Sunday Secrets: I think we’ve been lied to

I’m an 80s kid; big hair and big shoulder pads were everywhere. In fashion, masculine was the new feminine. Women were taking their equality and running with it. As society was increasingly open to the idea of women being equal to men, a phrase filtered through: you can have it all. Anything a man can do, a woman can do. Anything a man can be, a woman can be too. And just as men didn’t need to choose between having a career and having a family, women didn’t need to make that choice either: they could have it all! Well, guess what? I think that’s a big, stinking, lie. 

rosieDon’t get me wrong, I am a feminist. And wholeheartedly believe that women should have equality to men in all aspects of life; if a woman wants a jet set career and raising a family then the opportunity for her to do so should be there. But, I also believe, that the ‘you can have it all’ mentality can be negative and disheartening.

With the increase of the ‘you can have it all’ philosophy, women with children can face judgement and pressure, not least from themselves. I couldn’t possible count the amount of times I have heard the phrase ‘I’m just a stay at home Mum’, like raising the next generation isn’t one of the most important jobs on the planet. Similarly, I have friends who have chosen not to have children; does that mean that they’re not grasping the opportunity to have it all? Does it heck! But as we are told that we can have it all, women can feel that if they don’t have both the successful career and a family – whether through choice or circumstance – then they have failed, or that they should have both of those things. And that’s bollocks. 

workFlip the focus to the working mum, maybe her children go to nursery, perhaps she has a childminder, whoever it is, the child spends a portion of their day being cared for by someone else allowing the mum to work. Which is obviously brilliant! So, women can work full-time, exactly the same way that men do, right? Well, not in my experience.

I had a successful career in a field I enjoyed and was good at, an awesome childminder, great kids, a happy marriage, and I was fortunate enough to be able to work from home. In that moment it damn well looks like I had it all, but I’ll let you in on s secret: it sure as hell didn’t feel like it. I would constantly find myself giving neither my children or my job undivided attention, the best of me that they deserved; work emails would interrupt bedtime stories, conference calls would fall at tea time. Sure, I could have turned my phone off, but my husband doesn’t and I can have it all, just like him, remember? Meh.

School assemblies, Christmas plays, poorly children, school holidays, all things that I would never have wanted to miss, encroached on my working day. JB was the main breadwinner so, as well as wanting to be there on those occassions, I also felt like I should be there, both as a Mum and as the partner whose wages we were less financially reliant on. But, no matter how much I wanted to be there with my kids, calling my boss, for the third time in two weeks, to tell him that I wouldn’t be able to work that day, gave me a knot in my stomach. And, of course, the work didn’t stop because the school was closed, and my to-do list didn’t magically disappear because my child was poorly.

I constantly felt harrassed, stressed and flusterred, my life was frantic. I know that some women thrive on it, but my disorganised, busy, distracted brain just couldn’t cope. To the world it may have looked like I was living the ‘you can have it all’ dream, but, in my mind, I may well have had it all, but I had it all badly. I may well have had everything, but nothing had the best of me. I couldn’t be the Mother that I wanted to be or the employee that I felt I should be.

working mumWhen I lived a life that was pretty much the definition of having it all, I just wasn’t happy; no matter how desperately I felt that I should be. After all, isn’t that what being a feminist was all about? Should I embrace the very things that women have fought so hard to get? Well, no. At least not to me. I wrestled a lot with my feelings and thoughts about this and kept on coming back to this: just because we, as women, have it all available to us, doesn’t mean we have to take it all. Just like even though you can eat unlimited food at the Chinese buffet, it doesn’t mean that eating ten plates of chow mein wouldn’t make you vomit.

Perhaps having it all isn’t necessarily how it has been sold. Maybe having it all to choose from is, in itself, the point. We can choose what suits us. We can choose have a kick ass career or work part time. We can decide to have no children or have ten children. We are so lucky that as women living in the 21st century we have so many opportunities available to us.

To me, having the possibility, and ability, to forge a life that is right for us and our families really is having it all. And I am so very, very grateful for that.

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Hey, kids! Don’t do that, try this.

There are many things that I love about our scaled back life. Simple living is giving us more time together, making us less rushed, reducing stress and, generally, making our lives a bit more ‘chilled’. We have had conversations we otherwise may not have had, and we have laughed a lot. But, there is just this one thing…

It’s tiring. Okay, so, in many ways the opposite is true, but when it comes to our decision to reduce screen time it’s a little different. I always thought that cutting back on time spent on the TV or computers would be difficult for us all and, although we are adapting, it’s taking some getting used to.

But, why is it tiring? Basically because we have three small boys! Although they are pretty good at independent play, finding things to do and making up their own games, sometimes they are just in an ‘I’m bored’ mood, and that is exhausting.

To help us all, and to save my patience and sanity, I have started collating ideas about things that they might enjoy doing instead of looking at a screen. This means that, rather than just telling them what they can’t do, I am giving them ideas of what they can do instead; and my children definitely respond better to that! These are just a few of our current firm favourites:
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- team comic book. The idea is to create a comic book together, from start to finish, working together to create characters and storylines, then drawing the pictures and putting together the captions. To be honest, in our superhero crazed house, it is no surprise that this was a hit!

- create-a-pokemon. Who knew Pokemon were even still a thing? I had no clue, until Charlie brought home some cards from school, well and truly gripped by Pokemon fever. The best thing to come out of this is the boys creating their own Pokemon, with specific skills, strengths and characteristics, drawing Pokemon cards and then battling each other with these new characters.

- shared reading. Depending on how pushed for time/energy I am, I will either do this with the boys or they will just take it in turns to read a book; generally reading a page each. We are currently working our way through Awful Auntie; I’m not sure who’s enjoying this more!
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- book reviews. As we are obsessed with books, and Charlie has started his own blog that includes book reviews, this was a natural thing for us all to try. I’ve been encouraging them all to note down some things they did, and didn’t, like in the books that they have read, and to draw pictures of their favourite moments from the book. Not only is this making them in to book reviewers, it also changes the way they interact with the text.

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- den hangs. We have been pretty fortunate with the weather lately, so have been able to take full advantage of our new garden. So, the boys have been putting their den (built by JB) to good use. They collect up games, snacks, pens and paper, and disappear down the garden, emerging some time later. Obviously, I’m not allowed to join in with this, on account of it being a secret den and all…

So, there are some examples of things that the boys have been enjoying since their mean-mama reduced their screen time. And as for me…? It’s been reading and writing all the way… And I’m loving it.

 

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Sunday Secrets: Finding my happy

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A few months ago a friend of mine recommended a book called ‘A Year of Living Danishly’ to me. I forgot all about it until I was searching for something to listen to in Audible, found it there, and began listening. A Year of Living Dangerously is written by journalist Helen Russell; and follows Russell as she tries to f23282062ind out why the Danes are one of the happiest nations in the world, and what we can do to increase our own happiness – Danish Style. It’s a fascinating book and has really made me step back and ask myself just how happy I am. What would make me happier? And how do we go about getting from here to there?

Our exploration of simple living is an exercise in maximising our happiness, but how do I measure how happy we are? How will we know if living simply has made us happier? I thought about this for far too long at 2am last night, and I think there are certain non-negotiables that I need to be truly happy.

  1. Security
  2. Work-life balance
  3. Society/community connections
  4. Health – both my own and that of those I love
  5. Morality & values
  6. Doing what I love: namely reading and writing
  7. Resilience/coping strategies for when things don’t go to plan
  8. People, not things
  9. Authenticity – being true to myself in all that I do
  10. Having goals & challenges to aspire to and work towards
  11. Self-improvement
  12. Volunteering/helping others
  13. Exercise
  14. Being part of something bigger than myself
  15. Living a kind life
  16. Acknowledging gratitude
  17. Self-love
  18. Expressing love 

In reality, I am, right now, happier than I have been for years, so the list includes some of the things that I feel are behind my increasing happiness. Focusing on what needs to be done, on the changes I need to make to maximise happiness for me and my family, was a hugely beneficial eDSCN0653xercise. It’s all well and good wanting to be happier, but how can we get there if we don’t know the path we need to take? We wouldn’t set off in our car for a new destination before first finding the way to go. And so I highly encourage anyone that is looking for some extra happy in their lives to consider what it is that will make you happier – the essential, non-negotiable things – write them down and keep them safe.

I will be working through these things over the next few months, considering how I can fit them in to my life. I will, obviously, be sharing here how I’m working on each point, and letting you know if the changes are actually making me any happier; although I suspect that the process alone might in itself increase how happy I feel.

Oh, and I would currently rate myself as a 7/10 on the happiness scale, which I reckon is pretty high, but still leaves some room for improvement.

How would you rate your happiness? What do you consider as non-negotiable for your Get Happy list? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas, so find me on Instagram, Twitter, or start a conversation in the comments below. I’m so excited about this journey, and I hope you’ll come along with me. 

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