Can we have it all (or even, just get it all done) if we get up earlier? Is the secret to happiness keeping at least a foot in the door of your chosen career whilst bringing up young children?This was the headline which caught my eye this week. It also sprung to Alex’s – she texted me about it just as I was about to message her. Of course it did. For this is aimed squarely at women like us. As is the book, The Pie Life in which author Samantha Ettus offers, according to The Times, “controversial advice” which will heap further coals of pressure on our already over-heated heads (addled by all the conflicting messages, perhaps). Her advice? Get up an hour before the rest of the family. Do not quit the world of work altogether. Value both your personal and professional life. Make time for you.
Ettus believes that the route to happiness lies in being fulfilled in seven ‘slices’ (that nifty pie analogy) of life: family, work, relationships, hobbies, health, friends, community/religion. And having each slice of said pie is the road to happiness. I investigated further and – far from stoking the pressure – I now want to print out her ‘rules’ and post them on my wall:
Yes, it’s hard to juggle family and work. Yes, you’re exhausted. But stay in the game. (Her point being: if you take your foot out the metaphorical door altogether, when you do want to go back, your options are limited. True. Statistics show the pay gap widens after the birth of the first child.)
Ditch the guilt. The subtitle of her book is ‘A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success’. So, if you have to sacrifice one part of your life (school sports day, say) for another (a work trip), then balance that out by spending extra time with the children at the weekend.
Get yourself a supportive partner. Not one who refers to looking after his children as ‘babysitting’. At my friend Corrie’s book launch, I met the lovely Sarah Tomczak, Deputy Editor of Red, and were discussing this very issue of work/family/life. She said she can only do what she does because of her brilliant partner, who has taken on the lion’s share of the childcare and domestic admin. (“You can only truly have it all if your partner is a feminist,” is her number one life lesson in this excellent piece).
Whilst you’re at it, ditch the idea of perfection. Life is “messy’ and that’s okay; there are no “bad days, just bad moments”.
Be present. So don’t faff/go down an Instagram/Jennifer Aniston meme rabbit hole when you’re at work (can you tell I’m paraphrasing?) and don’t answer emails when you’re with your children (hands up, I’m guilty of this). This is, to my mind, why mothers make great employees: focus. As a off-shoot to this, set boundaries. Ettus would have been proud of me when I went back to work after I had my daughter, because I was always clear that I left the office on time. (I refer you again to the being productive. There is nothing quite like a deadline with kissable cheeks.) It also helps to have a boss who values their home life, so they get why you value yours.
So far, so…sensible. So not a cause for outrage. Perhaps it’s this part which irks some people?
“If you told me that you were spending all of your time at work I would say to you, your life is woefully imbalanced. It’s the same thing if you’re spending all of your time parenting — your life is woefully imbalanced. You will be bored and unfulfilled”
We don’t like the idea of being “bored and unfulfilled”. We don’t even like the accusation that we might possibly be one day. Especially when it’s levelled at parenting. (Someone commented on A.N. Other newspaper’s reporting of this story, that to say being a stay-at-home mother “that most honourable of professions” is boring is an insult.) But – and feel free to shoot me down here: I agree with it.
I don’t find myself unfulfilled or bored when I’m with my children – quite the opposite most of the time. (Frustrated/bamboozled/despairing on occasion, too.) But that’s because being a parent is one of my roles (one slice of pie, in Ettus’ vernacular);I also work. One of my friends, who did leave work to stay at home full-time, once remarked how hard it is when “your home is your office and your children are your boss. There is literally never a break or escape.” I see where she’s coming from: for me the balance is the key to my sanity.
Since being a parent, I have tried the work-life-parent balance every which way: full-time at home (both maternity leaves, with no childcare bar the 3 hours my daughter spent at nursery); full-time at work; part-time work/mama. I loved my job, but not so much the fact that I weighed every single minute of time I got to spend with my daughter from Monday to Friday (two and half hours on a good day to the nanny’s ten – see what I mean about driving myself mad?), and that I was, metaphorically, always slightly out 0f breath because I could never ever get on top of everything. (Note to self: this situation has not changed.) And I love, adore and would fling myself in front of lions for my children, but, Lordy be, full-time parenting is not for the faint of heart. Or even the relatively robust.
Also – as Alex said on Monday in an unconscious echo of Ettus’ theory: what about later? When your children are all at school/college etc. – what then if you closed the door altogether?
Which is why I choose to keep that door propped open – and my sanity (relatively) intact. I work three days – and, as of this week, those days are for myself, from my “office” at home – to give me the flexibility I need for my family (more on this another time when I’ve found my freelance feet!) and the chance to develop in a different direction professionally. It was an almost impossible decision (leaving a job and a team you love is a tough call), but one I made for (I hope) the right reasons. I’m change-averse so I’m definitely having moments of The Fear, but my new mantra come courtesy of Jo Malone, who I met last week: I would rather take the risk and have the adventure, than play it safe and regret.
*As for getting up earlier, you’ll have to ask Alex. I am not a morning person and will take every moment in bed I can possibly get.
Picture taken by my husband on our first holiday as a four in Corsica.