Am I doing a good enough job raising my boys and how will I know if I succeed?
All the above and more have been hurriedly circling my brain since last Thursday when we got the great news that our eldest secured his place at Warwick University.
From the moment he walked into our room at a little after 6:15 in the morning with a mooted expression I got 2 A* and a B. Great yes but!
He needed an A in German as part of the condition of entry, would these results be good enough? Surely yes, said my inner me but the vocal me couldn’t help but say why the hell do you have to make it complicated.
We waited for what seemed like an eternity for UCAS to confirm his offer of acceptance and in that time I went through every single conceivable emotion, elation, worry, anxiety and relief.
When I heard shouting, ‘yes, get in there’ I didn’t register what this meant.
I ran up the stairs, two at a time into the bathroom, where my son sat proudly on the throne he showed me his phone and there was the offer of acceptance.
How I wept with joy I ran up and down the stairs, hyperventilating with excitement and sheer bloody relief.
It was at that moment I realised that I had been carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders for the last six months probably longer.
Worrying, supporting, caring, managing my eldest to ensure that everything was right for him for these most important exams.
Why worry so much?
It is hardly the end of the world if a kid misses the mark, they can re-sit, re-do, take a year out, no one ever died because they didn’t get the grades.
And yet here I was relieved that all had come to pass. That the last two years were all about this moment, this one moment that can change the path of a person’s future.
After deep breaths and a quiet moment later I reflected on the last eighteen years and asked myself have I been good enough?
Did I get it right?
Often critical and tough, very much the way I was brought up I hope that my children have learnt the important lessons of life.
For each parent they may well be different ideals but for me it has always been:
Never giving up
Listening and understanding
Be gracious even when you believe it should have been you
Thankfulness and politeness
Be steadfast in your decisions
Being a mother has been a job and challenge borne out of love and tenderness. Just when you think you’ve nailed it the tide shifts and you feel out of control with only the prevailing wind keeping you on course.
But parenting skills are not learn’t overnight, it takes time and experience and gut instinct to ensure you are getting it right and even the most hardy of mothers can find her teen very testy to say the least.
His idea of timekeeping is usually at least 40 minutes after the designated time. He spends more time in the bathroom than I do and he has an answer for ‘everything’.
Am I describing anything new?
No, of course not, because all teens go through this phase.
I call it the proving to the world I’m here and I want to be seen and heard phase.
My eldest has become the best ‘how to get out of doing something’ expert, he could right a book on listing excuses on how to get out of doing jobs around the house.
But deep down I know he cares and this is his way of forging his own views and developing independence.
His forthrightness and his ability to stand up for himself are proof that he has strength of character.
Like most teenagers who are solely into themselves, I wondered whether he really cares about anything at all?
Does he love his parents, his brother, will he miss any of us when he goes off to University?
When we left school on Thursday morning, A level results day, congratulatory celebrations in the air, we walked to the car.
He took my hand and said thank you for everything mum, for your love, support, I do love you, you know.
And with tears in my eyes I looked at him, a young man in his prime, a new chapter about to begin, pride and love swelled in my heart, tears in my eyes.
It is another school week and the start of the final school term as we begin the countdown to the summer holidays.
Time appears to be the common thread that runs through the blogs I write.
My eldest, shortly to be eighteen will, with everything crossed, head to University in October.
My eldest step son and his wife are expecting their first baby in October.
It is ironic that as one leaves to start a new chapter as a grown up a new life will be born into the world and the growing up process starts over.
The time we get to spend with our children seems so short.
Zero to eighteen gone in an instant, a flash before your eyes, from baby onesies to torn and skinny jeans.
I am anxious and excited at the anticipated arrival of a newborn into our family.
As a fifty plus parent I feel like I’m starting over, but this time, it isn’t my baby and I can hand him or her back at the end of the day.
I am older, wiser and have had greater life experiences.
The lessons I’ve learnt are plentiful and I have much to pass on and share with my step daughter but I will not give out advice unless asked.
I have learnt that as a woman and a mother shelling out advice whether asked for or not is destined to failure.
Celia, a very good friend of mine told me this; ‘the best advice I can give you, is don’t give any advice, that way you can’t be blamed for the fall out if it goes wrong’.
But what if your children ask for help or advice, that is different she says,’ because if they are asking it’s because they either need genuine help and are prepared to listen, if they then choose not to follow it then it can’t come back and bite you’.
Wise words that I have followed except when it comes to my own children whom I can’t help but tell rather than advise what they should do.
I do tell my boys is to listen to their instincts; that gut feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when they are pondering over a decision.
As a mum you learn as you go along not really registering the importance of what you are learning until out pops this information when you least expect it.
You become very good at talking to yourself; you can often find me in a store toilet muttering to myself reminders not to forget certain things. Other fellow mothers nod their heads and empathise, we are comrade in arms.
Motherhood definitely has some kind of biological effect on our brains, you can remember all the school activities for the week or term for that matter but as soon as you step into Tesco you forget the very thing you came in for.
It is a fact of life that being an experienced and older mother means you end up sitting on a plane with an infant screaming its face off only for the poor twenty plus mother to look at you beseechingly to take her child and have it sat on your lap for the rest of flight.
Am I really the holy baby shrine capable of soothing this crying baby?
Miraculously the wailing stops and everyone on the plane sighs with relief, the poor mother orders another gin and tonic, thank you, she says relieved.
Motherhood miraculously gives you a handful of wisdom way beyond your years, capable of solving all problems it seems, including climate change.
In reality we are all making it up as we go along and who determines what makes a great mother?
With books, websites and online forums depicting the perfect family, career and children, we can easily feel that we must be bad mothers because we don’t have a glamorous hair do or primed manicured nails, ‘super mom’ more like ‘poor mom’.
And because you failed to to make it to that football match because the train got stuck at Watford or you missed the school play at 4:30pm due to your meeting running overtime, you’re in big trouble.
Any missed event goes down in the book of no shows, and children very rarely forget it.
Parental judgement is one of the worst afflictions of being a parent, what to wear on your feet let alone body can mean the difference between being seen as cool and relevant by your thirteen year old or a fuddy duddy boring mother.
So, not a lot of pressure being a mother then?
Accepting the fact that as mothers we can’t in actual fact have it all, home, career and children, some things have gotta give and perfect parenting and motherhood is one of them.
There are always the reminders of the failures of being a mum even though you do your best to give your children time, love and your all.
Sometimes you just have to accept that perfection is unachievable but being a loving, caring and giving mum is more important than anything else.
And when my thirteen year old old tells me he loves me because, “well, you’re just mum” it is the most wonderful feeling in the world.
Are you a feminist someone asked me the other day?
‘What gave you that idea’, I said.
‘You’re very passionate about women’s rights, the ideal working environment for women, the desire for women to succeed and achieve more without feeling they are honey monsters wearing skirts’.
I walked away scratching my head.
Am I a feminist?
I am feminine yes, but a feminist?
I have issues with the ‘ist’ there are many words ending with ist – sexist, misogynist, ageist, alarmist, educationalist, in fact, 1,201 words to be precise and these words represent some of my views.
Women who succeed are portrayed very poorly by the media, which means they must be bitches capable of whisking that proverbial rug right from underneath you, trip you up on the way to the board room, stab anyone in the back who gets in the way of them.
Yet, many women have worked hard and have achieved success on their own merit, putting in over and above the next man to reach their professional goals.
We wouldn’t talk about a man in the same way and yet it appears to be normal to assume that a woman at the top has demolished everyone in her wake to get there rather than through sheer bloody hard work.
Conversely, why is it so damning if you give up your career and have children and then choose to go back to work.
The overriding feeling is one of guilt, women are made to feel bad because of the choices they make.
Who or what makes them feel this way?
No one made me feel this way it was my own self doing, the media and other populist channels perpetuating the myth that women with children who work, stay at home mums and career women with children are made to feel guilty.
‘Motherhood’ is the problem, yet millions of us do it.
Balancing work and motherhood and feeling guilty about the choices we make.
It is hard being a woman in the 21st century.
No matter how hard we work we are still facing the same misogynistic rhetoric; women, work and motherhood still doesn’t quite fit into our ‘man-made’ society.
Have we come far enough since Emmeline Pankhurst ardently fought for women’s rights?
And whilst we have made great strides we are still having to justify our existence.
We are biologically different, we have vaginas and are capable of reproducing the species.
If men could reproduce would they still face the same injustices and inequalities as we do?
The longer your maternity leave the less likely you will be able to enter at the level of job at which you left.
How is this fair, just because we have babies does not mean we go deaf dumb and blind.
Why should having time off be damaging to your career path?
Keeping in contact with the company that employs you during your maternity leave is a good way of ensuring longevity at the firm.
Men don’t face this conundrum so why should women?
If organisations were open with their employees women would feel able to talk to their boss, share their desire to have children and when pregnant be able to work out a strategy that is best for the company and for the woman so that once the baby is born she has a plan on when to return to work, if that is what she chooses to do.
How do we change the perception of womanhood and motherhood for that matter?
Girls are brought up to do girl things we are stereotyped from birth this then continues through the education system, girls are not always encouraged to pursue studies in science and engineering because they are seen as typically male.
It is difficult for girls because there is a lack of strong female role models they can look up to.
Businesses need to value the contributions that women add and they should be recognised for the talent and ingenuity they bring.
Such small steps can influence the impact on gender diversity.
Look at the meteoric rise of Ms May, Sturgeon and Frau Merkel who announced recently that she is intending to stand for a fourth term in office; these are women at the pinnacle of their profession.
Senior women in business demonstrate that it is possible to reach the upper limits.
When I was pregnant with my first child, my boss wanted to keep the whole thing quiet, I on the other hand came up with a great marketing idea that also included telling all my customers I was expecting and what to do in my absence.
My boss was mortified, if he’d had his way I would have been put into a shed for nine months not to be seen again he was paranoid about my pregnancy bump being on show in public.
Seventeen years after the birth of my eldest and we are fighting the same battles and I find it disheartening that women’s liberation hasn’t got us further forward it has just enabled us to shout loudly.
How do we change this status quo?
Women need to be firm with employers by discussing working alternatives that suit both the pregnant woman, before and after birth.
There is a perception that a pregnant woman is less likely to want to continue with her career after the birth of a child and is automatically discounted from any future involvement within the company.
Pregnancy is not a disease, many women want to come back to work in the same capacity in which they left.
Women should be allowed to enjoy time off with their newborn without worrying about the consequences of maternity leave.
Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ offers an analytical overview of the inequalities that still exist in the workplace.
But having read the book I am still left with unanswered questions, what is the solution and has anything really changed?
I rather think it is boils down to women to educate their offspring, especially where boys are concerned, if I teach boys to do only male jobs they will never:
A/ be able to manage so called traditional female jobs like washing and ironing
B/End up married or living with someone only to perpetuate the cycle all over.
The pressure on women and girls is even greater than when I was a younger woman the insidious nature of social media and the desire to be famous for a minute puts us at greater peril than ever before.
We have to mean or stand for something, being just a woman, whether working or stay at home mum is not enough.
There are survey’s that have to justify every choice a woman makes:-
Why it’s better for women to stay at home with their children
Why it’s better to go to work when you have children
Children of working women do better in school
Children of stay at home mothers do better later in life
And the list goes on.
No wonder we are screaming from our desks and kitchen chairs we are constantly trying to be seen to be doing the right thing.
Women are being made to feel guilty for not feeling guilty enough, it is exhausting.
I am teaching my sons the value of women what we have achieved, what we are capable of, that there is no such thing as women’s and men’s jobs either in the workplace or at home.
I too have feelings of guilt when it comes to work, career and motherhood.
I asked my boys how they feel about mum working, did they ever miss me when they were younger, did my absence at times make them feel less important?
No, came back the answer, you have always been there for us.
Changing this male/female mindset is challenging, men are not genetically wired to think like women but with perseverance and hard work next year when my eldest son leaves for university he will be able to work out the difference between the oven and a washing machine and cook a mean spag bol.
I never thought that my life or career ambition would end up by being a working mum.
I had bigger ambitions than that.
A job in the world of F1 Motor Racing, maybe Lewis Hamilton’s PA, the first female to play for the all male england cricket team, a features writer for a big magazine.
Such were my heady delusions of grandeur.
Instead I find myself a working mother of two children, a business owner, a life juggler extraordinaire and a skilled negotiator in the art of how to keep two boys from wanting to kill each other when my back is turned.
Being a working mum is a proper job, it may not be in the same league as an astrophysicist, meteorologist or a Doctor but it carries with it great responsibility and tenderness.
There is no three year course at university and no qualification at the end of it nor does it require you to sit an exam to prove you are an effective working mum. It’s on the job training by the seat of your pants.
Women are definitely working longer and harder and I don’t need to prove it with statistics just open your eyes and it’s evident to see.
As a working mother and business owner I, like many other women contribute to the economy by generating taxes and along with my husband am responsible for raising two children and yet, in spite of this, working mothers receive no recognition for the work we do.
I’m confident that I am not alone in expressing this sentiment.
The office of national statistics reports that 13.8 million women represent almost half of the UK’s workforce.
In sharp contrast, 1.2 million mothers have chosen to stay at home and raise their children because of spiralling childcare costs.
Women are having to work longer due to the change in pension age but the increase in women working is also as a direct result of the UK’s economy.
Men and women are having to generate dual incomes for their households many of whom are struggling with the increase in living costs, child care fees, salary sacrifices and a significant rise in the standard of living.
It’s hardly surprising that women are taking on and juggling more tasks than at any time in their career.
When chancellor George Osborne made his infamous remark that stay at home mums are making a lifestyle choice he couldn’t have been further off the mark.
I wanted to be a stay at home mum and I was for the first five months following the birth of my children but work and financial commitments meant that I didn’t have a choice without our lifestyle being downgraded.
Childcare fees at the time were affordable as I was only working three days a week and childcare gave me the opportunity to work and have time with my babies.
On reflection I do believe I got the balance right.
As my earlier blogs have alluded to, the difficulties of balancing motherhood with work and career are immense.
Women continually weigh the scales: can we really manage a home life, family, children, social life and career?
News just in: we can’t!
It is a daily struggle to get the balance and without trying to be super ‘mum’. I want to be able to work, sleep, eat and pray not necessarily in that order without collapsing in a heap at the end of every working day.
But like most mums I’m permanently exhausted my mind is like my favourite app ‘evernote’. It is a list of work related tasks that need to get done followed by the personal tasks that lay incomplete.
Arrange dinner with friends who invited us for dinner back in August 2012 or, pop over and see my non-working friend for a coffee who is just over a mile away from my offices, arrange to meet lunch with a girlfriend who I last saw in November.
It’s not that I’m disorganised, I can’t find the time in an otherwise jammed back work diary.
I’m exhausted by the time I’ve finished with dinner, sorting another round of dirty washing, school stuff like form signing to give permission for events or planning who does the parents evening, who picks up who from where and when, responding to important but non urgent emails that by the end of the day the prospect of calling or texting to arrange a get together, lunch date, dinner ensemble I’m done, finished for the evening and all I want to do is get to bed.
The “no matter what I do, what I say, I never seem to make everyone happy, yet I’m working really hard to do the best that I can and still it all falls over” rings true to life.
My idea of an exciting night in is to be in bed by 8:45PM and not for some tantric illicit sex, god knows my husband tries but for that elusive yet essential elixir to life S.L.E.E.P.
I admit sleep rules my life, I’m sleep deprived and have been since oh, let me guess fourteen years ago when my firstborn came along and I’ve been catching up ever since.
I can’t get enough sleep, my beloved wishes I felt the same way about sex!
My eldest son is often the last one to turn out the lights and put the house alarm on.
Recently something happened, I had one of those light bulb moments.
Why don’t I get a VA – a virtual assistant. Outsourcing all of those non essential, but important tasks to a VA. For the last twenty years I’ve been extolling the virtues of outsourcing. How the benefits save an organisation in time, money and resources by outsourcing non-core business activities.
Even if you are brilliant at party planning, shopping or ironing if spending your time on a more valuable activity means you get more out of life and feel less stressed than it has to be worth it.
The benefits far outweigh the cost if you get more time to do the really important things. I have decided to outsource my ever increasing long list of important business and project tasks that sit there waiting to get done.
As part of the process I’ve been researching companies across the globe from India, Australia to the USA.
A VA based in any continent makes no difference as it’s all virtual.
There is one flaw in my carefully thought out plan, my wardrobes won’t get organised, my kitchen cupboards won’t get cleaned but I guess at some point there will be an app for that too.
I’ll let you know how I get on in my quest for Virtual Assistant.
It’s a Sunday evening and for once the sun is shining and I can feel the warmth of the sun on my skin.
Yet I’m feeling melancholic.
I have that heart in the mouth sinking feeling in my stomach that precedes the back to work on Monday feeling.
Reality with all its glory.
One of those reflective moments few and far between I might add given the speed in which the majority of working men and women are being propelled so forcefully along.
I’ve been tinkering in the garden and watching my boys play football enjoying the freedom and envying their worry free child-hood.
How blessed we were to be children.
We didn’t appreciate how wonderful childhood was.
No worries, no real time pressures, no responsibilities and nothing that couldn’t wait until tomorrow.
In fact as a kid the only worries you had were getting to school on time, how to manage to get to the next meal time without fainting and making sure homework was handed in on the required date.
Sitting in the garden early evening with my husband and the compulsory bottle of wine enjoying the remants of the last of the sun’s warmth I was thinking how quickly time has taken away my babies and turned them in to young men.
I can recollect so many wonderful and incredible moments that my husband and I have witnessed as our children grow.
Yet I feel cheated by time, cheated by the need to have to work, cheated by life’s treadmill and cheated by my own self for somehow being responsible for not making more time to be with my children.
I consider myself fortunate, a working mother business owner which means that I can choose to slip out and watch that school play, scream and shout at the annual sports day and cry when singing christmas hymns because I am caught up in the moment.
Looking at my children play brought in to sharp focus the precious moments we’ve shared as a family and how quickly time passes.
Another school year is almost coming to a close and there is nothing I can do to slow down the time, a visible ticking clock changing the speed of our lives.
Reminding us of the next pressing business meeting, an important deadline, that appointment with the dentist, school concert or a presentation that needs to be completed.
I feel that life is passing me by in a haze. I am omni-present and there, yet, I am standing outside of myself watching as I run on this treadmill they call life.
You see I don’t recall childhood being this way. I remember long summer holidays laying under the sun, playing aki 1,2,3 dreading the moment when one of our parents would shout out ‘inside now, ready for bed-time’.
Time was something we knew existed we didn’t look at the clock or our watches, our stomach governed our safe return home for lunch and tea.
Yet roll the clock forward 35+ years and here’s me the grown woman, married with 2 children, running a business, an organiser and tablet/smartphone in tow trying to keep the plates circling in the air.
With so many things to organise and manage and being so reliant on people being where they need to be at the right time and doing what they are suppose to do when asked to it’s a precarious balancing act.
It’s a wonder the plates don’t crash down sooner.
I know that as a woman or man if you are reading this you can relate to these mixed feelings of lost childhood and mother/fatherhood.
Our children come into our lives as babies and leave us as grown adults. When you hold your baby for the first time in your arms, the sheer joy and amazement of being part of life’s creation is such a wonderful gift from god.
There aren’t words to describe it and just when you think you can’t cope with being a mother, suddenly they are screaming and shouting and behaving like the insolent independent teenagers you expect them to be.
Time is a continuum it knows no wars, famine, hate or love.
Never mind about the work-life balance there isn’t one, it’s as elusive as Spike Milligan’s ‘bongaloo’. Search the internet and you will find zillions of articles on how to improve your work-life balance, how to have the perfect career and still be a great mother and father.
Nicola Horlick was the first woman in the city to hit a six figure income earner as a hedge fund manager in the late 80’s and 90’s even she admitted that it’s nigh on impossible.
But is this a contradiction?
Marissa Mayer CEO and President of Yahoo 38 years, Sheryl Sandberg, 43, Facebook Chief Operating Officer have staked a claim that the work-life balance can work and dispelled that myth.
But it’s not the same I hear you say, they are earning millions and can afford nannies and child-care. Marissa reputedly had a nursery built next to her office so she could attend to her new born baby.
Does this suggest that she wants to redress her own work-life balance?
I know many mothers who are still even though they have teenagers, subconsciously being nagged by that ‘guilt feeling’, the one that says what if I… hadn’t gone back to work.
I’m one of them.
I had to go back to work because I really did feel that it was my duty as wife and mother. I was contributing to the household which means equal status in my marriage.
In truth, I didn’t want to be ‘beholden’ to a man, it was fear of being divorced, separated, left out in the cold from the work force and insecurity that fuelled my desire or rather need to work.
Yes there was guilt.
My first born was almost 6 months old before he started 3 days a week at a local nursery and I felt that a long weekend and my time with him in the evenings I could give more to him physically and emotionally than if I had been a full time mother.
But I still wonder if that was the right decision for him and me?
When my second baby was born it was easier to let go and what I did for my first born followed suite with my second child.
New research undertaken by the Institute of Education suggests that my guilty feelings are unfounded because it has now been proven that children of working mothers do not suffer from any long term cognitive, literacy or reduced ability in maths.
“Professor Heather Joshi studied children born in 2000 and 2001 and found no significant difference in children’s cognitive ability or behaviour at the age of five if their mothers had gone out to work or not in the first year.” [Institute of Education]
Maternity, paternity leave, better childcare, father’s who are more hands on, flexible working hours, a better quality of working life and job and mother’s who are in a better state of mind along with the social acceptability of mothers going back to work were all factors in modern babies not being affected by mothers going back to work.
The Daily Mail reported in May that Lady Justice Hallett said that ‘the pace of working life needed to change to help women end the frenetic working environment’.
In spite of this, women are faced with working environments which are not conducive to family life?
The current economic climate means that there is greater stress on employees and pressure on women to return to work to ensure a double house-hold income.
In 2012, 51% of employees were concerned about job status loss. Concerns were about pay reductions, loss of say over their job. Work intensification common in the 1990’s, speed of work and pressures of working to tight deadlines have risen to record highs. [Institute of Education]
The work-life balance is elusive and is governed by how the scales tip as to how you manage life.
Women go to work to preserve their sanity from singing Dora the Explorer for the hundreth time, others work because a dual income is a necessity for the household.
Some women work for the sheer freedom and independence it gives them so they can hopefully give more emotionally and spiritually back to their children when they return home from work.
Something’s gotta give but where?
Whilst I search for my work life balance why don’t you share with me how you do it? Do you have a magic mantra that enables you to balance work, children and family life.
Please share your thoughts with One Womans View and let’s see if we can make a change.
Please subscribe to our blogs by leaving your email we don’t spam and we dont do newsletters so you will only be notified of a new blog.
Or you can follow us on twitter. We need some likes on our facebook page as its new and you will find us on pinterest, linkedin and google+