When you decide that you’re ready to have a baby, whether it’s your first or not, you’re filled with excitement, picturing a lovely month or two of reckless abandon in the bedroom, followed by a joyful pregnancy filled with yoga and kale smoothies, and a new little baby in your arms within the year. The reality is, however, slightly different…
Life is on hold. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could just order a baby to arrive at a time that’s convenient for you? Instead, when you decide to start trying to get pregnant, you go through months, or even years, of uncertainty, during which time you don’t want to apply for new jobs, sign up to courses or commit yourself to events too far in the future, just in case this is the month you finally see that line on the pregnancy test. But at the same time…
You don’t want to tell anyone that you’re trying for a baby. The last thing you want is ongoing questions about whether you’re pregnant yet or not. And what if it doesn’t happen for you? You don’t want anyone at work to know in case you start getting passed over for interesting projects or promotions. You also don’t want to put the image of you having sex in anyone’s head, because, you know, no-one needs that.
You tell yourself you’re not going to be one of those crazy ladies who obsesses about getting pregnant and then promptly download five different apps for tracking ovulation and spend endless hours on Google searching for things like ‘food that can help you get pregnant’ and ‘early signs of pregnancy’.
Your attitude to sex changes. You might be in the mood for it, and then realise that your app told you that there’s a low chance of getting pregnant today, and decide to go to bed with a good book instead.
You remember all of the times when you were younger that you worried about getting pregnant and laugh at that poor naive girl who didn’t know how bloody hard it is to make a baby!
Every month you think you’re pregnant. Right up to the second your period starts, you think you’ve definitely done it this time. You feel a bit pregnant… you’re hormonal and your boobs hurt slightly. Oh no, that’s just your period. And then because you’re feeling hormonal anyway, you have a bit of a cry about it.
Or, you could just be one of those annoying people who ‘aren’t NOT trying, if you see what I mean‘. Although, that said, I think they may have it all sussed out…
I saw a picture on Instagram recently of a mum in bed with two sick children clinging to her. In the caption, she said she was knackered, and that, while it was nice to have a cuddle, she just wanted to go to sleep. The response was overwhelmingly that this poor exhausted mum should be treasuring the hell out of that moment, because one day her little ones would be all grown up and she would miss her babies.
Most mums will have experienced something similar when daring to vocalise any complaints about their kids. Comments such as: “You don’t know how lucky you are”, “You should treasure these moments”, “Don’t wish this time away” or the simple but wounding blow of “You should be grateful”. We’re all guilty of saying or thinking those things from time to time. Our children grow up too quickly, it’s true. When we see a picture of a mum with a little baby, even when she says that she’s having a hard time, we think: our children aren’t that small anymore, don’t cuddle us like that anymore, don’t need us like that. We want to go back to that moment, to hold on tight to that little bundle, to put the rest of our life on hold for one more warm snuggle. It’s easy to look back with rose-tinted glasses, remembering only the warmth of those tiny bodies, and forgetting what it feels like to be so sleep deprived you want to jam forks in your eyes.
In the last few years, the once left-field trio of gratitude, mindfulness and positive manifestations has entered mainstream consciousness, and found its spiritual home on social media. While this feels like a positive mental shift, the prevailing version of this on social media is overly simplified and often judgmental, only accepting positive thoughts and squashing the existence of real-life struggles. Nowhere is that felt more keenly than on Instagram, with its many filters shining a flattering light on the #blessed lives of the beautiful few. It’s giving that mum, who already feels like she’s failing, yet another thing to worry about. Now, not only is she failing at getting her baby to sleep while all the other mums she knows are already WhatsApping each other pictures of their post-bedtime wine, but she’s also failing to be grateful for that extra time with her baby!
Yes, developing a positive mental attitude can be life changing, but, taken to the extreme, it can also mess with our ability to have a moan or recognise that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes. With everyone else feeling #blessed and exuding #gratitude from every pore, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one struggling and knackered, the only one crying real tears because your child won’t eat a piece of bloody toast.
Since becoming a mum, I’ve learnt that it’s perfectly possible to be fed up and grateful at the same time. Part of being a mother is always loving your child, so deeply, so truly, even while you’re begging for them to go to sleep because you’re so bloody knackered, or you’re rushing home for nursery pick up while your colleagues are all heading for a well-deserved drink, or you’re comforting a crying child and wishing that someone would look after you for a change.
I’m grateful for my son, for his slobbery kisses, and the times when he allows me to hold his chubby hand. I’m grateful for his love, for his unwavering acceptance of me, for his daddy teaching him to say “wow Mummy, you look beautiful today” on a regular basis. But I also miss my old life sometimes, with all the freedoms I took for granted before I became a parent. So I’m also grateful for silence when it finally comes at the end of a busy day, for those times when my son goes to bed on time and without a fuss. I’m grateful when I can go to the loo without him hammering on the door, when I take a bus on my own and I can just stare out of the window, or when he calls for his daddy in the middle of the night rather than me. I notice the small moments of happiness while also acknowledging that life with children is sometimes challenging, frustrating and boring.
So, next time we see a mum struggling, rather than telling her how lucky she is, or how grateful she should be, let’s agree to tell her that her feelings are perfectly normal, then give her a hug and offer to help, or even just listen, without judgement.
Returning to work after maternity leave, or getting back into the saddle after a child-enforced career break, can be tough for all the family.
Having so far spent their lives with mummy at their beck and call, little ones can find it hard adapting to a childcare setting without you; there are loads of children packed into one room, lots of noise, a different routine, different toys, new rules and strange adults to get used to.
And it’s hard for mums too – leaving a crying, unhappy or reluctant child at nursery or preschool is heart-breaking, and not the best way to mentally prepare for your working day.
I returned to work after each of my three little monkeys were born, and we’ve had to navigate moving childcare settings several times too. It hasn’t always been easy, but helping your child understand why they go to childcare, reinforcing the fun they will have, and reassuring them you’ll be back to collect them at the end of the day or session is so important to help the transition.
Books can play a really important role in helping your little people prepare. If you’re a mum returning to work, or putting your little one into childcare for the first time, here are seven stories you should definitely check out…
Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson
A classic tale that’s loved by nursery workers who regularly use it to reassure little ones their parents will be back to collect them. Three baby owls wake up one night to find their mummy gone. They sit together and wonder where she could have gone – is she out hunting or has she got lost? But before they know it, she’s back: “What’s all the fuss about,” she says. “You knew I’d come back!” This simple, repetitive story is even suitable for very young children.
My Mummy is Magic by Dawn Richards and Jane Massey
I love this story for the positive message it shares about working mums: “I think my mummy’s magic – and everybody knows. They need my mummy’s magic, and so off to work she goes. There are times I really miss her, and I wish that she would stay…but just like magic soon she’s back, as though she never went away!” My Mummy is Magic is a lovely rhyming celebration of everything mums do for their little people.
Mummy’s Home by Christopher MacGregor and Emma Yarlett
This is such a brilliant story for mummies who work away from home. Another rhyming tale, it’s got some excellent strategies to help your little ones manage without you around – from making keepsakes and helping you pack, to putting jelly beans in a jar and eating one each day until you’re home, and staying in contact online. It talks about the fun the children have with daddy and tells them to talk to loved ones if they’re feeling sad about mummy being away. It’s such a lovely book that I get teary just reading it!
Mummy Goes to Work by Kes Gray and David Milgrim
A simple story about a boy whose mummy goes to work (I guess the title gave that one away!). Even though his mummy’s at work, the little boy knows she thinks about him all the time and would rather be playing with him. When she does come home they have so much fun together that he can’t wait for the next day mummy goes to work so they can have all that fun all over again.
Lulu Loves Nursery by Camilla Reid and Ailie Busby
This is a brilliant book that deals with some of the emotions little people will feel before they start nursery, as well as showing them the fun they will have. Lulu is a tiny bit worried because it’s her first day at nursery and she’s going to have to say goodbye to her mummy for a while. She’s feeling a bit shy and she really doesn’t want her mummy to go. But her mummy tells her she loves her and promises she’ll be back so Lulu decides to be brave. She’s soon having lots of fun and making new friends and can’t wait to go back the next day.
Maisy Goes to Nursery by Lucy Cousins
If you like Maisy books and don’t already have this in your arsenal, then you should definitely invest! If you haven’t met Maisy before, the series covers so many of the experiences you’re likely to have with your little people, and the quirky, bold illustrations make them such a big hit. Follow Maisy’s day at nursery, from putting her coat on her very own peg, to snack time, nap time, story time, noisy time, and going home time – it’s a great way to help little ones find out what to expect on a typical nursery day.
Goat Goes to Playgroup by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt
We’re huge fans of this series of books (that also includes Toddle Waddle, Chocolate Mousse for Greedy Goose, Hippo has a Hat and Mole Digging a Hole). Goat Goes to Playgroup is such a simple story that appeals to the youngest of children thanks to its bright pictures and silly rhymes. Find out what clumsy goat and his friends get up to at preschool, and be reassured that mummy will be back at the end of the day.
Do you have any books to add to the list?
… About Amanda Overend
Amanda is owner of online children’s bookstore Books & Pieces. She specialises in sourcing quality books for 0-6 year olds which she sells on her 3 for £10 deal. She lives in Leicestershire with her three little boys (and one big one!).
Guest post by Nicky Raby, a life coach, actor, writer & mama
Before you became a parent there was always a lot of chat.
‘What are you wearing on Saturday night?’
‘Is he the one?’
‘Do you want children?’
‘Is he good in bed?’… I’m not sure it would be appropriate to ask one of my pals this question these days?!
Then if you choose to become a parent, all the questions will follow and the volume of chatter is turned right up.
‘Do you think you will stay in London?’
‘Are you going to buy a bigger house?’
‘Are you going to have more children?’
‘How do you feel about work?’
Many of my clients come to me because they would like some support as they figure out their next move. Parenthood changes everything. Often we discuss work, career, doing more of what they love, developing a business idea and/or creating their own pic ’n’ mix version of success.
The word success means something different to each individual. That’s why working with a coach is so useful because I can help you figure out your version of success.
The ‘online’ version may be a laptop lifestyle with a 7-figure business jetting around the world. I would love to be a 7-figure business owner but I also have to consider my responsibilities as a mum. With a lairy 19-month-old baby, jetting around the world on long haul flights is not necessarily my idea of heaven. However, the idea of spending quality time with him and going on adventures that will stretch his mind, that lights up my world. There will be time for travelling later on.
Before I offer you some strategies, I would love to share something with you. No-one has everything sorted all of the time. Perfection is a myth. I have worked with clients who, according to their Instagram grid, have everything sorted in a effortlessly Scandi way, but have plans they want to bring to fruition and can’t seem to figure out the first step.
You may have seen my head shots and thought ‘It’s ok for her, she has good hair’. Yep, I do. It is malleable and grows quickly (I could actually sit on it a few months into motherhood- it was a little trampy rather than Disney princess!) but do I think I have the perfect bikini body?! Hell no!
So even if the beautiful filters of Instagram try to trick you into thinking that everyone else has sussed it while you are still trying to get out of bed, give yourself a break. Take the first step. Besides, your version of success may be completely different to theirs and that is all kinds of ace.
What do you want? If the five-year plan looks scary, just think about the next year ahead. I often ask my clients to complete the ‘Be, Do, Have’ exercise. Grab a piece of paper and draw three columns and then title each with ‘Be’ ‘Do’ ‘Have’. Write down everything that comes to mind. Don’t edit or hold yourself back, dream big, believe great things are waiting for you (because they are and you just have to step into them)
What is important to you? These may be simply words – e.g. ‘work’ ‘family’ ‘fun’ – but see if you can define them more deeply. Family could mean picking your children up from school. Being available for school assemblies. Or a family holiday twice a year or not working at the weekend. Scribble your ideas down.
Your non-negotiables. These could be relatively small wins: a full fridge, regular exercise, money to spend on your age-defying moisturiser or a bed that is lined with Egyptian cotton and matching cushions. Writing down the details of what you need in your daily/weekly life will bring much clarity. Plus, they may not be what you think!
What is your Why? What is your bigger reason? Knowing the purpose of all your efforts and daily activities is not only a great motivator but also allows you to track your progress. Ultimately, you may want to move out of London so you can open a wellness centre or run your own freelance graphic design business. Or work in the city five days a week and then turn off your phone on Saturday and Sunday.
What is the next step for you and how can you support your success? It could be booking a workshop, a course, attending a talk or reading a book. You may have to dig out some old business books you have. Or unfollow some people on social media because they are distracting your progress. Whatever you need to do, do it. Keep moving forward and listening to your intuition. You alone know what is best for you and your family. You can’t get this wrong because you know your situation. Plus, there are so many variables and no two paths are the same. So, if some uninvited and unwelcome ‘friendly’ advice comes your way from someone who vaguely does the same thing as you, you can choose what you do with the information, and figure out whether it applies to you or not.
My son is going through a bit of a tricky phase at the moment. Whether it’s the cough he’s had for the last few weeks, the fact that my working routine has changed and I’m not around quite so much, or because he’s worried about our upcoming house move, he’s not been himself of late. He’s being difficult at mealtimes, acting up when we’re out of the house, refusing to go to bed and calling out for us several times in the night. While I’m not worried, and know that this phase will pass like so many other difficult phases before, the immediate impact on our day-to-day lives is an issue. For me, I’m tired, sluggish and feeling run down. But, as a working mum, I still have a job to go to and work to get done.
So here are some coping strategies I’ve learned in the past few weeks. Hopefully they will help you too if you’re ever in the same position. (PS this is all about getting YOU through your working day, and not about getting your child back on track. That’s a whole other blog post and requires a better parent than me to write it (guest post anyone..?)!)
Cut yourself some slack. As I sit here writing this, I was supposed to be out for a run. But I’m tired. Yes, maybe my jeans will feel a bit tighter next week as depleted energy levels have resulting in my eating more and exercising less. But that’s ok. It has to be ok. I’ve reminded myself several times over the last few weeks that the size of my bum is not the most important thing right now…
Focus on your to-do list. Now, more than ever, you need to prioritise. Ditch Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email, Slack (seriously, how do we ever get any work done??) and just concentrate on the task in hand. Focus on the three things you need to do in a given day, and don’t let yourself be distracted by anything else until you have those things done. You could try setting a timer, e.g. 20 minutes, to get your head down on a single task without distraction, and then 5 mins to have a little walk (and a PEEK at Instagram) and then back to 20 mins of concentrated work again.
Ask for help. Now is the time to post that melodramatic Facebook status you would normally mock. An example: “FML. Srsly not coping. Need help.” Then reply to everyone who comments: “Will PM you babes”. The offers will come flooding in (…OK, a few people might unfriend you, but you don’t have time for all of those friends anyway).
Tag team with your other half. When your little one is going through a difficult phase, it can trigger a massive working mum guilt attack. But the world doesn’t stop because your child isn’t sleeping, and you still have work to do. If you have a partner, remember that your child is his/her responsibility too, and you need to hand over the reins from time to time, for your own sanity. If they’re not being helpful, then please do feel free to use their credit card to…
Throw money at the situation. Order your grocery shopping online and pay for same day delivery so you don’t have to go to the shops. Order takeout when you haven’t got the energy to cook. Get a taxi to work so you can have a few more minutes in bed. Do what it takes and allow yourself to spend that money. Just ask yourself ‘What would fellow down-to-earth working mum Beyoncé do?’ And do that.
Eat sensibly. When you’re tired, the temptation is to eat lots of sugary foods and drink coffee by the bucketful. However, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to your diet, and avoid getting caught in the sugar crash cycle (she says through a mouthful of Malteasers… will try harder tomorrow).
Prioritise rest. If you’re behind on work, it is so tempting to stay up late to catch up, but this will only make you more tired the next day, which will make you fall further behind. Give yourself a bedtime, and stick to it religiously. And, in order to get a good night’s sleep…
Say no to the vino. That’s you, not me, btw.
Throw out the rulebook. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. When you’re tired and just need a break, consider letting your child do things you wouldn’t normally let them do, such as have breakfast in front of Cbeebies if it gives you time to fire off a couple of emails. Give them the iPad in bed in the morning if means you can snooze a bit longer. It’s all about survival ladies! Principles can wait until you’ve had a bit more sleep.
Take time off work. If the situation gets really bad, and you’re exhausted, take a day off work to catch up on some rest. No working mum I know ever wants to take a day off for anything child-related in fear of being judged, but, reality check, you ARE a mum, and there’s no getting away from it. If you really don’t want to admit that you’re struggling at home, fake a colonic and no-one will ask questions.
I would love to hear any other tips you might have that could help poor exhausted working mums like me! Please share them in the comments below x
On a sunny Monday morning, just a few weeks ago, I crammed onto a tube platform at Highbury & Islington to head to my first day at a brand new job. After more than a decade of freelancing, I had signed an employment contract, packed up my shared office space and joined the throngs of commuters making their way to and from central London every day.
With self-employment often held up as a holy grail for parents who want the flexibility to work around their family commitments, why did I decide to leap the other way? And what are the advantages, as a mum, of having a 9-5 job?
I am working the same number of hours as before but spending MORE time with my family. Gone are the weekends and evenings spent tapping away at my computer, snatching glances at my phone while my son plays or hurrying him into bed so I can finish off an urgent piece of work. I get all of my work done in the allocated hours and then I can be 100% present when I’m with him.
I have ‘me time’! As I work four days, and my son goes to playgroup for five days, I have one magical day that’s just for me. I have big plans for that day… I can also enjoy work-free naptimes and hang out with my hubby after our son is in bed.
Flexibility can exist in a 9-5 job. As we don’t live super close to family, we have sometimes needed the flexibility of self-employment to cover ad hoc childcare needs, such as INSET days or illnesses. However, as I discovered when I had a family emergency this week, employers can be really understanding and are often willing to make sure you get the time you need when you need it. I can also work from home, and they have taken my needs as a mum into account at every stage. This was totally unexpected, and has made me realise that there is no reason whatsoever that this shouldn’t be the norm.
Teamwork is great. While I always had shared office space as a freelancer, so I never felt isolated, I’ve rarely worked alongside people in the same industry, let alone on the same projects. The internet is a wonderful thing, with tools like Trello and Slack making it so easy to work within remote teams, but it’s also nice to share a physical space with coworkers from time to time to bounce ideas around and learn from one another in real time.
Fixed working hours can be a good thing! I’ve written before about how difficult it can be to fit in a full working day when you’re also trying to do school runs, chores and life admin. The advantage to having fixed working hours is that you just sit at your desk and get on with it.
I have an excuse to buy new clothes and wear make-up! It’s a bit of a myth (as far as I know) that freelancers spend their days at home in their jim-jams, but I have lived in jeans and scruffy trainers for a long time now, and have rarely worn make-up. It’s actually a treat making (a bit of) an effort in the morning and wearing clothes that don’t have toddler snot on them.
And finally, an unexpected bonus: I don’t miss my son as much as when I was self-employed. It might sound crazy but the knowledge that I have no choice but to be at work, rather than feeling like I always had the option of not working at any given moment, has quietened the previously ever-present mum guilt. My new office environment is so different to my old relaxed studio space, and I can’t just pop home, or decide to leave early because I want to hang out with my son, so I can finally switch off that nagging voice for the day.
The most important lesson for me here is that #workthatworks for mums doesn’t just mean one thing. It’s important to investigate different set-ups to find the one that works the best for your family. Flexible working doesn’t only come through self-employment, and there are plenty of employers out there who are willing to provide parents with the flexibility they need if that’s the route you want to go down. Otherwise, self-employment has lots of advantages too and, who knows, that might be the best option for us again in the future (Anyone else feel a pros & cons post coming on..?)
I had a meeting in the city this morning, and another one late afternoon in Soho. There wasn’t much point going home in the middle, so I decided to walk the distance between the two appointments, have some lunch somewhere, maybe pop into the Tate Modern on the way… I’m self-employed after all and having a quiet week. I can take a couple of hours to myself and make up the time somewhere else. Or not. Whatever.
However, as I started walking, anxiety gripped my heart. I can’t take this time to myself. I should be working or spending time with my son. Should I jump in a cab home and pick him up for a couple of hours?? Should I just find a café and work? If I spend time on my own now, without working, then I’ll have to work another time when I could be spending time with my son… And just like that, freelancing mummy guilt smacked me in the chops. While there are definite advantages to being self-employed when you have a family, the reality is that it’s also a bloody hard, exhausting and guilt-ridden juggle at times too.
Dream: You’ll do school/nursery drop off and pick up every day and enjoy the uninterrupted time in between to get loads of work done. Once the kids go to bed, you’ll pull your computer back out again and tap away happily for a couple of hours before hitting the hay yourself.
Reality: There are only a limited number of hours in the day. You’re forever playing catch up and feeling like you’re about to be busted for having forgotten to do something crucial. The kids never go to bed on time and your stress levels rise with every minute that passes. Your other half complains that you never spend any time together after the kids are in bed, and you rarely get enough sleep because you always stay up working much later than you should.
Dream: You’ll be able to work full-time hours but at times that suit you (and why doesn’t everyone do this by the way..??!)
Reality: Trying to fit in a 40-hour week around school runs, supermarket shopping, housework, and actually spending time with your family is impossible. IMPOSSIBLE. Think about it. The kids are probably only in school or nursery for 6 hours or so, and you have to factor in travel time too. This means that, even if you use up every second of the time they’re not there, you probably only have 25 hours per week. And that doesn’t take into account the fact that you have to eat, and go to the loo, and deal with life admin, like booking doctors’ appointments, buying food, getting hair cuts, etc. Then, even on the rare weeks you manage to work for every minute of those 25 hours, the remaining 15 are pretty hard to find without working every single evening and at least a full day at the weekend too, when you’ll beat yourself up for spending time away from your family.
Dream: You’ll enjoy off-peak gym time or exercise classes and meet friends for coffee during the day.
Reality: Every time you even think about doing something that isn’t for the kids or work, you feel a stab of guilt and panic. Everything has to have a purpose as your time is so stretched that you simply can’t afford to squander it. Sometimes, you can convince yourself that exercise is ok if you do something productive at the same time, like listen to a podcast, and coffee dates with friends are just about allowed if you’re discussing work.
Dream: School holidays will be a breeze because you don’t have to book time off. You can just work while the kids play. Simples.
Reality: I’m guessing I don’t really have to spell this one out… If your kids happily play together or on their own without requiring constant input/validation from you, then more power to you! My son does not do this, and his ongoing complaints of being bored and wanting someone to play with tug at my heartstrings and make it impossible for me to concentrate and actually produce any quality work, so it swiftly becomes a pointless exercise.
Dream: And speaking of holidays, you’ll be able to take loads more of them because you don’t have a limited number of vacation days and, in fact, you can work from anywhere so you will just take your laptop with you and keep working!
Reality: You quickly realise that holidays are twice as expensive when you’re self-employed because you don’t get paid when you’re not at work. As you’ve already discovered that you can’t work while your kids are there, taking your laptop with you is a futile exercise, and when you do manage to steal an hour or so to get some work done, you quickly resent the fact that you’re at your computer while the rest of the family unwinds and enjoys their holiday.
Dream: You will be able to go to every school play and football match, chaperone school trips and be there for your kids when they’re unwell.
Reality: Even though you’re self-employed, people still depend on you to get your work done, so you can’t just drop everything when something comes up. And then you feel MORE guilty than mums with ‘normal’ jobs when you miss an important event, because you always feel as though you could have taken the time off (and you’re pretty sure everyone else is thinking the same thing too).
Sound familiar? Leave me a comment and let me know! And yes, today I stopped in a café to have some lunch and allowed myself to watch the world go by. For about 10 minutes before pulling out my laptop. And then I wrote this post. I didn’t make it to the Tate…
Since our son was born three years ago, I can count on one hand the number of times I have been out in the evening with my other half. Are you shocked? I probably would have been, if someone had told me this when I was pregnant and telling everyone who would listen that our lives weren’t going to change one bit when the tiny human came into our lives. I even booked gig tickets for the two of us for a few weeks after my due date, thinking blithely that I would be able to find someone to look after the baby so we could pop out for a few hours. I hadn’t counted on the non-stop breastfeeding, the sleep-deprivation and the feeling of panic if I hadn’t clapped eyes on my newborn for a while. Needless to say, we didn’t go to the gig. In the months, and then years, that followed, we didn’t ever go to another gig, and we rarely asked anyone to look after our son in the evening so we could go out together.
As parents, it can be tough to find time to yourselves. This is especially true in a two-freelancer relationship, where evenings and weekends are often given over to work. Friends, and social media, tell us that we need a ‘date night’. That we should take the evening off from parenting, get dressed up, let our hair down, find a bar, and get really really drunk.
While that sounds like great fun, the reality is that we had already stopped doing that before having a child. We had replaced nights out with evenings in, and while we still packed away our fair share of booze, we didn’t feel the need to do it while being squeezed into the latest trendy bar. We also did other things together, like go on long walks, play squash and watch Coronation Street! As we were both self-employed, we could theoretically spend time together whenever we wanted to, and so we never felt the need to organise elaborate date nights.
However, the truth of the matter – because what’s the point if I’m not being honest? – is that I didn’t always prioritise time with him because I was so busy running a business. I was addicted to work and sat in front of my computer well into the evening and usually over the weekend too. I made time to see my friends from time to time, but my other half often dropped to the bottom of the to-do list.
Now we’re parents, things are different. Even though I’m once again running a business, and I have a child to look after too, I really want to make time for my partner in parenthood. And so I do. We meet for brunch or lunch during playgroup hours, and sometimes even linger longer than we should. He sometimes walks me to the tube if I have a meeting in town. We still watch TV together in the evenings (although it’s no longer Coronation Street), drink wine and sit side by side. We chat on the phone during the day when we’re both out at work, and it’s not always about childcare logistics! We have started to make time for each other, and appreciate every opportunity, no matter how small. Sometimes the 10-minute ‘micro-date’, downing scalding hot tea before playgroup pickup, is the best one.
More recently, we’ve been planning a wedding. As a result, we’ve needed to scope out venues, sort out endless details, have meetings with wedding coordinators and ring designers and go shopping for outfits and supplies. As none of those things are particularly child-friendly, we’ve been calling upon friends and family to help out while we do our ‘wedmin’ or we’ve been meeting up to get things done while our son is at playgroup. And it’s been great! The highlight was our tasting session in which we got to cosy up in a beautiful pub in the countryside, drink wine, eat amazing food and just talk.
In our former life, the pre-child one, we could do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted and so we didn’t make the effort. We weren’t quite so happy, and we certainly didn’t decide to get married. Since our child came along, we have found something that is better, bigger and deeper. We have battled through a long and messy childbirth, through sleepless nights and exhaustion, where accusations fly and tears are hot and angry, through neverending nappy changes, illnesses, and dinner time battles. We have come out the other side with a newfound respect and appreciation for one another, and a desire to make time for one another in our busy lives.
Before, we didn’t go on date nights because we felt like we could make time for each other whenever we wanted. Now, we don’t need date nights because we do make time for each other on a regular basis. We’re making the effort, finding new ways of spending time together, embracing the micro-date, and spending much more time together than we did before becoming parents. And we’re in a pretty good place in our relationship as a result.
This post has been written in collaboration with bubble babysitting app, as part of their #datelikeaparent campaign. I would love it if you could take 5 minutes to comment below, or head on over to Twitter or Instagram and let us know how you find childfree time to hang out with your other half!
When I tell other mums that my partner and I share the responsibility of childcare, I am often met with an envious ‘lucky you’. This was particularly true in the early days when many of my new mum friends wouldn’t see much of their partners from Monday to Friday and would mostly have to figure out how to look after a tiny baby all by themselves. So yes, in some respects, lucky me. But it’s not always a walk in the park. Taking equal responsibility for childcare, and managing that division of labour, certainly comes with its own unique challenges, and can be a real strain for a relationship.
Here are some of the issues I have encountered along the way:
The logistics of trying to organise the workload of two freelancers around a child are a nightmare, and a recipe for rows and hurt feelings. There is the inevitable argument of whose job is more important, or at least the most important that day. It puts enormous strain on a relationship.
I have had to slowly – and painfully – learn to let go of the idea that I am not the only one who knows how to look after my child and gets to decide what is best for him. Several of my mum friends have partners who wouldn’t have an opinion on which potty-training method to try, or when to make the transition from a cot to a ‘big boy’ bed, because it mostly doesn’t affect them, whereas my OH is working in the field, elbow deep in nappies, and it’s every bit as much his decision as it is mine (*she says through gritted teeth…*)
In the early days (i.e. the first 6 months), my son was exclusively breastfed, which meant that I was the only one who could actually do anything when he woke up in the night, and it also meant that I couldn’t leave him for more than a couple of hours at a time. I felt (unfairly) resentful that my OH could just leave the house when he wanted, could stay away for the night, and was not losing nearly as much sleep as I was. It didn’t feel like the ‘fair’ divide we had agreed on. Not his fault I know, but sleep deprivation’s a bitch.
There is an expectation, from several corners, that I should be grateful for his ‘help’. He’s not helping me. Childcare is not my ‘job’. It’s a shared responsibility and no-one expects him to be grateful to me for getting up in the night or changing nappies. This doesn’t mean that I’m ‘ungrateful’. I’m certainly grateful to have him in my life, but I don’t think he’s doing me a favour by sharing childcare duties.
Quite simply, my OH doesn’t do things the way I would do them. He doesn’t prioritise the same types of activity, and doesn’t see screentime as such a bad thing. In the past, if I was out for a whole day, I would be worried that my son would not be getting enough stimulation, fresh air, or the general over-the-top attention he would be getting from me. I used to think it would be easier to pay a childcare professional so I could make sure they were doing things my way. I know, total cow. I’m over that now, and realise that we both just offer very different things to my son, which is great. (And I have also very much relaxed my own attitude to screentime!)
Total strangers (often grannies in cafes) feel the need to remark on what a good dad my OH is, and it makes my blood boil. Not because he’s not a good dad, because I really know that he is (despite my whining), but because nobody is thinking what a good mum I am for doing the exact same things!
Childcare actually isn’t split down the middle. Even when you try really hard, there are still some things that one of you does more than the other, and those things change all the time as your child grows. For a long time, I still considered myself to be the ‘primary parent’, particularly during the first year, but I think we’re slowly finding a better balance.
For all of the above, there are enormous advantages to having a hands-on partner. Like the close bond between my son and his dad, which is amazing to see. I know that I can leave them together without a long list of instructions, and I can now swan out of the house without a care (like I longed to do so much in the early days). I don’t participate in the gentle ‘dad-bashing’ I see from some mums, who occasionally laugh at the ineptitude of their other halves when it comes to changing nappies or dealing with toddler tantrums. He’s actually better at lots of it than I am (but don’t tell him I said so…)