Is it Possible to ‘Have it All’ As a New Mother?

Over the weekend I’ve browsed a few parenting internet discussion forums and came across this post

and it got me thinking.

Whenever anybody comments to me, on hearing I have 4 children, “wow – how do you ever manage to have a social life/be you/work and keep your career/keep your house tidy etc….etc…” my answer is always the same “if I didn’t want my life to change I wouldn’t have had children”.

We live in a selfish “want it now” society. The day and age of drive through restaurants, next day shopping delivery, fast track career schemes and a myriad of time saving devices.  I read an interview with Myleene Klass yesterday saying she returned to work when her firstborn daughter, Ava, was only 10 days old and just weeks after her new baby, Hero, she’s all over our screens again.

Ex Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins has been all over the news in the past week stating she believes maternity leave should only be three week’s long. There is a tremendous pressure on new mums now to “have it all” – a good career and be a good mum at the same time, whilst also sporting a fresh manicure, GHD styled hair and the latest Karen Millen suit. Something has to give.

Sadly in our society the thing that seems to give is the value of motherhood.  It wasn’t always like this and it isn’t like this in many other societies today. I love this quote by the eminently sensible though ludicrously named Grantly Dick Read (he of “childbirth without fear” fame – the precursor to today’s HypnoBirthing frenzy):

‎”A mother is a member of society with intrinsic worth & she occupies a certain status in both the home & community. If there is 1 characteristic more desirable to be maintained in communal life, it is the dignity of motherhood.”

I believe our under valuation of motherhood has a massive impact on our feelings of self worth as women and new mothers. Perhaps if we valued motherhood more – the sheer physically exhausting non stop nature as well as the lesser spoken of psychological and emotional demands – mothers wouldn’t feel the need to prove their self worth and boost their confidence by rushing back to the boardroom? We need to support and nurture those who hold the most important job in the world, we need to value them, for they hold the key to our future.

 “A person who has ‘tidied up’ has both the words and a tidy area to show for it. It is much harder to find a word that describes the giving-up-things mode of attention a mother is giving to her baby.” 
— Naomi Stadlen (What Mothers Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing)

I used to be one of those women. I used to hold a very respectable position in a very large blue chip Pharmaceutical Company. I was a Market Analyst, responsible for the market research and financial forecasting for three  – billion dollar selling – drugs, I reported weekly to the company Director from the comfort of the plush boardroom with its mirror topped table, rotating leather chairs and shag pile carpet. I thought nothing of hopping on a plane to our head office in Switzerland for the day and dining out in 5 star hotel restaurants courtesy of my company credit card. In my sharp suits  with my company car, private health insurance and obscene annual bonus (more than I earn in a year now currently!) I thought I had it all. Looking back now I wonder why I wasn’t surprised when my colleagues would come back to work having only had a baby 3 months previously. Indeed I had planned to do the very same, my son’s nursery place was booked for when he would be only 12 weeks old when he was the size of a 50p piece in my tummy.

My “aha” moment came when my son was a month old, we were standing in the bank, opening a new account and as part of the application process I was asked for my occupation “uhmmmm”  I said, before I had a chance to answer the bank employee wrote “housewife”. I started to protest “but I’m not a……….” trailed off, felt hurt, undervalued – even ridiculed. I was so much more than that (fact of the matter is I’ve never been a good housewife). I felt people looked down on me and didn’t want to talk to me as much (in my baby sick stained jogging bottoms) as they did when I was in my power suit and heels. I felt like I wanted to say “I am intelligent – I had a good job, I have a degree!” when I introduced myself.

I even lost my name. I was no longer Sarah, I was “my son’s mum”.

I was lucky though, I didn’t have high hopes for motherhood to start with, but after 3 months a deep change had occurred in  me. As clichéd as it sounds I felt I had found a meaning to my life. I handed in my notice and never returned to work.

I relished the change, I felt smug that I had discovered the meaning of life and a purpose. Yes my life changed incomparably, it’s so different now it’s laughable – my social life is non existent, I haven’t had a hair cut for a year, my nails are cut practically short and I haven’t painted them for years, my walls are decorated with sticky handprints and crayon and the things that really matter to most people – career, flash cars, big houses – they don’t mean anything to me. I am so unambitious now it’s laughable.

It’s a huge change – but one I welcome. Life is meant to change once you have children. We aren’t meant to “have it all” because really we don’t have it all – do we? we have a little bit of everything, a lot of balls in the air to juggle and a lot of stress, it’s impossible to have it all and an unchanging life when you become a parent and the quicker the media realise that the better.

Show me a woman who has a top job, an immaculate house, contented well adjusted children including a newborn who sleeps through every night at 12weeks of age,  perfect hair and nails and unruffled up to the minute clothes and I’ll introduce you to Santa Claus….go stick that in your perfectly ironed Hobb’s shirt pocket Katy!


About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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