How I cut out the irritations that make being a mum even harder

Tanith Carey

As a mum, who has had to earn a living since my two girls were born, I often wish that my brain hadn’t constantly felt like a computer with too many tabs open.

Or that it had not reached the point where an essential visit to my GP seemed self-indulgent.

Looking back, I wish that as my daughters grew up, I hadn’t so often bitterly observed how ‘having it all’ actually meant having to do absolutely everything. All at exactly the same time.

With hindsight, I wish sneaky looks at my Blackberry to check on work emails had not interrupted their bedtime stories.

With hindsight, I wish sneaky looks at my Blackberry to check on work emails had not interrupted their bedtime stories.

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Or that I hadn’t frozen in a panic when I heard the words: “Mummy, can you play with me?” because the work deadlines were shouting louder.

Instead, as I struggled to meet demands from children and editors simultaneously, while my husband Anthony, worked 14 hour days in an office, I would bitterly observe to myself how ‘having it all’ had come to mean having to do absolutely everything – all at the same time.

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But this isn’t another mummy rant about lack of me-time.

This is about how we need to find more uninterrupted moments for our children if anyone is going to feel good about this escalating state of affairs.

Because as much as dads have valiantly tried to step up their share the load, experimenting with Jamie Oliver and sharing school pick-ups, the workplace keeps demanding more from ALL of us.

Like many of my peers after my second daughter Clio’s birth, I looked for a compromise. I thought it was working from home.

Yet that seemed to expose the children to an even more harassed mother. The most stressful calls always seemed to arrive between school pick-up and bedtime when I’d hoped to be completely there for the girls.

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Indeed, my least favourite memory of being a parent was feeling like my head was about to explode as Lily, then 5, lay prostrate on the floor as I tried to answer an urgent work query, screaming: ‘You said you’d make cupcakes!’

Of course, bosses and clients never worry about the domino effect of the tension levels in family homes. That’s your problem. Not theirs.

I found myself living two lives, as mother and career woman, but without the time to enjoy either.

I found myself living two lives, as mother and career woman, but without the time to enjoy either.

In my numbed state, time with my children seemed like the ultimate luxury. If I played with them, I found it hard to stay present. My mind was constantly flicking through my rolodex of un-done tasks.

But of course, we parents only get it back with interest. As their first role model, children will learn to react we do.

Like many authors, I write about what I need to learn. Now I’d had my eyes opened to the effect my work was having on my children, I started to look at life through their eyes.

I imagined how frightening it must be for a child, who relies on its parents for everything, to see their care-givers so overwhelmed.

Indeed, animal and human studies find that when parents are stressed, their offspring are stressed, too. Baby rats, for example, are more fearful if their mothers are too busy to lick them and calm them down.

Stress is quite simply the greatest enemy of good parenting there is.

The truth, is that no matter how good our intentions, overwork make us poor parents. Stress is quite simply the greatest enemy of good parenting there is.

Yet so often, when we get overwhelmed, we are often the last to see it. Ask them, and one in four working mothers report feeling close to burn-out, often tearful and fearful. Holding it together as much as they can, yet believing they must just keep going.

The outcome of all this overwork is that a quarter of working parents say they spend just 34 undistracted minutes of the day with their children, due to long hours and lengthy commutes.

One in five say they are too tired even to read their children a bedtime story, even though it’s the most bonding and calming moment of the day.

Our standards slip. We become inconsistent in applying them. We opt for ‘anything for a quiet life’ parenting and in our stressed state we leave children be babysat by technology, which produces its own set of well-documented problems.

Routines that provide youngsters with the security of knowing their needs will be met go out the window. After long stressful days, there are more rows about homework and bedtimes.

Many grandparents, who might once have helped, live far away or lack the empathy to understand how the workplace has changed or the willingness to get involved.

Once it took a village to raise a child. Now it’s left to two strung-out adults on a hamster wheel chasing the cash to pay for child-care costs.

Without the vocabulary or life experience to understand how they feel, kids are more likely to react by playing up or disconnecting, raising tension levels in the home still further.

The time has come to find a middle way.

The time has come to find a middle way.

Because as it stands, economic uncertainty, the long hours culture and the creeping tendrils of technology means British parents work some of the longest working hours in Europe – and our children are also counting the cost.

The number of families who now need two wage earners to own a home and keep up with the cost of living in the UK has now hit a record high – at more than 30 per cent – with 2.25 million women back in work by the time their children are four.

And that’s why I wrote my new book Mum Hacks. Because the reality is that it’s simply not realistic for most of use to jack it all in and swap our lives for organic free-holdings where we suppose we will all live happily ever after, raising micropigs.

The truth is that we’re locked into schools and mortgages. Many of us are caught in a Catch-22 situations where we worked hard for the home in which we bring up our kids, but find we need two incomes to keep them.

Yet, I was amazed to see that, despite the shelves of books telling mothers to be the perfect parent, not one addressed how to find the time to be that person in the first place.

It was then that I felt a realistic book needed to be written about what parents need now.

So the book is a conscious effort to find ways to cut out the irritating distractions, frustrations and lost minutes that make a hard job of being a mum even harder and streamline the dozens of tasks parent need to do every day to keep the show on the road.

Because until we get to the point where it’s OK to seen to work less, being at home with the kids is not seen as wimpy there is more family support and dads book babysitters too, we need some interim measures.

The good news is that it’s never too late to adjust the emotional temperature. The effects will be instant.

Putting boundaries around your work, cutting back on how much time you spend rushing kids to extracurricular activities, and taking steps to dissipate your tension.

I advise you also to tick fewer boxes, use the auto-reply function on your email at weekends, ask for support and spell out why.

I advise you also to tick fewer boxes, use the auto-reply function on your email at weekends, ask for support and spell out why.

Stop ironing underwear. Buy second hand cars and take cheaper holidays if it means you are less worried about money and job security. Be brutal about cutting out those time-drains and irritations that are making our lives more hectic.

Even if you don’t work, adopt short-cuts that mean you spend less time cooking and cleaning up after kids and more time being with them for its own sake.

The reason I wrote this book is because while I love my children, I stopped loving being a parent when other pressures started to steal away the hours I wanted to spend with them.

For me, as for many of us, my ultimate challenge as mother has become how to earn a living while spending as much enjoyable, care-free time with my girls as I can. That must the ultimate dilemma of today’s modern mother.

Mum Hacks

  • Mum Hacks: Time-saving tips to calm the chaos of family life is out now, priced £9.99, White Ladder Press. Buy now on Amazon
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