Saturday 16 November 2013

Life's about film stars and less about mothers

As a wise philosopher once said "Life's about film stars and less about mothers." Or was that Lilly Allen? Anyway, I connect with these lyrics; I connect with the notion that mothers are made to feel less significant than celebrities. Mothers are low in social importance because, contrary to film stars, no one sees what they do. No one wants to know how many nappies you've changed today, or the monotony of how often you've rocked your child to sleep, or how many times you've cleaned up the food spat out from the several attempts at cooking and feeding him something he will actually agree to eat. No one applauds you or gives you an oscar for your dramatic depiction of a mad woman pulling her hair out at 3:30am (oh no, wait, that was real). 

I sometimes refrain from telling people I'm a 'mum' in case they don't take me seriously. I'm not sure where this comes from, but maybe it's the way people seem to talk about the aspirations they want to achieve before they "settle down and have kids" (What part of having kids is 'settled' I'll never know). There is a notion banded around the place that once you have kids you will have achieved all you want to do in life, you will put away your party dresses, put your career to bed and disregard any temptation to engage in fashion, hobbies or intelligent conversation. This, ladies, is why at 35 you are still wondering if you will ever feel ready to have children and the answer is no you won't. You won't because no one is ever going to feel ready to give up the things that are important to them, the things that bring them life or their passion for their career. 

It's interesting then, that since I've become a mother I socialise more, I have taken up new hobbies and I am more passionate about my career than ever before. Having Albie has given me a drive for life that I've not had previously - my time is limited, so I spend it doing the things I really want to do. My house may look a tip, but it's full of art and photography, poetry and music. Having a child makes you realise what's really important to you and I can guarantee you this: there's nothing like the challenge of looking after one to test your goals and dreams. If your passions are genuine then you will always find room for them in your life, your house may just resemble H&M after the January sales but hey, I won't judge you for it.

What I struggle with most is trying to juggle the things I do. I have to constantly decide which is the most important task, from the menial: 'put make up on or brush my son's teeth', to the major: 'look after my child or go to work'. I am often expected to arrange childcare at the drop of a hat because, obviously, if I'm a career woman working extra hours should come before my child, right? If I can't manage to arrange childcare last minute I am letting down an important client and may be seen to be unprofessional, but if I do go into work I am giving up my only 'son and mum' time and I'm also having to pay a day's nursery fees for what can often be just an hour's meeting. Actually, I can't blame them, they're just trying to do business on their terms, but here's how I do things on mine: I am committed to my work and I am committed to my son. I have no legal contract for either, but if I did here's the deal: my time with Albie is important, I will not get that time back. Ever. It may be an hour's meeting, or replying to an email or ringing a client on my days 'off' but contrary to what everyone else thinks, I do not have days off, I just have days on with lots of things, one of which is my son. My 'role' on those days is to give him undivided attention, not to stress solving work problems whilst he's clawing at me to build a giant donkey out of lego (yes, it was a challenge).

I guess my point is that it doesn't matter if people think your role as a mum is unimportant. Let them. There will always be people who care more about film stars and less about mothers. There will always be people who speak of full time mums as 'just house wives'. These people just express that they have no fundamental understanding of how raising children well will make a difference to the future of our country, let alone the health and wellbeing of just one child. 

There will also always be those who think mothers shouldn't have careers. Let them. These people have no fundamental understanding about the value of teaching children independence and forming healthy relationships with others. These people have no understanding that people need space from one another and that both mother and child may actually benefit from spending time apart and investing in the things that bring individual fulfilment. 

There will also always be those who think that you cannot be taken seriously in your career because you're a mother. Let them. I've had people tell me that women just screw companies over by getting pregnant and taking maternity leave, that it's 'okay for women' and it's the 'poor men' that are left to run the businesses. I'll tell you what, I'll do you a swap - you carry a melon for 9 months and then try to juggle everything whilst you hope to recover: your child's health and well-being, your home and housework, your career, your health and fitness, your appearance, your relationships. For a mother to be sat at a work desk at 9am on a monday morning means she's pretty damn committed to being there, else she would not have made the effort to dress the equivalent of a wriggly, whinging octopus at 7am.

When all's said and done, you are the only person responsible for your happiness; you are the one who chooses what to pick up and what to put down. You can't blame your boss if you work too many hours, you agreed to it. You can't blame your child if you've not got time for your hobbies, you set the boundaries. While you may think me unimportant compared to Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt, I can tell you that when I'm doing my Lord Farquaard impression, my son thinks I'm the best film star around. And that makes me pretty damn important.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

To be or not 'two' be: The decision for no.2.

When I got married people frequently asked me one of two things; the first being 'how do you feed the guy who once ate 34 slices of pizza at Pizza Hut all-you-can-eat?' and secondly 'when are you going to have children?'

If you're married you'll know how irritating that is and people will never leave you alone until the day you go through childbirth itself. People will then give you a bit of a break to recover and leave you to get used to parenting for a day or two until they ask you the next question 'When's number two?' This question was asked me three times within the first week of giving birth to my son which I took as extremely insulting, given what they knew I had just experienced.

People have asked me for a long time now the 'when' of number two, as though it would never really be an option for me to stick with just one. I don't mind people asking 'if', it's that 'when' word that is very presumptuous. These loaded questions make me feel, well, a little inadequate. I start wondering what went wrong when God handed out the 'motherly instinct' genes and I question why I'm left with a feeling of deep dread in the pit of my stomach at the sheer thought of a screaming baby in my arms. 'You will know when the time is right,' they all say. 

As Albie approaches his third year people have gradually stopped asking me those loaded questions and the piles of tiny baby grows that I kept for 'number two' are forming dust in my cupboards. I should be pleased that I'm off the hook, but I wince every time I give something of Albie's away, like I can see my idillic family of 2.4 children slowly trickling down the drain. I cling onto a few things 'just in case' because that feeling will come, right? I wait for the day that I 'forget' about childbirth like everyone says, but 3 years later it's still nearly as raw.

I used to wonder why people only had one child, I could never understand it. I never in a million years thought that would be me. I never in a million years thought I would be desperate, not for children, but for the feeling of wanting them. I meet women who speak so excitedly about the thought of having more children and it makes me think I have missed something somehow, like there's something intrinsically wrong with me. Worse still, I'm weirdly jealous. I'm jealous because they will have what I always 'wanted', or thought I did. 

Then I'm left with the guilt. There are people who tell me that it's selfish to have just the one child (which I often think is a very selfish thing to say in itself), as though I've made this decision all about me. There's actually not really a day I don't think about it, torturing myself that if I leave it another year there will be too big an age gap for them to be playmates, and if I have one now I will have a nervous breakdown and wreck my whole family anyway.

Smug mothers look at me puzzled when I say I'm unsure about number two, as their angel baby lies quietly in the corner making the odd coo and smiling blissfully. It's that lack of understanding that makes it all so hard - of course they don't mind having another if their baby only wakes once a night and they haven't experienced the joys of colic. Please don't think I'm weird but after holding a screaming child for several hours a day I'm ready to cut my losses at one.

But time does heal and I love being a mum to my terrible two year old, he is a handful but a very wonderful one. I wouldn't swap him; he is determined, he knows his own mind, he is very, very bright and, most of all, very loving. We have done well to have him in our lives, to get him this far without chucking him out of the window. We've done well to come out the other side and feel no less frazzled, but all the more fulfilled. We'd do anything for him, have another baby, even, except for the fact that when I asked him the question he scrunched up his little face and said 'don't like babies'. You and me both, kid.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject too...