true with my experience and that of other working mums I have known.
The article confessed the pitfalls of trying to have it all and how our minds sometimes feel like their drowning and wave frantically for pills to help them climb ashore. Kelly highlights one of the main factors that women find themselves in this situation is that 'they are overwhelmed, tired and lonely'. I found this bit really poignant:
"The constraints that had held back our mothers were not for us: we would be career girls and mothers, as well as sisters, daughters, wives , friends, home-makers and care-givers, and still fit into our skinny jeans. No one warned us that in our keeness to embrace so many roles, and in my case with an added desire to please and be approved of others, our health might give way."
Unfortunately hers did. And I have met so many women who are trying to juggle the role they worked for prior to having children; then become the earth mother / tiger parent / working mum trying to tapdance her way through a glass ceiling. More like a glass mirror reflecting back a bredraggled yet organised exhausted trying to keep it together crisis in a pencil skirt.
Whilst in the grip of stress factor ten (working full time in middle management in charge of a large department in a high achieving school and being the picker upper and dropper off person for three children under 5) I came across an article about a mother with three girls of similar ages to mine who had jumped off a bridge very close to where I live, because it seemed the struggle with balancing motherhood and being a full time lawyer just became too much. My heart broke for the family left with all the questions and the void that losing her must have created.
But for a few moments I nodded gravely in empathy. The thought processes that can escalate a mind, body and soul into serious problems may start very small and very innocently. You can't work showing your imperfections, because that would be letting people down, this is your job and people rely on you and well you get paid; and isn't this what people expect of working mums anyway - their focus is not on the job anymore. So you battle harder, push leaving work until the very last minute, do catch up on emails on the loo, shove the kids into bed with a fleeting kiss because 'mummy has work to do'. But on the other hand you can't mother imperfectly either, because these are your children who didn't ask to be born, and who look to you to get things right, and be an exemplar on how to read, learn, speak, play, laugh, cook, dress - if you don't get it right now, it'll be too late when they're older; they will blame you. So you plan meticulous birthday celebrations, drag children, exhausted from breakfast and after school clubs, round free museums because 'we're so lucky to live in the capital city and have all this on our doorstep', create homework and chore timetables to ensure that every single minute is accounted for.
And these are just your own priorities, because there is usually a husband that needs to be wifed, parents that need to be remembered, family members that need your attention, friends that need to be called because goodness knows that you have leant on them since time began. Then it's out to the peripheries - neighbours to be considered, invitations to be made, dinners to be five-a-day proofed, days out to be planned, clubs to be driven to. Chuck in a house, clothes, pets, car, and post-baby weight (can we still call it that after five years?) that needs stuff doing to it; and suddenly there are not enough seconds in the day.
Lists become longer, schedules become tighter, every single atom of movement is planned and plotted for, leaving no time for improvisation, spontaneity or a smile.
Until one day. Some of us cannot keep all those responsibilities up in the air at the same time. I always predicted that it would be a small thing that would cause me to explode one day. A lost sock or burnt toast, I thought, would maybe cause me to spit nails in anger as all of the pressures that enabled me to get things just right gave way in volcanic proportions. But no, it was not a small thing at all - it was a big thing that finally didn't cause me to explode; instead I crumbled. The painted smile, confident stride and shrugs of denial that had plastered over the stress cracks disappeared in the middle of a sleepless night. Sitting on the edge of my bed I cried begging for it all to stop. I couldn't see my way out of this predicament: I wasn't performing at the high standard that I had always maintained, and I was certainly not winning any prizes for mum of the year. Is there anyone who can manage 100% at work and 100% at home?
I want to be able to have the answer in case the 3G find themselves in my position. I want to be able to answer friends who still are. It's not always simple enough to say that we should just stop or that the children will be okay. We may not have the finances to step down or step off. Our children might be responding negatively to the early mornings and late evenings.
So what is the answer? How do we raise our daughters to manage it all? As a mother raising three girls to women, a sister to a mother raising her three daughters, and a sister in law to a mother raising another two girls; somehow we need to find a solution.
|No money exchanged hands for the creation of this masterpiece...honest!|