It’s February 2016 and I’ve been back at work after Maternity Leave for about three weeks. One of the female managers who I don’t really know asks me how I’m getting on. I’m honest and say it’s good to be back but it’s a bit of a shock to the system and I’m still finding my way. She nods empathetically and then says to me “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have it all. You can. I’ve never met any group of people more productive than working mothers.”. It was meant with a helpful and supportive sentiment and it was a positive thing to hear. However, I’m not sure if it was necessarily the right thing for me to here. You see, in the last 14 months I have pondered a lot on life and balance. And on that phrase that gets thrown at all new mothers:
“You can have it all.”
Two years into my life as a mother, I have come to the following firm conclusion: I can’t have it all. It’s taken a me a long time to get my head into a clear and reasoned place on this. And I’m not saying that this elusive “All” isn’t possible for others; I’m speaking from my own experience and perspective here. But the problem with the phrase “You can have it all.” is it means nothing. Seriously, it means nothing. Because “all” is absolutely and completely subjective. Your “all” isn’t the same as my “all” so who knows if a person can realistically accomplish everything they want.
Around the same time I went back to work, I stumbled upon this quotation from Annabel Crabb’s ‘The Wife Drought‘: “The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s child as if one did not have a job.”. I’ve yet to read the full book (Note to self: make more time for reading books.) but it stuck with me. Because before I even contemplate all of the other dimensions of my life, work and motherhood immediately come into conflict on a regular basis. As I finally sit down to start write this I am 5 days into caring for Little H with chicken pox. I had to take 2 days annual leave at no notice. I’ve not been able to leave the house for the majority of the time. Little H has had to be my number 1 priority. But that leaves me behind at work and feeling slightly exposed for my sudden absence. Even though, all credit to my boss and colleagues, nobody made anything other than supportive and kind remarks.
I’ve always been a competitive and goal driven person. Someone who always strives to do far more than is possible in the time she has. So if I were to sit and define my “All”, it would look something like this:
1: Be there for Little H whenever she needs me;
2: Be with Little H more across a week than I’m at work;
3: Get properly fit again, like back in my rowing days;
4: Step up to the next rung of the ladder at work;
5: Bake regularly;
6: Continue publishing a couple of blog posts per week and getting readers;
7: Use my Spanish more;
8: Brush-up on my very rusty and out of date coding skills;
9: Read more books, both fiction and non-fiction (including books to improve my skillset at work)
10: Invest more time in the garden to bring the new one to the same / better standard as our old one, including growing some vegetables again;
11: Start using my telescope again and better understanding how to read the sky;
12: Decorate the house;
13: Go to bed at a reasonable hour;
14: Enjoy a sit on the sofa with a cup of tea and some telly now and again with Sam;
15: Listen to more music like I did in school / uni days.
I’m stopping at 15 because I’m already feeling an equal mix of excited, overwhelmed and a little bit like a failure. You see, there are only 168 hours in a week and I just can’t fit everything in. Sure I can make productivity gains here and there. I can go for an 80% solution rather the 100% solution. But I have always been a rather efficient person so at best I grab an extra 10 minutes for another cup of tea. I did the sums and I have approximately 2 hours a day to do things beyond caring for Little H, working, commuting, housework, cooking etc. That will drop when Little H gives up her nap later this year.
So ambitions are a wonderful thing but in reality I’ve come to accept that I can’t do everything I would like to do. For me, it’s all about having clear priorities so that when I find myself torn, I know where my focus needs to lie. I wrote these priorities back in my early days as a working mother and they still remain true. I am learning to stop comparing myself to those in different situations and who have a different focus. It’s not always easy. It doesn’t come naturally. But I get better at it with time. The more time that passes, the more contented I feel. And the time constraints of today that come with parenting a young child won’t remain forever. So there will be plenty of time in the future for everything else on that list of mine!
There are various other bloggers who inspired to me finally ‘pen’ this post:
Lucy from Leaning In who is constantly pushing the boundaries on how to balance work and motherhood. If it is ever possible to having it all at home and professionally then Lucy will without a doubt find the way of doing it!
‘My job has flex…But it’s just not working‘ from Bridie by the Sea – A post Bridget published whilst I was writing this. It really resonated because it shows that even when you seemingly get everything you want, sometimes it’s not actually what you really needed.