A tale of three mums

This is Mum #1.

Business woman having boring call in office

Mum #1 has a job, but not what she would call a career. Mum #1’s job fits conveniently around her role as a mum. Mum #1 doesn’t mind her job, but it is probably not the job she would be doing if she did not have children. Mum #1 knows she is lucky to have a job that fits her current life; but at the same time Mum #1 spends a lot of her time feeling a bit embarrassed and like she has to justify herself.

No, I’m not sure it is what I want to do forever but it works around my life at the moment‘.  / ‘It’s so handy working close to home.’ / ‘I really like being able to do most of the school runs.

Mum #1 trots out these lines on a regular basis.

Mum #1’s job may be convenient and flexible but it is largely unchallenging. Mum #1 sometimes thinks about the path her life might have taken had she made some different decisions along the way. She thinks about the mums who have what she thinks of as proper jobs. Jobs that they would be doing whether or not they had gone on to have children. Mums who have a professional-looking headshot and mini-biography on an organisation’s website. Mums who attend important meetings. Mums who have a job-title which doesn’t require an explanation. Mum #1 frequently wonders what her life would be like if she had one of these jobs, but at the same time she knows that she likes picking her children up from school.

Mum #2 has a job with a proper name, the job she aimed for from being 15 years old. She puts her children to bed and then logs on to do a few more hours work Very busy business woman (2)
in the evening. Mum #2 knows that this is what is expected of her – she knows that no allowances will be made for her just because of her other role as a mum. There are plenty of others out there who would jump at the chance to do her job, so she needs to be at the very top of her game. Mum #2 feels guilty asking for a couple of hours here or there to attend her little one’s school assembly, and promises she’ll work later that evening to make up for it. Sometimes she can’t bring herself to ask for a couple of hours off; so she asks a friend to take photos for her instead.

As well as work, Mum #2’s head is full of before and after school childcare arrangements, and of the need to plan childcare for the next school holiday.

As soon she walks through the door in the evening, Mum #2’s children are hanging off her legs and wiping their noses on her favourite jacket.

Mum #2 spends a lot of time feeling like she has to justify herself to all the people who ask her why she has made the decisions she has.

I work because I like to set a positive example for my child/children.‘ / ‘We need my salary to pay the mortgage.‘ / ‘Things change so quickly in my field of work – I wouldn’t be able to get back into it again if I took time out.’

People ask her how she finds it being back at work. How she manages to do it all. Why she made the decision to return to her very demanding job. People don’t ask these questions of her husband. People don’t ask him why he decided to continue in the job he’d worked so hard for. People only tend to ask a man this question if the man decided to take a step back from work post-children. Mum #2 has noticed this.

Mum #2 loves having a job that is stimulating and challenging. She loves being with people who don’t only think of her as a mum. But sometimes, just sometimes, Mum #2 feels like she’s had enough of juggling all these balls. She feels like she’s had enough of trying to be everything to everyone. Of trying to give her all at work and at home. Of answering questions about why she does it and how she copes. Of attempting to make important phone calls from home while a sick child coughs and splutters and just wants to curl up for a cuddle. She thinks about Mum #3, who is always around if her children are sick and doesn’t need to frantically make alternative arrangements.

Mum #3 had a career and generally a very busy life Mother With Child Girl Draw And Paint Together
before she became a mum; but now she spends her days kneeling on the floor playing snap or building towers out of wooden bricks or pushing a swing, or doing finger paintings. Mum #3 didn’t go back to work after she had children – her hours were long and unpredictable, and her other half works shifts. She couldn’t quite see a way to make it work. Mum #3 always told herself that maybe she would go back to work once her children started school; but then her children did start school and Mum #3 wondered what job she could find that factored in a 9-3 school day and a 6 week summer holiday. Mum #3 still can’t quite see how to make it work and has lost confidence; even though she knows she is competent and qualified and was very good at what she did.

Mum #3 loves being able to pick her children up from school, and being at all the assemblies, and taking photos for her lovely friends who can’t make it to the assemblies, and going into school to read with the children, and doing library duty. But at the same time Mum #3 misses her old life. She misses spending time with people who know her as someone other than X’s mum. She misses using her brain for something other than deciding what to cook for tea, or remembering when the reading books need changing.

Mum #3 also spends a lot of time feeling embarrassed and like she has to justify herself. ‘Yes I do miss my old job but I can’t seem to find anything that fits around my children.’ / ‘My partner works shifts and my hours were really long so it just wouldn’t have worked.’ / ‘Yes, I know it’s a shame I’m not using my degree’.

Mum #3 sometimes gets tired of justifying herself, and of comparing herself to other mums.

So does Mum #2.

And Mum #1.

These aren’t all the mums, of course they aren’t – there are all sorts of variants out there. And of course there are the mums who are happy with the choices they’ve made…..mums who would never have dreamt of going down a different route – the confident-in-the-choices-they’ve-made mums.

But if you’re anything like me, you probably veer between feeling like you’ve made the right decisions one minute, and feeling like you should be doing everything differently the next. And whatever sort of mum you are (I am Mum #1, btw), you will often feel like you have to explain your choices to strangers.

boys on log


This is where the time went

There is one question that I’ve noticed crops up a lot on my Facebook feed at the moment, and it is this –

Where did the time go?

I see it at birthdays and big milestones and especially now, at the start of the school year.

I know what people mean when they ask where the time has gone. They mean ‘how has my helpless baby developed into a real, functioning little person who can actually do things?‘ They mean ‘how is it possible for someone to grow and learn so much when day to day I have barely notice a change?‘ They mean ‘what a shame it isn’t possible to bottle and keep the nice bits of the baby days, because they’re never coming back.’

That (I think) is what people mean. We don’t actually mean ‘where did the time go?‘; because we all know where it went, don’t we?

It went on feeding and winding and changing nappies; on changing sleepsuits because this one’s been sicked on and….oh dear, now that one’s been poo-d on.

It went on tummy time and activity mat time and ‘let’s give you a go in your bouncer‘ time.

It went on baby books and nursery rhymes and lullabies.

It went on rocking, comforting, soothing, cuddling; and on evenings spent lying next to a cot when a baby wouldn’t settle.

It went on coffee mornings, on baby signing, on baby music and on I’m-so-tired-I-don’t-even-know-what-this-group-is-but-I’m-out-of-the-house-so-I’ll-stay-anyway groups.

It went on doing the laundry and folding it up and putting it away and despairing because the laundry basket is overflowing.

It went on applying teething gel and giving calpol and wishing a cuddle could just take away all that horrible teething pain.

It went on making a tea then forgetting it about it and reheating it an hour later.

It went on walking the streets with a pushchair trying to get a cranky baby to sleep.

It went on pureeing veg and providing breadsticks; on toddler-proofing the kitchen, and on mopping up spills.

It went on trying to teach small people to share and co-operate and listen.

It went on ‘oh no, you musn’t touch this‘ and ‘please don’t touch that‘; on kneeling down to play trains or stack cups or build towers.

It went on cleaning up cut knees; on applying plasters and wiping away tears.

It went on nights comforting crying babies and early mornings with cranky toddlers.

It went on sitting in the doctor’s waiting room and on trips to out of hours.

It went on bedtime stories and tucking in and ‘let’s get you back to your own bed shall we?’ at 2am.

It went on games of Snap, on Spot the Difference, on trying to teach children how to hold a pencil properly; on episodes of In the Night Garden and Peter Rabbit and Peppa Pig.

It went on pushing the swings and helping toddlers to negotiate the climbing frames.

It went on dealing with tantrums and sorting out arguments and teaching the concept of taking it in turns.

It went on disastrous trips to the shops, on rides on the bus, on making packed lunches and on ‘why don’t you just eat that last bit of cucumber?‘.

It went on ‘let’s do some colouring‘ and ‘let’s do some painting‘ and ‘ooh why don’t we make something?‘. And then clearing up the mess.

It went on fun days out and ‘oh dear that one went a bit wrong‘ days out.

It went on ice-creams, on rainy day trips to the library; on birthday parties and soft play.

It went on snatching a few seconds to cry in a corner, on frequently feeling out of my depth, on wondering why others always looked calmer than me, on raiding the snack box, on pulling funny faces, on doing silly dances and on planning birthday parties.

That is where the time went – on all of that and so much more. It’s been pretty busy hasn’t it?



Being an actual, proper grown up

Although I’m rapidly approaching 37, I still like to think about what I’ll be when I’m an actual proper grown up. I think this might have something to do with the fact that I’ve never had a job with a proper name – I’ve never been able to say ‘I’m a doctor / teacher / hairdresser / nurse ‘, that sort of thing. And that makes me feel like I’m blagging a bit, like one day I’m going to be seen through and someone will realise that I’m actually only 14.

I suspect, though, that this is how most grown ups feel….whether or not they’ve got a job with a proper name.

When you’re little, everyone talks about what you’ll do ‘when you grow up‘ don’t they? As if being a grown up is exciting which, compared to being a child, it isn’t. My 3 year olds dream of driving a yellow digger when they’re grown ups. When they realise that, even if they do end up driving a digger, being a grown up is also about paying bills, mowing the lawn and putting another wash on, I have a feeling they will want to go back to being three and dressing up as pirates.

When I was little I think I must have imagined that one day I would walk through a magical archway into Grown-Up-Land, where everything would fall into place and I would just BE a grown-up. And, of course, in Grown-Up-Land I would have a job with a name.

There are many things I find difficult to accept about being a grown up and here is one – that 20 years ago I was taking my GCSEs. 20 YEARS AGO! I can’t accept that I was old enough to do anything 20 years ago. Now I work in a school and frequently find myself talking to sixth form students about my university experience…..then I have to remind myself that actually THEY REALLY DON’T CARE where I went to university because the year that I went, most of them weren’t even born. That’s right, they weren’t born in 1998. That can’t be right.

But, whilst I’m having trouble accepting that I’m now closer to 50 than 21, I can’t deny that I am a proper grown up. Not just because I have a few grown up things like a house, a husband, three children and Denby crockery; but because of a whole load of other things which gradually, over the last 15 years or so, have started to happen. I have now realised that being a grown up means so many different things, not just having a job with a proper name. Here are a few…..

Being a grown up is being tired all the time, drowning in washing and pretending to know the answers to things.

Being a grown up is having bad knees, a bad back; and aches and pains that weren’t there 20 years ago.

Being a grown up is actually wanting to stay in on a Saturday night.

Being a grown up is no longer worrying about trying to be friends with everyone, but being thankful for the friends you have.

Being a grown up is when you dream of a new kitchen rather than a new wardrobe.

Being a grown up is wondering how on earth people who were born 10 or more years after you can possibly already have achieved huge things in their lives. And maybe resenting it just a bit.

Being a grown up is when being at home with cosy socks, slippers and a glass of wine is more appealing than after work drinks.

Being a grown up is when you think joining the National Trust is one of the best things you ever did.

Being a grown up is when you don’t know who is at Number 1 in the charts and, worst of all, you don’t care. Back when you were 14, you couldn’t imagine this moment would ever come.

Being a grown up is when you drink more tea/coffee than you do cold drinks.

Being a grown up is when you realise you might have to do something about all the grey hairs.

Being a grown up is when you seek out a bit of quiet rather than the noise.

Being a grown up is when you hear songs from 20 years ago but don’t think of them as being old.

Being a grown up is rarely straightforward. It involves floundering, stopping, starting, often getting it wrong and starting again.

Being a grown up is accepting that you may never have a job with a proper name.

Being a grown up is doing your best to appear competent, even though most of the time you don’t have a clue what you are doing. But I’ve decided that’s ok, because most grown ups are just stumbling around hoping they’re doing the right thing. And if you’re going to stumble, you might as well stumble in your comfy socks and slippers.

socks and slippers