Hey, I'm Keri Jarvis, and I'm leading a reclamation of WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?!
What follows seems deeply irrational from this vantage point. Embarrassing even. But as one of my brilliant mentors once told me, “what you don’t own, owns you.” So here is my story, all of the last 20 years of it… buckle up.
3 A*s, 6 As and a B. That B was CRUSHING. That’s who I used to be- a good girl, a near perfect girl, striving to be graded well. After Uni, I worked in store management for a major retailer, and treated sprouts and knickers as matters of life and death. ‘Manage what’s measured’, a mentor once told me. In other words, what counts is what others will notice about you.
So what do you do when no one is dishing out the performance reviews any more? What counts when it seems like no one is noticing ANYTHING you’re doing, never mind being grateful for it? I became a mother in 2013, and it feels like a different era (not just because the first 4 months of 2020 lasted for decades). These days, we’ve got bloggers and influencers showing us everything from their pelvic floor devices to their antidepressants- if that content was out there then, I didn’t know where to find it.
What hit me like a tonne of bricks was this. Any other scenario in my adult life that didn’t make me feel good, I could walk away. Draining friendships could be let go, toxic workplaces could be resigned from, bowling alleys need never be visited, etc.
But with motherhood, you can’t (really) just opt out. I mean, you also don’t want to. But you also don’t wanna fully opt in. You wish you hadn’t read so much about attachment parenting. The magnitude of the situation is insane. The responsibility you’ve created for yourself. Remember when you decorated the white nursery room, Kezza? Where did you plan to put all the responsibility?! There is no drawer for that. Neither did you plan space in your own postnatal wardrobe for co-ordinating sets of unseen, unheard, & unappreciated.
Why didn’t I just get back to work then? Wouldn’t that have helped? No. I could not remember for the life of me why I had ever thought any of it mattered. I was not that person anymore, I was not ‘myself’. Plus I didn’t want to be away from my baby 11 hours a day, 5 days a week. I loved him so much, but I hated what motherhood had done to me- the drudgery, the expectations, the tedium, the loneliness, the relentlessness.
I wanted help, I wanted contrast, I wanted balance. I wanted IT ALL. I wanted to BE all of who I am.
Of course I didn’t know what I wanted, because I didn’t allow myself to dream that there could be any way other than this. This was just the way it was. (Do you say that to yourself often, I wonder? ‘This is just the way it is…’’ How sure are you, really?). I mean OBVIOUSLY Nick had to work all the hours to provide, so OBVIOUSLY I had to be home with my baby, hours from my family, with no friends around. I was living for the A grades in mothering, even when I knew they’d never come.
Doing everything I SHOULD be doing to meet his physical, emotional, and developmental needs round the clock. Because that is what A* mothers do. I eventually began to build a hypnobirthing business during nap times as some form of escape for my mind- some way for me to be more than Louis’s mother.
I felt like any kind of self I’d been before that had ceased to exist. Like I’d had to trade myself in to get my baby. Like I’d been left ‘self-less’ (and isn’t that basically the greatest compliment a mother can receive in our society? Hmmm.) It was hard to find space to be anything other than a mother, because it was so all consuming- if I wasn’t doing something for him I was exhausted and resentful and teary and cross. And yes, dear reader, I made sure my husband fricking knew about it. Fun- anything that could make either of us feel happy- wasn’t just out of the question for me personally- NO ONE WAS ALLOWED TO HAVE ANY. The mere suggestion was forbidden. It was simply not possible, or fair. We made passive aggression our default setting and settled in for a miserable lifetime of marriage.
As I ventured into the self development world to support the growth of my business, my commitment to self awareness grew. I started to notice how I was contributing to all of my struggles. Creating them even, from scratch. And THAT is not easy to admit. I noticed I’d become weirdly comfortable in my victimhood.
PLUS. The more seasoned birth workers I came to know, the more I became familiar with the feminist issues surrounding birth, motherhood and well, life. And gradually, then suddenly, I felt clear.
I’d hear myself reassuring women I was teaching birth prep to that it was ok to reject the remark, ‘all that matters is a healthy baby’, that cutting comment that disregards her physical and emotional wellbeing entirely in birth- it was time to wake TF up- surely this applied in our lives moving forwards too?! How could I call myself a mentor to these women at this pivotal period of their lives, when I was role modelling that mothers’ needs don’t actually matter at all? I started to investigate what was driving my behaviours, and got myself acquainted with a full catalogue of modes of conditioning that keep women small and maintain the status quo.
I’d previously thought (SORRY, by the way, I just didn’t know…) that because I’d been out earning my husband for years, feminism as I saw it wasn’t really needed. I thought my feminism was ‘I can do anything this man can do, so everyone else should be able to too’. Again, cringe cringe, SORRY, so sorry… but I don’t truly regret having had that perspective- because having had the wool pulled over my eyes to such an extent, being fooled so discreetly… you’d better believe that outrage fuels me to put as many women as I can in the picture about our actual oppression.
I began to feel reassured that my malaise was not an irrational response to my circumstances. I began to forgive myself for wanting something more than a healthy baby and food on the table. And whilst I wanna check my privilege here, because I really do see it, and feel so grateful for all that we are blessed to have, I’m also UNASHAMED to want more. For me, and for you too.
You know why? Because I know who I am now. And I have a strong sense that you are someone like me (I mean, if you’ve read THIS far, something must be resonating…). When resources or experiences flow through me, the world gets a bit better. Lots of the money I earn is spent supporting local businesses and good causes. Lots of the learning I now allow myself the time to do is passed on to others. When I allow myself time to rest, or exercise, my energy has a positive ripple for others. But the big one is this: when I allow myself to want what I want, and to receive it, when I allow myself to explore what’s possible for me, and to feel good, THAT is me being a good mother. All that BS I came up with about martyring myself to be loving… PATRIARCHY.
Carl Jung tells us, ‘there is no greater burden on a child than the unlived life of a parent’. I believe him. That’s why you’ll NEVER catch me saying, ‘my kids are my world…’ because they’re not. They’re the most important facet of my life, but they are far from all of who I am or all I experience as a woman, as myself.
In the summer of 2017, I started demanding that we were gonna make a big change. That Nick was gonna quit London life and we were gonna realign to a more equal division of EVERYTHING. Please know that at the time he was earning about 4 times as much as me, and that this was basically bonkers.
Let me bring you up to date. My son, Louis, turns 7 in May 2020. His little brother, Rory, is almost 4.
2 years ago, my husband quit his 5 long days a week in London job, and took 4 months off whilst I paid the mortgage, bills, and life from that business I started, and we had many adventures. I doubled my turnover 2017-2018, and tripled it 2018-2019.
When Nick resumed work, it was mostly from home, for himself. We share school runs, we go to assemblies together, we go on lunch dates and date nights. We exercise. We meditate. We do yoga. We like each other. And I like my kids- I’d even go so far to say I have begun to enjoy motherhood itself. We are so happy. Connected. Equal. If I sound pleased with myself, it’s because I am.
Geeeeeeeeezus we have crawled through some treacle to get here. Many, many difficult, honest conversations. Lots of challenging choices and compromises.
The kids have been affected too. Have they had less family time whilst we laid foundations? YES. (‘Family time’ is one of my biggest triggers- a phrase that’s used to guilt trip us, as if there is something inherently good about spending EVEN MORE TIME WITH YOUR KIDS just because your partner is now there too…). Have they cried themselves to sleep about it? NO. Have they enjoyed more time with each of us in the long run, more holidays, HAPPIER PARENTS? Yep.
And that’s the crux of it. I now consider my role as a mother to be to demonstrate a joyful, fulfilled existence. Not to tell them they can be anything, whilst showing them that I can’t.
At the start of 2020, I sold my original business, Do It Like A Mother, by then a brand, a studio, a community of hundreds. The audacity- releasing something that I’d created and asked people to love, something that had come to feel like a chore, a weight, a drag (because I was no longer in alignment with it).
Truly, I have learnt to be more willing to disappoint others than I am to disappoint myself. In other words, what counts is not what others notice about me, but what I notice about myself.
Here are the straight As I’m prioritising now.
- Audacity (to desire, and receive more of what I want).
- Alignment (to act in accordance with my beliefs about what’s possible for me ).
- Autonomy (to take complete and utter responsibility for myself and my life).
- Authenticity (to be all of who I am, all the time, even when I know others won’t like it).
- Alliance (with other women- encouraging them to join me in this approach, and to remind them that when we are divided- via judgement- we are conquered).
Want To Find Out More?
I’m happy to chat to you about how we may be able to work together and whether we’re a right fit. Just send me a message!