Aunt Juniper: JUGGLING MUM, DROPPING BALLS

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Dear Aunt Juniper,

I am absolutely drowning in my life at the moment. I am running from one thing to another, trying to juggle work, children and motherhood and yet failing at all three.

I was late to collect our children from the childminder again today and have been faced with yet another tearful drive home with my son asking why all the other mummies went to his assembly this morning and I didn’t.

My husband works full time too but his hours are even longer than mine so he isn’t much help at either end of the day. I do all the morning routine of breakfast, dressing the kids (3,5,8) and getting them to the childminder. I then sprint to work, do a mediocre job at pretending I’m paying attention, and then sprint back to the childminder to collect the kids and take them home for tea / bed / bath. My husband gets home around 8.30, just in time to see the older two before he collapses on the settee. The younger one barely sees their dad and his arrival home normally wakes the older two up so they want to play and read stories when I just want them to go to sleep.

My husband and I then end up eating some kind of quick junk food at 9.30pm before falling asleep on the settee.

It is no way to live and we are all suffering. I’d love to give up work but we simply can’t afford it. What on earth can we do to make our life more enjoyable, less stressful and healthier.

Whoever said women can have it all was lying!

Thanks,

From, Headless-Mum.

 

Dear Headless-Mum,

What you’re describing will resonate strongly with every working parent on the planet. It’s a relentless and exhausting business. Who realized the pressure they were signing up for as they threw away the contraception, with romantic notions of cute, clean, gurgling babies who would sleep all the time.

When mine were pre-school, there were so many of *those* mornings. I’d arrive at the office, blood pressure raging, having been awake for 4 hours already, and wanting to scream at all the perfectly groomed non-parents: “Do you have ANY IDEA what it has taken for me to be here? By nine O’ F***ing clock?!!!”

It’s normal. Life isn’t supposed to be easy. Ask any parent of pre-school children.

BUT – it doesn’t have to be this hard. Your current existence is particularly intense, and there are a lot of ways to make it easier.

These are my golden rules for de-frazzling. They work for most overwhelmed people, especially mothers of young children:

Be kind to yourself
Be serious about self-care
Be creative and resourceful about how to make it easier
Be kind to yourself.

You are not “failing at all three”. You wouldn’t use such harsh judgment with others: you will change your life when you stop being harsh to yourself. For example, don’t take the end of day complaints about missed assemblies too seriously. All kids are tearful and whiny at the end of the day, however brilliant their life is. It’s not about you (and, btw, you weren’t the only absent parent. I wasn’t there either).

A couple of ideas for next steps – pick what works for you, amend to fit.

Before you go to bed every night, sit down with a notebook and write down five wins: five things, however small, that you’ve achieved today. Start small. Child ate a mouthful of vegetable. Paid the rent on time. Did not punch irritating person at work. Strengthened an important relationship. If you look for the wins, you will find them. Stop counting failures, and look at your day through a different lense.
Find a relaxed hour on a Saturday evening, ideally with Gin. Sit down with your husband and congratulate each other on your parenting. Write a list of all the things you value about each other’s parenting, what you are doing well. Keep it safe, keep adding to it, and remember to look at it on the bad days.
Let go of perfectionism. Your adult offspring won’t look back at their childhood and blame you for un-ironed clothes, or dirty floors, or shop-bought birthday cakes. They won’t even remember the assemblies you weren’t there for. They just want you to be happy. So go on, give yourself permission to break your own irrational rules, at least once a day. (“But there are no irrational rules!” I hear you cry. Look again)
Be serious about self-care.

You are critical to your family, so you must invest in your wellbeing. Ignoring your physical needs is like buying an expensive car and then not having it serviced. When we neglect good nutrition, sleep and exercise (as we all do, from time to time), we set ourselves on a downward spiral of frazzled negativity.

A couple of ideas for next steps – pick what works for you, amend to fit.

How well are you currently eating, sleeping and exercising? How would you rate your current wellbeing on a scale of 1-10? (Resist the temptation to use this as another stick to beat yourself with. The goal here isn’t to be Elle McPherson on a macrobiotic diet. The goal is to be you, feeling OK.)
Identify one tiny step you could take in the next week, to push that number up by one. OK, by half. Perhaps, once a week, you could go to bed when the kids do? Or, once a week, you could go for a walk and eat a salad at lunchtime, instead of wolfing down a sandwich at your desk? Or ask Husband to get the kids out on Saturday afternoon so you can have a couple of hours to yourself? Ask a friend to host a sleepover so that you and hubby get a Sunday lie-in? Unplug from social media one evening and use the time to sleep or meditate instead? It doesn’t matter how tiny or daft this step is. Think of one small thing, write it down, and ask someone to hold you to account so that you actually do it. Small steps snowball. The more we take, the easier it becomes to see the next one.
Be creative and resourceful about how to make it easier

You are resourceful. Carve out an hour or two with a wise friend and brainstorm how to make it easier. Here are some thoughts to get you started:

Childcare. Believe it or not, you are almost through the hardest bit. The pre-school years are the most intense and expensive for working parents, and with your youngest only a year or so from starting reception, you have almost reached a key milestone. How could you set up this final stretch to be easier? Child-minders and nurseries provide limited flexibility and, with three kids, are likely to be more expensive than a nanny – have you considered this? If you shared with another family, a fantastic nanny might cost £70 per day. A huge investment, but consider the benefits; nannies represent less strain in the morning (she comes to you), better nutrition (she cooks a big pot supper for the whole family), and greater evening flexibility. She can also host their friends, and attend all the school stuff that you feel bad about missing. If that’s not feasible, perhaps condensing the kids into one room and using the spare room for an au pair could be an option? Or is it time to corral a friend, sibling or grandparent, even just for one school pick up a week?
Work. Have you had an honest chat with your boss about your situation? Under stress, we convince ourselves that there are fewer options than there are. If your boss realizes that she may lose you if things don’t change, she may become more creative. Even if there are absolutely no options for flexible working, could you use some of your annual leave entitlement to reduce your hours for a while? I’ve found that doing the school pick up once a week is life-changing. It connects me to my kid’s lives, and it creates flexibility elsewhere. As I host their friends and get to know their parents, it gets much easier to ask them to help me out.
Who else can you ask for help? Under stress, most of us isolate ourselves and try to do it all alone. Break this habit and it all becomes so much easier. People want to help and will rally round if you give them the chance.

Lots of Love,

Aunt Juniper* xx

 

*On this occasion, Aunt Juniper was Kate Franklin, a workplace coach who specializes in stress management, helping high achievers to de-frazzle.

Since 2005, she’s helped hundreds of working parents to see the wood for the trees and find a more sane existence. Her own kids are four and seven, and her husband works long hours, so she gets plenty of opportunity to experience her client’s challenges. Read more about Kate and her company at www.whiteandlime.com.

 

 

FROM THE MUMMY’S GIN FUND FACEBOOK COLLECTIVE:

‘No one can’t have it all, women nor men. The difference is men often don’t try so we feel that they do ‘have it all’.‬’

‘This is a really quick response to your dilemma, written on the run (!). The thing is something has to give. You’re right you’re not living, it sounds as though you feel as though you’re existing and not feeling as though you’re doing anything as you’d like to be doing it. ‬The answer is simple, but not easy. Something has to give. Something has to change.‪’

‘Sit down with your husband, work out what can change. Decide what’s moveable and what isn’t. ‬You’re currently in an impossible situation. You deserve to enjoy life. ‬Good luck. ‬X’

‘I gave up my job a couple of months ago as we completely changed our life as a family. We moved out of London, I gave up my job and now looking for a part time/ own business ideas. We are financially more tight but as soon as we moved I could see the benefits straight away. The kids love having more of my time and I’m happier as I can actually see more of their development. The move was a very stressful and physically exhausting but it was all worth, it is just getting better. Me and my husband had to really work together as a team. He also is giving up on things and getting more involved. Not easy but definitely worth it! You deserve to enjoy life that’s for sure, hope you as a family find a better path towards happiness. XXX‬’

‘Shout out for basic help that any of us who aren’t necessarily experts can offer…. Home cooked meals delivered ready to serve/heat up, or even a shop bought meal dropped round, child care, help with school drop offs and pick ups. Even an extra 45 mins from 8.20 to 9.05 or 3-3.45 is sometimes all we need to stop us going over the edge. Shared out amongst your friends, if we all did only one thing that might be really helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask for what you need specifically. Busy mums/dads/grandparents/nannies/childminders etc are great at getting just one more thing done on top. Its how we live our lives at the moment…ask us!’

‘Won’t solve all the problems but will a nanny help support the family a bit more? Such as cooking meals. You may be able to leave for work a little later instead of driving to child minder? Also not having to worry about late fee from CM. But yes something must give?! Flexi/ compressed hours from the employer?’‬

‘Is it possible for one of you to change shift pattern in any way? If you can split drop off and collections you will both have some leeway. I do a full time job between 7-2 and then top up by email in the evening. Not ideal and it is exhausting but at least gives me some time with my daughter. Hats off to you managing 3 and working.’

‘Ha, sounds so familiar doesn’t it?! Read @manwhohasitall on Twitter for some perspective! As to actual advice – sounds like you are placing unrealistically high expectations on yourself and you need to have a serious think with your husband about how you want / picture life to be now, in a years time, in 5 years, 10 years… What do you need to change now to get there?’

 

Note: These are suggestions from members of Mummy’s Gin Fund based on experience and should not be treated as official advice. Any action taken is at your own risk. Always seek professional advice if you have any questions or concerns about any aspect of your life.

Always consult NHS 111, your GP, health visitor or A&E for professional medical advice.

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Founder of MGF, Helen is a mum of four who spends way too much time on the interweb and not enough time in bed. She loves wearing her dressing gown, car boot sales and watching TV programmes featuring food. Her specialist subjects include 'how to overfill your car boot' and 'how to avoid dusting'. Follow her at Twitter: @Ginfund, Facebook: @MGFund, Instagram: @mummysginfund and online: www.mummysginfund.co.uk.

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