Time – a mother’s best friend and worst enemy
While scrolling mindlessly through my social media feed in the early hours to try to stay awake as I nursed my six month old (having just soothed my three year old back to sleep after a nightmare) I came across a heart-warming story about a mother who left handwritten letters of encouragement for other first time mums in York. My first reaction was to feel cheered by this act of kindness, then I felt my cynicism creep in and wondered what the commercial aim was, i.e. whether this mother was launching a business, and finally my mind settled on a far bigger question: How on earth did she find the time to write all those letters?
I’m a mother of two, currently on maternity leave, with an incredibly hands-on partner and able to afford a cleaner and some childcare, and I still find time something of a luxury. And it’s so paradoxical. We spend our young lives impatiently wanting time to hurry up so we can become an adult. Then many of us ‘waste’ those young adult years trying to tick off those boxes that society appears to expect from us – completing a degree, finding a job, somehow getting on the property ladder if you can, miraculously bumping into a partner, moving in, getting engaged, married and having children, all while progressing in your job to take on more responsibility and earn more money.
Suddenly you wake up (or are rather dragged from your bed after little sleep by a three year old demanding his breakfast at 5.30am – for the record, we make him wait until 7am) and realise that time has flown by. Why didn’t I enjoy all those lie-ins more with my partner before kids? How come I didn’t visit art galleries more when I was child-free or a student with free week-days? Why did I go out with friends hoping to meet a boy when I was single instead of just dancing the night away with said friends?
Or did I enjoy them but now have rose tinted glasses as I find my time is pretty much non existent these days? Yes, I have time, but it ebbs and flows depending on the moods of our children, whether my partner is at home and on how much sleep I’ve had. A public tantrum can make a couple of minutes appear to last for hours. Our son claiming he needs the toilet just as we leave a Tube station can make those few miles to the next stop seem a few light years away (we are currently potty training). My son making our daughter giggle and laugh in that way that only babies can alas only lasts for a few seconds. Needing to do washing, clear up, get ready to leave the house, pay bills and write a shopping list seems impossible when both kids demand your time. But then when your partner takes your son on holiday for a few days to give you a break you miss them dreadfully and count down to when they’re back.
As a professional you are in control of your time, especially the more senior you become. You can (mostly) decide when to work on a certain presentation or when to call a client at a time that suits them and your own schedule. In my career there are always curveballs and unexpected situations so it becomes even more important to be prepared and on top of your workload so you can deal with whatever happens. You’d think that prepares you for parenting. Well, it doesn’t. An afternoon by yourself with a teething baby and a grumpy boisterous boy when it’s raining makes time stretch infinitely. Nap times are far too short. Just far too short. And then there are those beautiful moments where you want to take a picture and make time stop – when they’re asleep, when you’re nursing your baby (who already is out of her six month clothes) in the middle of the night and it’s just the two of you, when chasing a giggling boy around the park, when everyone is smiling and happy.
Much is made of the pressures on parents these days thanks to the Instagram mums to always have a good time, look immaculate and be doing fun things. I tend to fall more into the opposite camp, devouring blog posts from the likes of Slummy Mummy the Unmumsy Mum, and love to complain about how hard it is. The truth is I’d rather be honest about it instead of masking the low points. There’s a brilliant TED talk by a couple of parents who talk about happiness and the highs and lows of having children. Everything is more condensed now, that’s for sure, and my time is rarely my own. But then, when I do find time (like right now – while one is out with friends and the other is sleeping), you appreciate it so so much more.
So hats off to the lady who wrote those letters for other first-time mothers. Instead of slumping down with a (hot) cup of tea or something stronger, scoffing a whole packet of biscuits or looking through photos of ourselves when we had – what appeared to be – oodles of time, she did something productive and made others feel better about themselves.
As a final point, and I know it’s a cliché, I just want to say that time does fly by. Especially when there’s so little of it. My little boy is now three and it seems like only yesterday I was pregnant with him. So grab on to those good moments and silver linings of time when everything aligns and keep them front of mind. I’m certainly trying to with the middle of the night feeds and cuddles with my daughter as they won’t last forever. Just remind me of that the next time you hear me complain about how tired I am!