As a freelance working mother, I technically may have achieved what is rather unhelpfully known as “having it all”.
But I’ve got to be honest, although I feel very lucky in my current situation, I certainly don’t feel like I “have it all”. If anything I feel like I have bits of one thing, and bits of another. It kind of adds up to a whole but it’s all a jumbled mess – a bit like when the girls have mashed together an ugly ball using a dozen different colours of Play Doh
Before I had children, having it all meant having a successful, full-time job in an office, and raising a family.
I wanted kids, but I didn’t fully appreciate the disruption it brings to your life. I stupidly didn’t realise that childcare doesn’t fit around the inflexibility of a journalist’s working hours. It also doesn’t fit around your kid’s childhood illnesses, which are frequent!
When I went back to work full-time after having my second daughter I agreed to work every Sunday in exchange for getting a day off in the week. This helped with childcare costs.
However this also meant there were five days a week when I wasn’t with my very young children.
So I was making money, paying the bills, and everyone was looked after. However I didn’t “have it all”, because I missed my children desperately. Some days I had to work a few extra hours and so couldn’t play with them after they got home from nursery.
After taking redundancy and going freelance, I took the children out of nursery altogether for a while. This was a difficult time. If purely taking care of the kids was all I had to worry about, it would have been fine. But bills have to be paid and the ambition is still there for me – that drive to “have it all”. Surely this isn’t just a fairytale that mothers tell each other about to comfort themselves? The successful banker who raised four incredible children. The entrepreneur who went back to work after just a couple of weeks. They exist, and they have it all. Don’t they?
The answer is no. Whether you work full-time, are a freelance mum or have left work altogether, none of us have the “have it all” fairytale that we were sold as fresh-faced young feminists.
The number of freelance mamas has doubled in the UK since 2008. It’s been sold as the solution to our work woes, but it comes with a price all of its own.
Most of us can’t put off doing the work until the evenings, either because the client wants us to work during daytime hours, they spring a last-minute job on us or we’re too knackered to even contemplate powering up our laptop at that time.
There’s also the worry that comes with it. There’s no sick pay, no holiday pay and no pension. Zero benefits. When the work dries up, you’re left panicking as to whether you can afford next month’s nursery bill. Then there’s the merry chase that is caused by unpaid invoices.
Freelancing is like walking a tightrope. Yes you’re holding your kids, spending quality time, but you feel like you’re all about to fall to the ground at any moment.
Until we evolve to have the ability to be in two places at once (won’t that be amazing!?) then we will never have it all.
But I think ultimately we all find a balance. It’s hard to get it right, it’s impossible to make it perfect, but we all hopefully get to a point where we are satisfied.
I like to think of my life as a pie. I divide it up into slices of work, family, chores and self-care. Of course the last one is a lot smaller than I would like, but for the moment I’m content with how much time I spend with my family.
So to you working mother, I say try to find your own balance. Just don’t expect the fairytale.