It’s 10.30pm. I was going to bed half an hour ago. I was just rinsing my toothbrush and was a mere 15 feet from my pillow when I heard the cries. My eldest. Almost five years old and struggling with growing pains. Poor Poppet. That’s what happens when you’re more than 90th percentile for height and growing like a weed.
So I’ve grab my trusty tube of arnica cream and am sitting on her bed, rubbing ointment into her legs. Some nights this is all she needs – a couple of minutes of attention and a squidge of cream. Other nights however, the pain is just too much, nothing works and we end up on the couch, binge-watching Doc McStuffins on Netflix until she eventually passes out from exhaustion.*
Tonight, while I’m sitting there, massaging her teeny little calves, my eyes wander to the ribbon on her wall. The Grand Champion ribbon she won at the country show last year – for her ‘expert floral design skills’.
My daughter – grand champion.
She is so proud of this ribbon. Together with her second cousins and her Gran they spent ages preparing their exhibits for the show last year – she was so excited to find out she was the winner. That ribbon hasn’t left the wall above her bed for the past 10 months.
But as I looked at it tonight, I wondered – where’s my ribbon?
Sure my four year old gets a ribbon for putting together a posey of flowers. But where’s my goddamn ribbon for everything I do?
In my almost five years of motherhood I’ve never been awarded a ribbon for my mothering. No ribbon for managing to avoid an epidural during childbirth. No ribbon for keeping up breastfeeding for eight and 11 months respectively. No ribbon for successfully travelling 3000km by car with a two year old and a newborn when we relocated across the country. No ribbon for getting them to eat boiled carrots. No ribbon for producing strong, brave girls who didn’t even cry when they last got their immunisations. No ribbon for rehabbing my pelvic floor so I’m not dependent upon Depends.
No, not once have I ever been given a ribbon for my motherhood skills. But tonight. I feel like I deserve one. Here I am – it’s nearly 11pm now, and I really should be in bed. I’ve got the flu and have been laid up on the couch for the best part of three days. All I want is to go to bed. Because I’m exhausted, and I also know being out of bed this late isn’t going to help me recover – in fact, being kept awake by my daughters too often over the past week is probably a big part of the reason I got sick in the first place. Yet here I am, watching Doc McStuffins waiting for my five year old’s pain to subside, because I’m a Mum, and that’s what Mum’s do. (* Tonight turned out to be one of those nights – at least Doc McStuffins is a better role model than Barbie.)
So yeah, dammit. Tonight – I want a ribbon. Maybe it’s because I’m sick – and everything always seems so much harder when you’re sick, motherhood being no exception. Or maybe it’s the echinacea supplements talking, but I’m desperate for a bit of validation. I want just a little bit of acknowledgement for EVERYTHING that I do. And not just me – I want every Mum to get a ribbon. Because we deserve one – and we never, ever get one. Unless you get voted Barnado’s Mother of the Year – that’s a pretty big ribbon, but even that’s only given out once every year.
Motherhood is the most relentless, all encompassing task you might ever do. There’s so many variables, and you can rarely predict what you’re going to be doing or feeling day in, day out. And we’re all just expected to get on with it. To do it well and without complaint – no matter what you have planned, or how sick you are. No acknowledgement – for any of it.
I think that’s been the hardest part about motherhood for me. Such a lack of acknowledgement. I spent my first several working years within a Commonwealth Government agency. Annual performance reviews, key performance indicators and 360 degree feedback were built into my work ethic straight out of uni. I’ve grown accustomed to validation and feedback, and so yeah, I actually sometimes ‘need’ the “you’re doing a good job, keep up the great work” pat on the back that comes with getting a four-star or above review.
Here is where the chorus of lines such as “a job well done is it’s own reward” start in my head.
“Motherhood is it’s own reward”.
“Their little smiles make it all worthwhile.”
Yeah, yeah, whatever, not tonight. I’m not buying that line tonight.
Because stuff that. Because I’m not even sure I’m doing a good job most of the time. Should I have given her that Panadol? Did I let her stay up too late? Was she actually just playing me for that last half an hour after her leg pain seemingly settled – so she could get a couple of extra McStuffins’ in? I don’t know. For the most part, I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what I’m doing with the Mum stuff. There’s no KPI’s here for me. There’s no five point rating scale. There’s no one paragraph summary outlining my strengths and weaknesses. So I actually have no idea what I’m doing. I’m flying blind and it completely bewilders me most of the time.
But I’m doing my best. The only way I know how.
And tonight, for that, I want a ribbon.
As of today I’m officially on holidays for a week. I know, super exciting. About six weeks ago I realised what a ridiculously busy June I had scheduled, so I decided I’d take a full week off from all of my clients and contracts this week. And now it’s finally here! Whoop!
Considering I haven’t ever taken a proper break from from all aspects of my business in the 20 months I’ve been running it, I definitely felt it was time to do so. To be honest, the past 10 months or so have actually been quite challenging for me in terms of finding balance, and my own wellbeing has seriously suffered. But that’s another post for another day. For now, let’s just say, I needed a break!
So back to my week of holidays.
It’s interesting really. I’m not going anywhere, so for me, it actually feels like it’s not a ‘real’ holiday. To me a holiday necessitates lounging by a resort pool with a fruity cocktail. But finances wouldn’t allow that this week, and hubby has to work, so we really couldn’t even go anywhere local for the week. So it has been really challenging for me, leading into this week. I’m home, I’m 10 minutes from the Pilates studio where I work. I’m no more than 10 metres from my laptop at any time in this house. Can I really take a “holiday” at home? Should I?
Even up until Thursday I was driving into the clinic thinking to myself, “Oh I guess I could just take an hour each day to respond to emails, phone calls and Facebook…” Really, Sarah? Come on!
I remember a time, way back when I was working in a government desk job I hated, when a colleague actually did ring me on my holidays to ask me some inane question about work. You wouldn’t believe how stroppy I got and how much I silently seethed to myself while answering their stupid question. “Seriously, couldn’t they figure this out for themselves, I’m on leave dammit!”
Fast forward to now, a ‘mere’ 14 years later – and I can barely let go of my laptop!
Maybe it’s a sign of the times? We’re all so much more accessible now, emails on our smartphones, Facebook on our iPad. We have 24 hour access to everything and everyone, and somehow that translates to the thought that we should be available 24 hours ourselves.
Or maybe it’s because I run my own business now? No longer are those questions inane and something someone else should and could figure out. In my business, I’m it. Sole trader. Just me. Alone. Solo. If I don’t do the work, answer the calls, return to emails, no-one will. So yeah, that definitely makes it harder to be on leave.
But be on leave I must. Because I do need a break, and I do need some extra time with my girls and my hubby. Something that was reinforced to me even more on Friday.
Like so many South Australians I was shocked to wake on Friday morning to the news of Adelaide Crows coach Phil Walsh being murdered, allegedly by his son, overnight. As a dedicated Crows fan since their inaugural season, it’s something that hit home, as it has for footy fans all across the nation. Even though I didn’t know Phil at all, and he’d only been with our club for a short time, I was surprised by how much this death impacted me.
But more than his high profile role as the Crows coach, I think it was the nature of the death that stopped me in my tracks. A son killing his own father? It seems so incomprehensible.
I was chatting to my brother about it later that day, and we both spoke of how shocking it was, to which my brother said, “But I suppose this kind of thing happens every day, we just don’t hear about it unless it happens to someone in the spotlight.” And it’s true. People die at the hands of loved ones every single day. The tally of domestic violence victims who have lost their life is now up to 49 in Australia – 49 – thats almost two women each week so far this year. It’s horrific and tragic, and all those terrible adjectives we so desperately wish never to use.
I think there’s something about intra-family violence that strikes at our very core. Because our home, with our family, is the one place we should all be able to feel unconditionally safe. We should never have to be afraid of our son, our husband, our father, our mother, our sister. These people are supposed to protect us. Not harm us. So when we hear of it happening, it’s simply unfathomable, and it makes us hold our own family a little tighter.
Which brings me back to Friday. After running a bunch of errands that morning, choking back tears each time I heard the Phil Walsh updates on the radio news, something happened.
I was driving past the Adelaide Aquatic Centre, where there’s a big playground we’ve never been to, but which we always say looks amazing, and that we “should go there some day”, when my big Possum from the back seat said “Mum, there’s that playground, can we go there today?”
Any other day I might have said no. We’d already been out all morning. Moochie was due for her sleep. It was a bit chilly. There were plenty of chores to do at home.
But none of that mattered. Not that day. So I checked my mirrors and pulled across three lanes to make the turn into the playground. And of course, the girls had a blast. This playground truly was amazing. So much to explore, and so much fun to be had. And for some reason, I decided to try out the slow motion camera on my phone, which I’d never used before.
And what I captured truly made me think, and was the final reminder I needed that I truly did need to take a break.
Check out this video.
And this one.
You might have noticed that I rarely share images of my children, and I do that purposely, because I want to protect their privacy. But I just had to share this.
Do you see it. Do you see the joy? The excitement? The happiness in those carefree faces.
Those original clips were about three seconds each. It’s easy to miss all of that in three seconds.
I’ll share this too. When we slowed down enough to visit the Zoo yesterday, we were lucky enough to find prism rainbows covering my little Possum’s face. More slow motion joy.
It was while watching these slow motion clips that I realised – I don’t slow down often enough to appreciate these teeny moments of pure happiness. I used to. Back in the first couple of years of motherhood. Back in my maternity leave days (which I honestly miss so much!) I had all the time in the world with my girls and I made the most of it. We were always out for walks, going to the park, meeting friends for babycinos, visiting the petting farm, splashing in the pool at the resort near where we lived. It was truly a blessed time. Even when I was working part time after my first bubba was born – my spare time was my own. Once I got home from work, that was it, my time was my own – our own.
But now, it’s different. For better or worse, I don’t know yet. I wouldn’t give up the opportunity to run my own business for anything. Because I love what I do, and I know it’s going to pay dividends in years to come in regard to work-life balance. But I also know I need to find that better balance right now too. For my own health and for my relationship with my daughters. Because as a small business owner there’s a very real possibility of becoming completely consumed with your business and having it permeate all areas of your life. And that’s not healthy on any level.
With all the events of this past weekend, the main message I’ve received is that I really do need to live life in slow motion sometimes. I need to slow down, appreciate where I am and who I’m with, and not be running a million miles an hour into something else all the time.
So that’s why I’m on leave this week. I’ll be off Facebook and off email, I’ll be hanging with my girls at the park and ordering babycinos at the cafe. I may even get myself a hot stone massage. Now that’s my kind of slow motion.
See you next week!
Are you a working Mum? As in, are you a Mum who also has a paid job that you go to regularly? Yep. Me too. And I love it.
I love being a Mum, but I also love working. And if I’m perfectly honest – some days I love working more than I love being a Mum. Some days, when the girls are abso-freaking-lutely doing my head in, I’d much rather be at work. Why wouldn’t I prefer to be in my lovely quiet office, with a hot cup of tea and a caseload full of clients who probably aren’t going to pee, poo or vomit on me, nor call me an “old bogan”, cry incessantly for 6 hours for no apparent reason, slam doors in my face, or try to force-feed me their half chewed piece of cucumber?
Being a Mum is a tough gig, and some days, the payoffs just don’t seem to show up. I was talking to another lovely Mumma on Saturday night about how much we “give” of ourselves as Mums. Every single day – give. give. give. And kids are pretty amazing at take. take. take. It’s a rare day when the give:take ratio ends up in Mum’s favour. So here’s how I see parenting – it’s a long term investment really. The hard work you put into your kids every single day is like compound interest. That $0.05 per day doesn’t seem like much, but in 18 years you’re going to reap the rewards!
But back to working mums. Perhaps the reason I some days prefer work to “mummy duties” is because that give:take ratio is much more in my favour when I’m at work. I work just as hard at work as I do at home, but at work I get great feedback from my clients. I get a verbal confirmation that what I’m doing on that particular day is incredibly valuable and appreciated. I also get a great sense of pride that I’m using my brain and intellect and making the most of those several years of post-high school study. Plus I get paid real money, which is generally society’s way of evening out the give:take ratio.
Now please don’t get cranky, because I’m simply being honest here. Over my almost four years as a Mum one thing I know for certain is that there isn’t nearly enough brutal honesty amongst the general “Mama” community out there. So it’s my mission to #keepitrealmama
I’m writing this post for all of you amazing Mums out there who do go out to work, who love it and who are sick of being told that it makes them somehow less of a Mum, or that they’re doing their kids a disservice.
I think it’s about time we working Mums stopped apologising for everything we think and feel, and started being honest with ourselves about why we work and how we feel about it.
Just because you work, and love to work and are quite happy (ie, not guilty at all) about dropping your kids off to childcare – doesn’t make you a bad Mum. It doesn’t mean you love your child any less than a Mum who doesn’t work, or who does work but chooses not to use childcare, or whatever. It just means that your values are different to those people. It’s not better or worse. It’s just different. Embrace that. Be true to who you are. Be honest with yourself and with others. Because by living your truth, and releasing yourself from the “guilt” society says all working Mums have to face, you’ll be doing the best thing ever for your health and wellbeing.
I’m not a fan of “mummy guilt”. Never have been, never will be. It’s a particularly useless emotion. I understand that guilt, in its purest form, is essential in our society. If you maliciously hurt someone, then hell yeah, I want you to feel guilty. But don’t feel guilty for going back to the job that you love. For continuing in a career you’ve spent years and thousands of dollars studying, for doing work which makes a difference in the world, for earning an income to be able to feed your family, or to be able to buy yourself a new pair of designer sunnies without feeling like you have to ask “permission” from your husband. And most definitely don’t feel guilty for being an amazing female role model for your children (your daughters AND your sons) – for demonstrating the truth that women can do, be and have anything they want to be – including being a Mum who also works – or a worker who’s also a Mum. Don’t feel guilty about that.
Feel proud. Feel alive. Feel like you’re contributing to your family, to society, to your own personal fulfilment.
Feel happy and confident to be you. Because that’s all you need to be.
Cheers, Sarah xx