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.

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