Why I'm redefining "having it all"
The books say it. Your mates say it. Your parents say it. Of course you can have it all. Of course you can be a mum, and still progress up the greasy career pole. You can maintain a social life, a gym habit and your relationship with your partner.
So what am I doing wrong? Why do I feel so guilty about missing bathtime when I have a deadline at work – or even more guilt-inducing, when I choose to go for margaritas with mates. The kids aren’t left feral, they are fed, bathed and kissed goodnight by their dad (ok, ok, they eat Shreddies on the sofa, watch Paw Patrol and then push for eleventy-billion stories before sleep, but still). And when I leave work at 5pm on the dot, whilst my family-free colleagues (or colleagues with a nanny) don’t have to clock watch and make a mad dash for the Central Line, I feel apologetic. I feel like I’m shirking work (ha, would that I were). I make a point of checking my email after the kids’ bedtime, like some weird work FOMO, to be sure that if there is anything I need to action I can do it before the start of the next work day. It’s presenteeism from afar. And it’s stupid. Aged 37, with 15 years’ experience in my industry, I shouldn’t have to apologetically send an email whilst trying to cook dinner.
What’s worse is that all this pressure comes from me. There is nobody at work who has ever questioned me leaving at 5pm on the dot, or doubted my ability to bring in revenue because I happen to have procreated. And it seems to be unique to mums, as neither my husband nor my mates’ partners seem to worry when they put beers before bedtime.
If you watched Line of Duty (and if you didn’t you need to) the series gave a nod to the fact that sometimes it’s hard for younger women to go for a drink with an older boss without it being weird, or misrepresented. Whereas “the lads” can go for a pint without it being misinterpreted. So many deals are done outside of the boardroom, and I feel that my lack of spontaneity (how can I pop for drinks if I’ve not negotiated childcare?) certainly hampers my internal networking.
But I’m not prepared to give up the time I have with my kids. From a practical perspective, we can’t afford a nanny, and we also love our nursery. I’m forced to leave the office at 5pm to avoid late fees. But also, having decided to go back to work full time, I want to be there for bedtime. I say no to girly weekends away as I want my weekends to be about the kids – babycinos, visits to the park (and yet more bloody Paw Patrol).
So, I’m trying to be more zen about missing out on a work social life, and the associated benefits that come with it. Perhaps that’s the key –make sure that whatever you are doing you are DOING it – being present in the moment. Loving the bedtime cuddles, but also embracing happy hour when you have a night off. Arianna Huffington, who pushed herself so hard she passed out with exhaustion at her desk in 2007, breaking her cheekbone, has written a book on redefining success (and typically, I haven’t had time to read it, because, y’know, kids). Whilst it’s pretty easy for a multi-millionaire to make her own rules, the idea of redefining success sounds spot on for me. Sure, I’m not loaded, and there is no promotion on the horizon. I haven’t been to the gym in years, and I’ve neglected some amazing friendships because I’m so bloody tired. But I put my kids to bed. I hit my work targets. I see my husband enough that we don’t feel like ships passing in the night, but rather partners in this mad, exhausting and thoroughly enjoyable rollercoaster that is parenting. My girlfriends know that I’ll drop everything (ie throw money at a babysitter) if they need me, and they love me even though I turn up for drinks late, covered in Paw Patrol stickers (those bloody pups). If that’s success, I’ll take it. Maybe I don’t have it all, whatever that means, but I certainly feel like I have more than enough.