Let’s be a bit more honest

What makes the whole working parent thing more manageable?

A tired mum sitting on the sofa holds her head whilst children run around she needs energy boost


Someone asked me for some tips on being a working mum the other day. I thought I should have a few that I can reel off and there are some general things about sharing the load where possible [build that village if you can], getting the flexibility you need at work [work life balance is a bit of a mirage, but flexibility can make it all work better] and being able to share experiences with other mums honestly and laugh at the kind of situations you get yourself into [which may have seemed highly stressful at the time] and at the smoke and mirrors involved in getting through the week. Basically, you need some stress release valves and to not expect too much from yourself.

But, of course, as with all things, it all depends on your circumstances, your personality, your own experiences of life and parents, work politics and logistics and much more. On work politics, for instance, my advice would be to walk as soon as possible if you are being bullied, but that is often easier said than done.

A lot comes down to your expectations of yourself as well as those set for you by others [rose-tinted social media posts of perfect kids’ parties come to mind…].  I have never had high standards when it comes to things like housework, for instance. That makes the whole thing a bit easier. That doesn’t mean my house is a tip, but neither is it a monument to Good Housekeeping. Over the years I’ve tried to instil a sense of teamwork when it comes to the chores. All attempts have been short-lived, however. In work terms they would be called pilots. No-one keeps them up and I generally run out of steam trying to enforce them. Everyday emergencies get in the way.

Cooking, however, has been a success. While I did do bake-off competitions in the past and lots of cooking sessions with the kids, the thing that really made a difference was multi-tasking. Due to checking emails etc on the run I have, on several occasions [every single one of them scorched into the brains of my kids], burnt or at least singed food. Daughter one used to call her sandwiches [made with bread heated in the oven] BBs [burnt baguettes] and they apparently achieved legendary status. Nowadays I am not allowed to cook at all for the kids, unless it is toast or pizza or apple crumble. While I miss cooking, it does mean the kids are all really good at it and I get more time to do other things. But I do feel a bit of a failure as cooking is such a key parent thing.

And the thing is my partner is very good at it – mainly because he spends most of his time thinking about food or watching Masterchef. He also seems to have a lot more time than me. When he picks up only son from school he leaves half an hour earlier than me and gets there in time to get a space. I tend to leave five to 10 minutes late after a last-minute email crisis. On the other hand, I do it more often than my partner and I feel like I’ve developed an antipathy to being on time over the years given everything to do with being a working parent seems to be on the clock.
He also stops work at 5.30 on the dot. My job just doesn’t work that way.

I said at the top that laughter is an important sanity check for working parents. A lot of working parenthood is about giving the impression that everything is going along as normal when you are basically just about keeping your head above water. If you can find people you can share the underwater contortions with honestly that is a great help. The problem is that there can be very little time in your week to meet up with people. Sometimes you don’t see even your best friends for weeks, months, even years. Also, sometimes the parents that you meet can make you feel more judged. If you can find one person to offload to, write down or somehow express how you feel or just put a good pop song on and dance round the kitchen you can recharge a little and keep going.

It’s ok to admit it’s hard work and you have to find your own way.  Only you know how hard particular days and weeks are. Just as kids get never being late badges at school, it is definitely worth giving yourself a ‘made it to the end of the week’ virtual badge and making sure you have regular rest points – film nights, duvet mornings, kitchen discos or whatever. Things will keep changing as the kids get older and you will keep adapting and very, very soon they will all be grown up [and likely still at home] so try to make the most of the things you enjoy.

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