WomenEd Blogs

Having it All?


by Nicola Mooney @nicksnook

I was reading through Twitter posts the other day about the possibility of holding down a full time teaching (or even leadership) post and winning at the parenting thing. It got me thinking about the sentence ‘having it all’ – as if managing to do both brings some sort of glorified sense of satisfaction that you can get from having a career and having a bunch of mini me’s running around……. and maybe there is.

But on an entirely practical level, the reality is that the sentence is slightly cut short. The sentence should say ‘having to do it all’ and sadly that isn’t as glamorous, but is much closer to the truth. And yes, while working you aren’t parenting. There are some elements where you aren’t doing it all, but you certainly need to be in charge of organising it all and micromanaging each day so that the wheels don’t fall off.

So this leads me on to how to do this. At some point you kind of need to expect that you, at times, perhaps won’t do either roles well. For a perfectionist this might be a step too far, and for someone who desperately wants to saviour every second of your little ones existence, this may perhaps be emotionally too much of a compromise on what you are prepared to accept- and that is fine.

We all entered teaching for different reasons. Mine, genuinely, when I started nearly 20 years ago, was for the money and good holidays – this isn’t now the reason that I have stayed in the profession, suffice to say I fortunately have grown up and now have a far more altruistic purpose. If really lucky (she says after having several years fertility treatment) you become a parent which brings with it an absolute minefield of unrealistic expectations, ideals etc etc. One thing is for sure, parenting is not what you were expecting. There are massive highs and massive lows. There is a reality that your life is no longer the same, as all of a sudden, you have these little creatures that you would literally die for.

But, doesn’t mean that you should give up your life for them. Make this distinction. On any day, I would ‘take a bullet’ or ‘jump in front of a bus’ to protect my child from harm. My love for them is that strong and I fortunately, have not had to do that, but no question, I would. I wouldn’t however, give up my life for them. In my (nearly fifteen year) journey of having my four sons, my views opinions and perspective on this have changed massively, so please bear with me if you are at a different stage of this path (or on an entirely different path. I have the utmost respect for people who chose to parent full time over work – I hate the term SAHM, it degrades how hard that role is, but some of you people totally rock this, and are the most engaged parents, I could never be).

Truthfully, if I didn’t work, then I would actually be a worse parent than I already am. I know this because I really struggled with my maternity leaves.

Part of the problem, was my initial total underestimation of how my life would change when I became a parent. At that stage of my life I couldn’t afford more than 4 months maternity leave and that probably worked out well. I’m the kind of person who likes the tight routine that the working week provides. But at home, I have no capacity or drive to have the same level of routine and so felt completely out at sea. I go into full on slob mode, would struggle to tell you what day of the week it is or how many days since I last washed my hair. I envied those yummy mummies who looked amazing and spent their days ‘making memories’, whilst I waited at home, clock watching, punctuated by back to back TV rubbish; Homes under the Hammer, This Morning, Loose Women and an afternoon waiting for it to be someone else’s turn to look after my precious little person. I’m just not very good at it, and haven’t really got a huge amount better. My youngest son is only one and the difference now for his life experience, is that he gets dragged along to all sorts of different things, not for his own benefit but because our full on life style.  We work full time, have to navigate the extra curricular activities of two teenage sons, have a small holding with horses, sheep, pigs, a dog and a cow. His experience is richer but it isn’t entirely by design.

I love working, I love everything about having my life divided into these totally separate parts. I love my family time with our children, but there is the day to day monotony of the husbandry of sorting PE kits, training schedules, cleaning, replacing toilet rolls and washing. Oh my god the washing – don’t judge, well actually judge all you like, my major life hack is that everything that is washed, goes in the drier – irrespective of the time of year. I am an environmentally bad person in this respect and I cope with this by remembering the fact that I have approximately 1000 Christmas trees in my field to offset my carbon footprint- but understand this is probably both naive and misjudged. However it saves us an absolute tonne of time.

Furthermore, I actually have two washing machines and two driers!!! In your quest to ‘have it all’ you are going to need to be prepared to cut some corners.

There is a possibility that your children don’t need to be washed everyday (shock horror), and I retract this statement to say that some of my children definitely need to be washed every day – but as a teenager he can do that himself. Bedtime routines can be notoriously time consuming. If it’s a choice between a daily bath and a daily book, pick the book. I grew up as a child in the 80’s. I had a weekly bath (how disgusting does this sound??), but I survived, and here I am saying that your children possibly don’t need to be washed everyday either. There are times an emergency bath is a must. My youngest two are prolific  vomiters. At this point we operate ‘the emergency bath and bedding change’ protocol. My husband does the bed (I am rubbish with sick) and I deal with the child. Batch cook, have a ‘weekly menu’, we do. It might be boring but makes shopping much easier (even though grocery shopping is on my husband's list). Our eldest two cook 3 nights in the week. This helps.

We also have this unwritten child line management structure. In our working memories, along with our things we remember for work, there would be no capacity for both of us to remember everything for all 4 children. Neither is it necessary.

My husband line manages my 3rd son – he is 5 and is a bit like the NQT of our brood. When picking up him from after school club any important messages about things happening with him get passed to my husband- he deals with them. He sorts attendance at all birthday parties, things required for school, school clothes, lunch box the lot.

We have the two teenagers. These are our middle leaders. They are actually helpful (cooking, looking after the little ones), but need some sort of guidance and physically need taking places. My role is that I remember the stuff for them. I sort logistics of lifts to training and manage their calendars (all of our family events are on our phones and the 4 of us can view them at any point).

My husband line manages me line managing them because I’m sometimes a bit too soft!!

This brings us to the youngest one, the ‘wild one’, and my god he’s wild. We tag team on him. I currently have ‘remembering the stuff’ for him on my list but we share actual care of him. This is essential because he is utterly bonkers. He’s about to turn 2 and he can turn the house upside down in seconds!! I’ve even said, that if he had been my first then he would have been an only child!

So decide in your family who does what. You probably already do this – but make sure that it is fair.

You need to outsource to others things that you just don’t have time to do. Cleaners, gardeners or whatever you need. You also need to be totally confident that your options of childcare are as good as, if not better, than your ability to parent. This is easy for me because I would probably be RI if my parenting was rated by Ofsted!! I have been really fortunate that my children have had some amazing carers, who have absolutely adored them. These amazing people reduce the ‘mummy guilt’. I still get this. When I miss important things such as school sports days, plays etc.

I wrote this blog back in the autumn. I was at an all time low.

This blog is not my educational blog but on my equestrian blog site (as I mentioned I live my life in separate parts). Last autumn I mentally went on a journey to decide how my career was going to play out. After several years of feeling trapped, I knew I needed to change something – but didn’t know how, what, or when. I had to strip back to the barest of bones what I wanted, who I was and what I needed to do in order to become the person that I believed I could be. You will find that there are times that you equally struggle with the juxtaposition of being hugely ambitious, but also a good parent. Furthermore, I actually think this is important because it helps to lay out the boundaries of what you are prepared to accept. When you know your boundaries then it’s easy to operate within them. As I moved through the autumn, in this deep period of reflection I woke up one Sunday morning at 6am and in 3 hours of typing on my phone I wrote the (approximately 3000 word) blog that, has since, become my gateway to much greater things. It was an entirely cathartic experience but I’ve shared it, and I know that others have benefited because I have been inundated with messages telling me so:  https://mrsmsteachertalk.school.blog/2019/10/20/12/

This recalibration allowed me to move forward. It has since (and is now currently) sited on the #WomenEd website as part of my #pledgeforchange20.

My community on Edutwitter has become really influential. If it wasn’t for my connections with people like @maternitycpd, lovely people in #WomenEd like @ViviennePorritt and all of you other amazing people, then things could well have turned out differently. They have given me permission and the confidence to be ambitious. Sadly, in some realms, being an ambitious woman is frowned upon. It may not be explicit but it fuels an unconscious bias in some people (of any gender). When they vocalise it to me, I now pull them up on it. Don’t sit and tell me that leadership and parenting is hard. I am fully aware that it can be. I achieved it as a single mother – and that was hard!! I have the utmost respect for any single parent. I appreciate my ability to delegate and share parental responsibilities with my husband and my ex husband. I admire those like @claireprice1 who has professionally achieved so much on top of some top class parenting. The only (tiny) thing I did find slightly easier when I was a single parent, was knowing that I did have to do it all. I couldn’t have discussions over ‘whose turn’ it was. It was always my turn.

So, I’m soon to move forward to taking on an Assistant Headteacher post. I have my eyes open.

I know that in the first term I will need to work significantly more hours than thereafter. It is inevitable. I have so much to learn in a short period of time. My family situation will afford me extra time to achieve this. If I work 70 hours a week for a while, then that is ok. It will then regulate. It always does. My boundaries will resume and we will outsource more of the family husbandry (paying for school dinners, cleaner, etc). It comes at a good time of year because we all wear fewer clothes in the summer (back to the washing), seriously with six people it does make a difference. We also BBQ more in summer so less to wash up. My dishwasher runs three times a day. This will help. The grass will be growing and my livestock will require less additional feeding, and this will help.

We will always have last minute moments when the wheels fall off. My husband is a DHT. Ofsted visits, forgetting to share events on the family calendar (late night Governor’s meetings, times we both have parents evenings the same night – why always Thursdays?), child sickness etc. But for the majority of the time we do OK.

Doing OK is a reasonable expectation of our life. We are raising our sons to be independent, resourceful, good team players, to have a good understanding of currencies (be this financial, time, resources).

We have also hit this lovely point where my husband and I can go out together in the evening and leave my eldest in charge at home. In return for a bottle of Pepsi Max and an extra hour on his phone (before he is electronically kicked off his apps) my eldest will babysit. Be assured, life does get easier when weaving your way through life, work, parenting – but it isn’t always easy.
All I’m really trying to put across is that life is not straightforward, even when people seem like they have their shit together, actually they maybe don’t. Don’t judge where you think you are, by where you perceive others to be. Seek fulfilment not happiness. Accept the rough with the smooth, and sometimes, you only know that you are at rock bottom when you look up, and up is the only direction left to travel.

I am, and will continue to be, fully committed to helping others seek out what is possible in their lives to help them find fulfilment. I will pay forward the support I have had. I don’t ‘have it all’ but I do ‘have a lot’ and for that I am eternally grateful.

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Sunday, 29 January 2023

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