Thursday 27 August 2015

Is it realistic to tell mothers that they can 'have it all'?

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Can mothers really have it all? Photo: Ian Walton/Getty Images

So I hope I am an inspiration for other mums that you can do it and go out and do both (work and motherhood) really well.” Jess Ennis-Hill

There has been a lot of news coverage about the incredible athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill since she won heptathlon gold. And rightly so. But Jess has had far more coverage than any other athlete in the World Championships, not just because she is just an incredible athlete, but because she is an incredible athlete AND a mother. Some have said that it's unfair to focus on motherhood – after all, hundreds of women achieve incredible things after giving birth and never get a mention. Others have justified the amplified encouragement by the physical achievement of, quite frankly, running further than to the co-op in banana stained leggings to fetch baby wipes thirteen months after giving birth. God, I was more impressed by the fact that she was wearing make up. 

But we cannot deny that, as mothers, our bodies go through A LOT. To achieve physical fitness to the point of winning a gold medal thirteen months after giving birth has never been done before. But some mothers take the hump - are we all just bitter and twisted that Jess actually gets recognition for being a mother too? Or do we want to create a culture where we acknowledge that motherhood is completely and utterly life changing and that women who bear children should be bloody celebrated for their achievements (and if that's running to the co-op for baby wipes in your banana stained leggings, you go girl). Jess' achievement is undeniably great, but let's not berate her for getting more praise because she's done this alongside motherhood. Does she not warrant more praise?

But the problem is, can we expect the same of ourselves? And no, I do not mean taking our banana stained leggings to an Olympic stadium (unless you really want to), but can we expect to have it all, whatever that looks like for us? Can mothers have it all, and do it all well at that? Jess has smashed the expectation placed on women that we can't do as well in our careers after we've had children - that we can't achieve things never been done in our fields of work, or family, or fitness. Jess has said she wants to be an encouragement that "you can do it and go out and do both (work and motherhood) really well.” 

And sure you can. But you might miss your Grans birthday, or forget to put the bins out, or have to get a cleaner. Lets be real about what it takes to achieve 'great things' as a mother. Jess was working-out on her garage floor when Reggie napped at four months old. Her determination has got her where she is; but other areas in her life had to take a back seat for a while, and without speculating too much, there are a considerable amount of other things that need to be done by mothers in nap times and evenings. 

"Before you become a parent, you think it will be easy," she said. "Then you're thrown into it and realise it's incredibly hard. I would be lying if I said I didn't have moments when I thought: 'What am I doing?'."

Jess Ennis-Hill

For me, motherhood gave me the drive to pursue my dreams of becoming an illustrator - like I realised that life was too short; that time was too limited to spend it on things that did not bring me satisfaction. I'm determined to achieve what I have always wanted, and what that has looked like for me has been making phone calls and sending emails in nap times, working on projects till 1am and then getting up with my children at 6:30am. It has meant going to meetings on four hours' sleep, putting on far too much cbeebies and skipping a lot of meals.

Other mums sometimes tell me I'm amazing for doing all this. Am I? The reality is that I'm behind on my washing pile and cleaning, I rely heavily on family and nursery, I have to budget more, I don't spend much time with my husband on evenings, I don't cook and I don't get seven hours of sleep a night. The fact is, that you probably wouldn't want my lifestyle unless you had something you were equally as passionate about that made it all worthwhile. With passion comes great responsibility - I have to take stock of how much quality time I've spent with my family; my husband has to hold me accountable for too many evenings at my desk; I have to make sure I am still meeting friends for drinks and drinking enough water. 

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I do not have it all. Jess does not have it all. She may have a lot more income to achieve far more than me, but she still has relationships to uphold, a child to rock to sleep, birthdays to remember and shopping to order. She still has the emotional weight of wanting to be there for her son yet investing considerable time away from him while she trains. And I for one think she's incredible, and yes, I think she's all the more incredible because she's a mother. There, I said it. I am totally in awe of her achievements because life is ten times harder with kids and getting the bloody buns out each week feels like enough of an achievement.

The fact is, I could never be an athlete like Jess. Why? Because I don't want to. I don't find getting sweaty in Lycra very fulfilling – I do it just so I can eat more Mars bars. But Jess, Jess loves what she does. To her, although she makes massive sacrifices to be as great as she is, my guess is that she considers it totally worth it to do what she loves. 

I have a friend who is a musician. She looks after her kids all day, cooks for her family, and then goes out to perform at weddings and events on evenings till the early hours. I have no idea how she does it.

I have another friend who is an obstetrician. She works long hours and on-calls and is highly respected in her field of work, yet still manages to be a loving and committed mother. I have no idea how she does it. 

I have a friend whose job is to look after her kids all day. She cooks and cleans and bakes cakes and thinks up activities for them. I have no idea how she does it.

And the list goes on. And we can either compare ourselves to all the other mothers doing amazing things and feel a failure, or we can give ourselves a huge pat on the back for the things we achieve. 

What are your passions? They don't have to get absorbed by motherhood, but just know that you will have to make more sacrifices to do them. And if there's nothing you're particularly crazy about that's okay too. If all you do is make yourself a cup of tea during your kids' nap times then know that you probably have far more balance in your life and will undoubtably be a nicer person to be around. We need more of you, actually. We need more mothers who are content in their own skin, happy with who they are without need for public affirmation. You are so incredibly refreshing to me and I long to be more like you (honestly).

So let's not only celebrate Jess' incredible physical achievement but the fact that she has done that AND is a mother. Seriously, when did we get so tight on dishing out praise? Is parenting not hard enough as it is without encouragement? Stop trying to deny that parenting makes life harder to achieve things. There's a reason why those running on the outside track get to start further forward - Can we not make allowances in the same way for our parenting setbacks? Let's create a culture of affirmation and support - you might not be able to have it all, but all you achieve is bloody amazing. 

Anyone know how to get banana stains out?

What do you think? Can mothers really have it all? Have you ever felt dismayed that every other mother seems to have it all together?

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