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My life as a working mum and things I #coulda #shoulda done differently

I’m lucky, I’ve got two fab kids (yes I’m biased), and I’ve been able to keep a career going too, going back to work (part-time at first).

Don't make life harder for yourself than it needs to be

I’m lucky, I’ve got two fab kids (yes I’m biased), and I’ve been able to keep a career going too, going back to work (part-time at first). Now my eldest child is on the cusp of a ‘Kevin and Perry moment’ – he’s about to become a teenager. He’s taller than I am, and his younger sister is already the same shoe size as me. It’s all happened in what feels like a blink of the eye. All except it hasn’t.

When they were young I was tired and stressed a lot, I remember feeling ‘this exhaustion is going to last forever’. I remember feeling jealous of people at parties who didn’t have a two year old clamped to their thigh, jealous of people who could network at the pub after work (whilst I screeched into nursery for pick up at one minute to six). I longed to be someone who had time to put on make-up in the morning, longed for any time to myself. I came into work for grown-up conversation. I was wishing it away.

But, if I’m being truly honest, when the kids were growing up I made life much harder for myself than it really needed to be. The reality of being a mum to a teenager has prompted some self reflection. And I’m going to share some snippets with you, not for some kind of therapy, but because if you’re a working parent trying to keep it together, it may help you – help you to avoid the same issues, or just help you to know you’re not alone! Or you might think I’m a bit bonkers and feel reassured you’re a-OK! That’s fine too.

So, here goes … here’s what I should have done:

Ditched the guilt: I spent a lot of time beating myself up, for not ‘giving it my all’ at work (not being quite as enthusiastic or committed as colleagues), and simultaneously not ‘giving it my all’ at home (forgetting to buy groceries, forgetting school dates). I measured myself against parents who didn’t work – Look how clean their house is! Just look at that meal planner! Look what happy, quality time they are having with little Johnny! At work I compared myself to people who’d made different choices, who were at different stages of their life to me. This was, in hindsight, obviously RIDICULOUS!! And a recipe for disaster. I should have cut myself some slack, I should have stopped trying to be everything to everybody, all of the time. And so should you.

Accepted offers of help: Often my husband and family would offer to help. But I fell into the ‘it will take me longer to tell them what I need, I may as well do it myself’ trap. Or, if I did let them help, the control freak in me was too bothered about them doing it the way I would do it, they wouldn’t meet my own ‘exacting’ standards (I’m referring specifically to my poor husband here …). As time passed they stopped offering help as much, understandably offended that I didn’t trust them to perform the most simplest of tasks. What was I thinking?!! Don’t do this – take advantage of every offer of help you get.

Patted myself on the back once in a while: Juggling kids, a home, a relationship and a what felt like a million things at work (some of them initiated by me because I was too scared of ‘missing out’, or not being ‘on the radar’) is no mean feat. At no point did I ever sit and tell myself I was doing a good job. Or even an OK job. If someone had come to me at the time, saying they felt a failure and were struggling to cope, they would have got a big pep talk, a hug and told they were doing a mighty fine job. Why didn’t I tell it to myself? So, tell yourself that – repeat after me – ‘I am doing an AWESOME job!’.

Kept a bit of perspective: I worried about everything. Not things I had done, but things I hadn’t done, and things I wanted to do (and how I would be letting everyone down by not doing them, even though they had no idea I’d thought of these things in the first place – yes I know that’s a bit bonkers). I would sweat the small stuff. There will never be enough hours in the day to do everything you need or want to do. Focus on what’s important; your wellbeing and that of your family. Keep everything else in perspective, because in years to come you won’t remember what you were stressed about, but you will remember the things you missed at home and school.

Cared less about career progression: Possibly a controversial one, I admit! Let’s face it, career progression isn’t a straight line any more (if it ever was). I worried far too much about other people progressing ‘before’ me, as if it was some kind of race. I’d get frustrated that I wasn’t progressing as quickly as they were. I’ve just left the firm where I spent the best part of 15 years, and in that time I observed the career ups and downs of many, many people, and you realise that, like the tide, things ebb and flow. What I should have done is had the self confidence to say ‘I am not focusing as much on work in my life right now because I want to make the most of every moment.’

Made the most of every moment: I’m not normally one for regrets, but for one moment I’m going to indulge. By far the biggest regret I have is not making the most of my children. The morning cuddles, walks to school, just playing and messing about. I was so worried about stupid stuff, about running a house, getting that great rating at work, that I forgot to laugh and have fun. I won’t get those moments back, and neither will you.

So, cut yourself some slack, leave the dishes by the sink, stop thinking about work too much and go play outside. Then pour yourself a nice big cup of tea*, snuggle with the kids on the sofa, relish the moment and remind yourself you are doing an awesome job. Because you are.

* Husband has told me I’m fibbing, this should read ‘nice big glass of wine’.

Angela Brown is mum to Angus and Libby, and also the founder of marketing and communications consultancy, Meteoric. Her door is always open for a pep talk.

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