Mums are tired you say? It’s not news to us!

Alex Molton explores the revelation that working mums are tired and considers whether we are asking too much of ourselves and how we can redress the balance.

Tired woman sleeping on the table in the kitchen at breakfast.

 

I read an article recently about a survey of working mums, which concluded, in essence, that we are tired. To be honest, this isn’t news.

Don’t get me wrong, modern life is tough-going for us all and the last few years have required a particular level of resilience, but I really do think it’s harshest on working mums.

The last few weeks in my family, arranging lifts for children, attending school events, transition evenings and remembering to buy an end of year gift for the teacher (you’ve not got long left if you still want to get one) have required an unprecedented level of organisation, logistical planning and a heck of a lot of putting reminders in phone calendars. And in every family I know it’s the mums, all of whom are working too, who are leading the charge in keeping appointments, making sure bags are packed, children are delivered and events are attended. But why is this? All of these mums have partners, who are perfectly capable of taking some of the strain. Talking to friends, many feel that it is just simpler for them to be the ones doing the doing, rather than having to coordinate diaries with OHs. Often this just involves adding another person’s obligations and plans into the diary.

This term is traditionally particularly manic and filled with activities, but for many of us life isn’t that different all year round. For most of the mums I know, life is filled with a seemingly endless set of obligations; online ‘inboxes’ to check, gym classes to race to, work meetings to attend, date nights to arrange, birthdays to plan. It’s no wonder we are all so tired.

When I fell pregnant with Son#1 I had just begun pretty much my dream job. I went on maternity leave vowing I would return to the role after the birth, fully committed to my job, and expecting that the baby would somehow just slot in. Naively I had not anticipated the brain-crushing tiredness from endless weeks of barely sleeping (he didn’t get the hang of sleeping at night for a long time), the loneliness from hours spent with a very cute but not very chatty human, and most of all the overwhelming love which meant I didn’t want to leave his side for a second. So when I did return to work, I found it didn’t seem quite as important as it had before his arrival, and questioned whether I could afford to stop work to be a stay at home parent whilst he was small.

But the culture we live doesn’t value parenthood as a life choice, or a valuable contribution to the economy. Many mums – myself included – worry about being ‘left behind’ if we don’t work as well as parenting and therefore back to work I went after all of my children – as did almost all of my friends.

For my mother’s generation (which is admittedly almost two generations ago – she had me when she was 40) it wasn’t really a consideration. Even in the 80s most mums I knew stayed at home, with a few having part-time jobs in an office or maybe as a cleaner, but very few in any position of authority or in a role with any seniority.

Fast forward 40 years and most mums I know have ‘careers’; jobs they are committed to and have invested 20+ years building; several are high level managers, directors or board members. But yet they are still the ones running the house, organising the children, sorting out childcare, doing the washing. So has the world for women really moved forward, or are women now trying to fulfil both the demands of a more traditional, ‘old-fashioned’ lifestyle and also smash that glass ceiling, invest in their careers and find their own place in the world? For many I think it is the latter. But is this a sustainable way for us to live? I’m not so sure.

So what’s the answer? How do we get the most of our parenting years and our working years without burning out? Better support from partners and more help from older children could definitely help. However, having an employer who appreciates the value and demands of parenting and provides a more flexible way of working, whether by offering hybrid working, compressed hours or term time roles, must be the key part of the puzzle. Allowing working mums to parent guilt-free – changing hours to accommodate poorly children or attend school events where necessary – while still valuing their contribution at work and providing opportunities for career development and personal growth can only make life easier for working parents, leading to a happier balance for us all. And hopefully a bit more sleep.



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