Do you think you’re taking on too much? No wonder you’re exhausted. You’ve got a toddler and a newborn, do you think you should just be focused on them? It’s bound to be hard. You expect too much of yourself. You can’t do everything. They won’t be this little forever. (Ouch).
WHY DON’T YOU WAIT UNTIL THEY ARE BOTH AT SCHOOL?
I actually felt myself welling up there recounting these well meaning comments I’ve absorbed over the last 6 years or so. As I sit here at my desk, on this first day that they are both in full time ‘education’ (Rory at preschool getting educated about how to have fun and tolerate other people, but you know), I am SO GRATEFUL that I ignored the lot of it.
Of course, at the time I’ll have apologetically mumbled something about how I quite like working and that it’s nice to have some extra money etc, or made a little joke about going to work being a break from the kids. When what I really wanted to say was, “Because I don’t fucking want to!”.
I retrained to be a hypnobirthing teacher when Louis was 6 months old. I used to work in store management for M&S, a job that I was good at, and enjoyed much of, but that I knew wasn’t gonna be a good fit for me after 2 became 3.
When I went to those 6 days of training, Louis had been waking every hour of every night for about 2 months. I was shaken, a bit broken, on another planet, to be frank. Leaving the house to meet new people, without him, felt so odd. When he was there I felt could gesture to him, screaming internally- “he is why I’m like this, I used to be a competent, engaging human, I swear it, this is only temporary, this is not really me”.
I was wrong, of course- that was really me, I just hadn’t gotten to know the newborn me yet- what she was capable of, what she valued, what she wanted. But I immediately knew what I did not want- to mother, all of my waking/ sleeping/ somewhere in between hours, to the exclusion of all else, for the forseeable future.
Now look- if you want that, truly, I am happy for you. This is not about me pushing my personal preferences and ideals onto anyone else. This is about me sharing my story in the hope that some of you, those who want something else, will receive it as a permission slip.
Eventually I built my website, with my shitty homemade logo and my (embarrassingly) cute branding, and started seeing clients. Privately at first, in small groups at home, then larger ones in hired spaces. All the while being cautioned left, right and centre about overdoing it, and how I oughta lower my expectations of what’s possible. Any time I’d express that something was challenging, I’d be met with these responses. ESPECIALLY when I had a kid (and later kidS) who were truly committed to being awake at pretty much all times, regardless of what science says is possible.
After Rory arrived, there was a new wave of, “perhaps it’s time to slow down Kezza”.But I felt emboldened by a fantastic birth experience, creative and excited about my potential to build something with a growing impact. I was replying to emails when he was a few hours old, and working with clients 10 weeks later. (Not because my business was my third baby, which is how we are tempted to position things when we want to justify what we put into them- who could question what you give to your baby, right? But because it was part of ME. See the difference here? How dare you give to your SELF?). He would be hanging off my boob until the first client arrived, and I’d be pumping in my break, much to everyone’s delight… I blogged on my phone while he slept on my chest, and later while he slept on my back in the trusty Connecta, wandering aimlessly around the house because, did I mention, they hate SLEEP?! A rebrand got underway, merchandise was produced, and trusted individuals began to join my team.
Now I’m aware that I’m painting a gloriously rosy picture here, so allow me to take a few moments of your time to be transparent. There were significant struggles. Pinch points. Stretchy stages. Testing times. There were days I felt so tired that I cried more than I didn’t. There were many, MANY moments where I felt that my parenting was being compromised by my attention being on my business. And a catalogue of disputes, passive aggressive episodes, and full on rows including the threat of the D word (I mean divorce, not death or decapitation, just to be clear).
(May I also cut across myself here- in context, my husband has always been incredibly supportive of my right to explore the possibilities of my business, but we are all influenced by these bullshit societal norms that we each have to peel off, one by one).
My lowest points were when I started to allow it in- this narrative that it was just not possible for me to have all the things I wanted yet. That I was trapped in an era where my own needs DID NOT COUNT FOR SHIT and that I’d better just grow up, and suck it up, for everyone’s sake. That’s what mothers are meant to do, right?! I didn’t think so.
It’s not easy to make bold moves when you get the sense that most other people think you’re being unreasonable. It comes up for my clients all the time- “If I fail, my partner/ MIL/ friends will gimme a patronising I told you so and I don’t think I can bear it.” Now look, I have certainly experienced plenty of failures along this path, investing time, money and energy into things that did not work out how I’d hoped. I see all of those costs, and the endurance of the commentary of those who just don’t get it, as the price of becoming who I wish to be.
I get that it all feels very high risk when resources appear scarce- all the things I said I’ve pumped into my own diversions- time, money and energy- feel like they’re in short supply in early parenthood.
How can you take an hour to listen to that podcast in the bath/ plan your social media on your phone in a cafe/ attend that networking event when you’d be STEALING IT from the precious “family time” pot?! Thief!
How can you spend that money on a course or a website or professional photography when it might mean you can’t go to Peppa Pig World, open an ISA for your baby or take them swimming?
And why do you have energy for your clients, but not your kids, you vile betrayer of feminine nature?!
Building a brand and a business in early motherhood takes a shift in perspective that excuses you from societal obligations- to enjoy every minute, to give them EVERYTHING, and for them to be your world.
Here’s what I needed someone to tell me- you cannot enjoy every minute, and if you judge yourself against that ideal, you are setting yourself up to fail. And I’m not talking about that lovely juicy failure we sometimes get to experience, brimming with lessons and new self awareness, I’m talking a PIT OF DESPAIR from which you cannot escape. A financial investment in your purpose driven business, is a financial investment in YOU. If you are lifted, enabled, empowered by that, this will do your child much more good than meeting Miss Rabbit or being able to buy a car when they are 17. And to round off- let me keep it simple- you can be too full to finish your dinner, and still want dessert. You are allowed to be all facets of yourself- to have space and energy to give to something that contrasts with what you’ve been exhausted and overwhelmed by.
WHAT IF TODAY WAS THE DAY I’D BEEN WAITING FOR?
There would be hundreds of families who did not receive our antenatal and postnatal education and support.
There would be hundreds of women who’d never shared the free thrive challenge experience, and the lift that follows.
There would scores of women who did not have me- a mentor they connect with, to nudge and nourish them towards their greatness (and what is the ripple of that?!).
There would be no Do It Like A Mother HQ- a space that has witnessed transformation, connection, education, empowerment, and is the buzzing centre of our community.
There would be hundreds of pounds missing from the SOSDAP pot (our fundraising partner- Southend on Sea Domestic Abuse Projects), and hundreds fewer Xmas gifts for the women and children they support.
My husband would still be working hard in a job that drained his soul, our weekend and evening slots in comfortable misery more plentiful, our weeks of holidays and adventures all together slashed in half.
My marriage would be on the rocks, no question.
There would have been around (quick tot up) £70,000 less flowing into our bank account.
I would have fewer friends, and most of my conversations would centre around stuff I’m not interested in.
I. Would. Be. Miserable. Resentful. Shrunken. Bitter. Where would I begin from here? How would I find the capacity to believe that I was finally worthy? How would I climb out from under the rubble of years of a life unlived? How long would it then take to overcome all the evidence I’d have created for myself that it’s simply impossible to have everything you want?
At this dawn of a new era in my life, I am here to tell you that I do not regret a thing. I have proven to myself that I can have it all. I have learnt that I cannot do it all. That doesn’t mean my business is too much- it means doing all the childcare is too much, doing all the cleaning is too much, giving time to things I don’t wanna do is too much.
(It’s like when you have a newborn and people come round to ‘help’ you by holding the baby, when really you just wanna hold the baby and you want them to help you by doing the dishwasher instead. So when you’re told you’re taking on too much, perhaps you can respond, “you’re quite right babes, I am- would you like to relieve me of my kids, my food shop, or my housework?”.)
I thank my lucky stars, my husband, my parents, an excellent coach (I’m looking at you Suzy Ashworth), the inspiring women in my circle, and myself that I did not wait for today. And when they understand, my kids will thank me too.