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…)
People are saying that we have become desensitised to the refugee crisis, that we are suffering from ‘compassion fatigue‘.
Since becoming a mum, my tolerance for distressing news has plummeted. My protective maternal instinct combined with a sprinkling of anxiety disorder and a big old splodge of OCD has made it nearly impossible for me to read, watch or listen to tragic stories involving children. This includes tales of miscarriage, stillbirths and childhood death, words I can barely bring myself to type, in case by doing so, I somehow bring harm upon my family, upon my sweet, beautiful blond-haired little boy.
Up until very recently, this selective blindness extended to the refugee crisis and the 1000 unaccompanied minors adrift in the Calais Jungle. Every time I heard sentences like ‘129 children have gone missing from the refugee camps’, phrases like ‘sex trafficking’ and words like ‘lost’, ‘alone’ and ‘scared’ to describe children, my brain did the mental equivalent of putting its hands over its ears and shouting ‘lalalalalalala’ as loudly as possible.
This is not desensitisation. This is not a lack of care for others. It’s hypersensitivity. And it’s fear. But that’s not an excuse for inaction either.
Every time I, or you, put our hands over our ears so we cannot hear, or over our eyes so we cannot see; every time we turn the TV over when we hear something that makes us uncomfortable; every time we choose to ignore an issue that is causing pain to others, we are allowing that situation to continue.
So now I am choosing to open my eyes. And here is what I am seeing:
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a parent. As parents, we owe it to the mothers and fathers of these lost kids to help their children, just as we would help a child that we found lost in our local playground, and just as we would hope that another parent would help our child if they needed it. It’s time that we said to the parents of those lost children: your children are our children too. And we will help to take care of them.
Here are some of the things that I am committing to doing, and I urge you to join me:
Donate money to help provide mobile phones, backpacks and winter clothes to the unaccompanied minors in the Jungle refugee camp. This is crucial, as the dismantling of the camp is expected to start any day now, and there is no plan to transport the children to safety. Click here to donate.
Take part in peaceful protests, e.g. this one on Monday 24th October at Kings Cross/St Pancras in which parents are being asked to bring their kids dressed up as Paddington Bear to put pressure on London councils to help unaccompanied refugee children.
Share the hell out of every article and blog post on this crisis so that people cannot forget or look the other way.
We need to read the distressing articles and watch the awful news bulletins; we need to imagine ourselves in the place of the refugees, our kids in the place of these lost children. And we need to allow ourselves to feel sad when we hear terrible things, like stories of children being pulled dead from the water. And then we need to do something about it.
And most importantly of all: we need to stop looking the other way simply because it’s too painful to look at the problem.
I usually avoid conversation with strangers on trains. To be completely honest, I even avoid eye contact. Who wants to end up making awkward small talk the entire way from London to Newcastle..?
But I made an exception on my last trip up North, and I’m so glad I did.
I got chatting to a wonderful woman who helped me to see, in a way that no-one else ever has, that I am making the right choice for my family by going out to work and placing my lovely little boy in childcare.
Her advice was simple, and it was this:
Do what you love. You mustn’t give up your dreams and career goals in order to spend every second with your child. Otherwise, you may well end up resenting your child and your relationship will suffer.
And this was the best bit:
Just make sure you “get your ducks in a row.” Translation: Find the right childcare for your child and make sure he’s happy. That way, you both go and have a lovely day, and then look forward to seeing each other on your days off. This made me realise that the reason my situation felt so bad was not that I was going to work, but that I had chosen the wrong childcare for my son (an issue I’m in the middle of resolving).
As a result, your relationship with your child will be all the better because you know that the time you spend with them is time you have chosen to spend with them. And when you are with them, you can be fully and completely present, rather than half-distracted thinking of other things that you could be doing, putting them in front of the telly while you get things done, or simply resenting the fact that you feel forced to be there.
My conclusion: If I follow all of the ‘shoulds’ and give in to the guilt, my relationship with my child will suffer, and then I will really have something to feel bad about.
It’s important to show our children how great it is to be inspired and passionate and how wonderful it it to do something that you love. This will lead to confident kids growing up inspired to follow their passions too.
I don’t know the name of the wonderful lady on the train, and I’m pretty sure she’ll never read this, but if she does: Thank You.
PS. This post in no way intends to denigrate Stay At Home Mums. It’s just about mums like me, who go out to work, and often feel really bloody guilty about it. If you have chosen to be at home with your child(ren), and that’s what you feel passionate about, then I wish you all the best. Truly.
The award-winning, always a sell-out, everyone’s-talking-about-it, Big Fish Little Fish Family Rave is coming to Hackney, with live DJs, glitter cannons, free glowsticks and a LICENSED BAR, and you could win a family ticket (2 adults & 2 children) by entering this competition before 11pm on the 7th October:
What: A family rave to end all family raves. The kids will love it. You will love it. They’ll play with bubbles. You’ll get a little tipsy. The dress-up theme is ‘Back to the Old Skool’ so you can even dig out some of those 90’s clothes lurking at the back of the wardrobe…
I’ve teamed up with Bubele, an app, website & newsletters dedicated to finding the coolest activities for kids around the UK, to offer 2 family tickets to a Groove Baby family jazz concert at London’s Southbank Centre on Wednesday 21 September at 10.30am.
This concert stars Shane Forbes, one of the most in-demand young jazz drummers in the UK, along with two more rising stars on the UK jazz circuit, Nathaniel Facey on saxophone and Tom Farmer on double bass.
To be in with a chance of winning a family ticket (2 adults, 2 kids), you just need to click the link & answer a simple question before 11pm on Wednesday 14th September:
Having been self-employed before motherhood, and now as a mum, I am finding out that the challenges involved are very different. Gone are the days of working 60 hours a week (thank goodness!) and only having myself to think about. Here are the things that have helped me to stay sane and get sh*t done over the last two years:
Make a schedule and stick to it
Making sure that you have specific days for working, and others for spending with your family, will help you to make sure that you work the number of hours you need to get things done. When you are self-employed, with no-one to answer to, it can be easy to either work yourself into the ground or take too much time off. Decide how many hours you need to do each week, and make a realistic schedule. Children also respond well to a routine, so they will be happier if they know where they are going to be each day.
Schedule in some ‘me time’
This comes up on every single list of tips for mums, working mums, self-employed mums, stay-at-home mums and everything in between. It’s arguably the most important point on this list. By taking some downtime from work and family, you can be more productive when you are working, and a more pleasant person for your family to be around. And knowing that you have that time scheduled in will make it easier for you to focus on work and family the rest of the time.
And also ask for it. You might not be lucky enough to have people throwing offers of babysitting at your feet (I’m not!) but don’t be afraid to ask around. You’ll be surprised how many people will be happy to help out, but just didn’t think to offer.
Learn to say no
When you work for yourself, it can be easy to say yes to every offer that comes your way, for fear of turning down the wrong opportunity and missing out. However, when you’re a mum, you have to recognise that your time is more limited, and you need to manage the expectations of your clients and your customers. This means saying no to requests that don’t align with your objectives, or that you simply don’t have time to do. This will avoid you wasting your time, or being forced to break promises.
Give 100% to whatever you’re doing
When you’re at work, try to forget about everything else and concentrate on the task at hand. You will be more productive and this means that when you’re with your family, you can turn your phone off and give 100% to them too. My tip: Use a time-tracking tool (such as Toggl) to help you stay on track.
Get a dedicated working space
This might take the form of a room in your house, or even a corner of a room, or a desk in a coworking space. This will help you to focus when you’re at work and it also means that you can shut down your computer and leave work behind when you’re done for the day.
I hate the expression ‘time is money’ but this is literally true when you’re self-employed. If you pay someone to do a task for you, you haven’t simply spent money, you have saved yourself time, which can then be spent on earning money! Identify those things that take you a lot of time, that you don’t enjoy, and that you can offload onto someone else. And do it. For lots of people, accounts and tax returns fall into this category.
Make time for your other half too!
I’m really bad at this one. I make time for my son, for my work, and even for me, but I have a terrible habit of neglecting my other half. He’s very understanding, but I’m making an effort to put aside time once a week to spend with him, even if it’s just vegging in front of Britain’s Got Talent with a bottle of wine together!
I would love to hear about your experience of being a self-employed mum so please do Tweet me @hackneymama or comment below!
AKA why I decided to take part in the Mumpreneur Networking Club Bus Tour Blogathon.
Tomorrow, I will be sacrificing a full day of work to get up at the crack of dawn to catch a bus to Waterloo and a train to Guildford to sit on a stationary bus all day, and then travel all the way back to Hackney. I have had to ask my other half to cancel some of his own work so he can pick the toddler up from nursery and, for the first time ever, we’ll have to waiting at the nursery door for it to open in the morning. Why?
As a self-employed mum, my time is precious. And I don’t give it away very easily. In fact, I would say that saying no has been one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt over the past 2 years since my son was born, and the one that has ensured I enjoy a decent work-life balance while still earning enough money to support my family.
However, sometimes it’s good to say yes, as long as the opportunity is the right one. And how do you know?
Step 1: Make sure you have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve in the short, medium and long term. Write it down so you can keep referring back to it.
Step 2: Compare each potential opportunity with the list, and be honest with yourself about whether that particular opportunity is going to help you to achieve those goals, either directly or indirectly.
For me personally, after a couple of years of professionally blogging for businesses and parent websites, I have taken the plunge and launched my own personal blog. My goal right now is to network with other bloggers, promote my blog, increase followers and engagement on my social platforms, and pick up some tips and tricks along the way. One of the main themes of my blog is about the challenges involved in being a self-employed mum, so it will be great to chat to other mums in the same position and find out what their personal challenges are too. So when I was offered the chance to go and represent a business I work for on the Mumpreneur Networking Club Bus Tour, I said yes straight away as it’s the perfect opportunity for me right now. Now can someone remind me of that at 6am tomorrow morning..?
If you’re in Guildford tomorrow, come say hi. I’ll be at the blogathon in the morning, and then representing the Bubele app for parents in the afternoon.
Now that I have a toddler, I look back with fondness at the baby days for many different reasons, but today, as I sadly admitted defeat when the button of my favourite pair of jeans stubbornly refused to fasten, I am thinking particularly of those heady first few months when, against everything I believed before having a baby, I was actually losing weight and looking good!
If you don’t believe this is possible, here are just some of the reasons why the first few months with a baby can actually help you to shed some pounds without any effort on your part. And you still get to eat biscuits.
Your baby will only fall asleep if you have them tied to your chest in a sling and you bounce, jiggle or, in the case of my bundle of joy, perform deep squats on repeat (a serious workout for the glutes).
They always choose the worst time to fall asleep without the aforementioned jiggling, like in your arms just as the sandwich you have prepared is just out of reach, leaving you to stare longingly at it while they have the longest nap they’ve had to date.
Despite looking forward to wine for 9 months, when the baby is born, you realise that you still can’t drink any because you now have a tiny person attached to your boob 24/7 and so the binge session has to wait a bit longer.
You walk round and round and round and round your local park/estate/block to get the baby to sleep and then to keep them asleep.
They will keep you awake half the night until you feel sick from exhaustion and couldn’t possibly put any food in your mouth. Besides, you have no energy left to chew.
Breastfeeding. Obviously. I developed my terrible biscuit addiction during the early days of breastfeeding when all of the calories I consumed disappeared straight out of my boobs, but unfortunately haven’t been able to stop eating them since.
You meet the best mum mates at postnatal fitness classes. There’s no way to sit in the corner and pretend to be invisible or quietly skulk in and out. Plus a workout gets the endorphins going, so everyone is in a great and receptive mood at the end of the class. You also have the time to go to these classes because you can take your baby along too. No-one wants a roomful of toddlers in an exercise class.
The endless stream of visitors will eat all of your biscuits. Bastards. Do none of them read those helpful articles on what you should bring a new mum? You bring food, you bring tea, you look after the baby while mum sleeps, and you leave. The end. None of my visitors had consulted the manual before arriving biscuit-less, hungry and with no intention of taking over the endless rocking/squatting or passing me my sandwich.
To illustrate the person I was before becoming a mama, let me tell you a little story…
In my past life, I founded a translation agency. I worked all day every day. Throughout my pregnancy, I was sure that the birth itself would be a minor blip in my working week, and that I would be right back on it as soon as I’d pushed out the placenta. My waters broke at around 11pm when I was already one day past my due date and had accepted work from an important client. The deadline was the next day, so rather than go to the hospital, or even phone the midwife, I grabbed a towel, sat back down at my desk, and kept going until I’d finished the piece of work. Then we went to hospital. I didn’t want to tell my client that I was having a baby (I didn’t tell any of my clients), so I just said that I would be uncontactable for a couple of days, and turned on my out-of-office, for the first time ever.
Then little Beanie arrived, and everything changed. Not in a sudden lightning bolt kind of way, but in a subtle changing-of-the-seasons kind of way. I didn’t want to rush out to the office. I wanted to sit on my bum and drink tea and eat cake and hold my beautiful baby boy for just five minutes longer. So that’s exactly what I did. I was really skint for a few months, but it didn’t matter.
And then one day I got a Tweet from a local mum who was setting up an app for parents. Would I meet her for coffee? Jumping at the chance to go and have an adult chat with someone, and intrigued by the possibility of doing something different, off I went. And I never looked back. Bit by bit, I took on a few hours here and there, taking on their Twitter account, and then their Facebook account too, creating blog posts for them, and helping to launch a local parent newsletter, which would eventually be rolled out to the rest of the UK. And it all fit neatly around my life as a mum. I even took my son to meetings!
Somewhere along the line, I heard of Digital Mums, and things really started to happen. In a nutshell, Digital Mums takes lost mums like me, and turns them into social media ninjas. It’s a pretty exhausting transformation, with so much to learn and do in five short months, but it was worth every single late night and mini breakdown (there were several).
Now, I work a very reasonable 35ish hours per week, for the original client, but also with additional freelance work in social media and content creation. I coordinate a team of mums around the country who are all trying to find work that fits around family life, and that complements their mum life. I meet and talk to incredible mums every single day, mums who have turned their lives upside down in order to find a more flexible way of working, and it’s the most supportive and wonderful community I’ve ever encountered.
And you know what? I’m a bit poorer, and a bit more tired, but I’m happy. I get to sit and watch Kung Fu Panda for the millionth time with my little boy, and play with Duplo, and read the Gruffalo over and over, but I’m also supporting my family and doing something that I really enjoy at the same time.
And so this is my new blog all about my new life. I really hope you like it.