I’m feeling rather pleased with myself after launching this Blog last week, but I’ll let you into a secret…it was supposed to happen about 6 weeks ago! It was deeply frustrating to me that I just couldn’t seem to make it happen when I planned. There were a number of excuses reasons for this failure to implement: my eldest is in Year 10 and was doing some important exams, needing a lot of support and help with revision. My other two children seemed hardly to be at school – in the 3 months from the beginning of March to the end of May there were only 7 weeks where they spent 5 days there. I found that really hard to manage. And my two girls both had birthdays, therefore expectations, therefore parties (need I say more!) Added to that we are doing a lot of work on our house this year; spring was bathrooms so we’ve been toilet-challenged and under a permanent layer of dust for 3 months.
So, we had a lot going on, that seems to be a fact of modern-day family life, but I have never before felt the same degree of inertia, like I just wasn’t moving forward on anything. And I’m afraid to say that my frustration made me somewhat irritable at times, as well as feeling like I was under-achieving on all fronts. Not very Zen.
I’ve picked up similar feelings from a lot of other women recently, including those without children. People have been talking about negative energy and general discombobulation. Is it the alignment of the planets, or even something as prosaic as the weather? Wet, dry, sticky, cool, we just don’t know where we are!
Naturally, I turned to books for a bit of help. The Confident Mother by Sherry Bevan is a quick and easy read and something you will want to go back to. It certainly helped me to accept myself as “good enough” as a mother, partner and general citizen, when I was feeling a bit low. Years ago, when my eldest was about 2 years old I bought a book called Having it All? Choices for today’s superwoman by Paula Nicholson. I didn’t even have time to finish it, that’s how super I was! Never picked it up again. Too depressing. Sherry Bevan is a bit more my cup of tea. Good enough is good enough.
I also read Shattered: modern motherhood and the illusion of equality by Rebecca Asher. If you’re a bit more politically inclined and want to knock your partner into shape then this could be the book for you. I found it a little too angry for my taste, and a bit long, if I’m honest, but if you’re into studying this kind of thing, it could be worth a read.
Read more about both these books below.
I am reassured by people, better informed than I about this kind of thing, that change is in the air. Certainly, looking at the calendar, there are a lot more white spaces available for writing, reading, work and play, and as I write this, the rain has stopped and the sun is shining. I look forward to restoration of my mojo in the coming weeks and will keep you posted!
The Confident Mother by Sherry Bevan
Sherry Bevan is a business confidence coach and mentor who specialises in supporting women with children starting or running their own businesses. In her work she tackles head-on the challenges women face in pursuing their vocation alongside being a mother. Unlike Rebecca Asher in Shattered, who looks at the legal, structural and cultural factors which inhibit women’s progression, Sherry looks at the emotional and confidence issues. In that sense this is more of a practical work-through book, than a campaigning book to make you angry, like Rebecca Asher’s.
Sherry organised the Confident Mother Conference in January 2015 and this book brings together the interviews from that conference. These include parenting ‘experts’, business women, wellbeing and nutritional experts and other mothers who have been through the sorts of parenting challenges that most of us do not face. Each chapter represents a separate interview. At first, I did not like this structure; I was hoping for a bit more analysis and it seemed a little contrived. But the style grew on me as the chapters became more interesting and relevant. The style also means that you can skip chapters you may not want to read without it affecting your overall appreciation of the book.
It’s very much a positive and practical book. At the end of each chapter there are signposts to additional resources, as well as a summary of learning points. I found myself using lots of post-it notes, for things to go back to. There are also some useful exercises; one of the non-interview chapters is called ‘Ditch the Guilt’ and takes us through a series of steps with the aim of doing just that…parenting without guilt. According to Sherry we can achieve this by understanding what is most important to us about being a mum, and focussing on those core values, understanding what it is that triggers feelings of guilt, appreciating ourselves and finally working out what small changes we can make to help us feel better in our mothering role. It seems to me a peculiarly female thing – you never hear about working Dad’s guilt!
Definitely a recommendation. It’s available online from www.theconfidentmother.co.uk for £11.99.
Shattered: Modern motherhood and the illusion of equality by Rebecca Asher
The author is a BBC Producer and former Editor of Woman’s Hour and lives in London. These are important points because it helps you to understand her perspective on the issues at hand. I really wanted to like this book and I really wanted to agree with all that she said, but after reading it I couldn’t help feeling that a) it was all a bit London-centric, first-world problem stuff, and b) I had let down my sex. Most likely that feeling of guilt by complicity (yes, I’m afraid I rather loved my babies and didn’t want to put them into childcare, and yes, I made the choice to ‘give up’ my career and become a stay at home Mum because it didn’t make economic or emotional sense not to), is my problem rather than hers: no-one can make you feel guilt, but I didn’t feel good after reading this. I doubt the author either intended or wanted to make me feel good. She probably wanted to make mefeel motivated to change things, but my overwhelming impression was that the author was just having a bit of a rant.
It is quite an angry book in parts – the author clearly feels her own career prospects have been unfairly damaged by choosing to have children, and for me this rather detracted from the very important points she makes. She is right to point out, for example, that there is a deeply-embedded inequality in society that assumes women should be the primary occupants of the domestic sphere. But…it’s personal. Her fundamental point is that a more equal approach to parenting, with the care of young children being shared equally between both parents, would be fairer to women, more enriching to fathers (or other parents, one assumes) and better for children, but the unequal society in which we live (in the UK) makes this extremely difficult to achieve. Employers, families, laws and communities are just not geared up for it. The hardest bit to stomach is where she lays the blame for some of this situation firmly at the door of other women (who do not welcome fathers intruding on their territory at the playgroup, GP’s surgery or playground).
A lot of women are quoted given their personal experiences; this is interesting, but could have been more carefully edited. It is to the author’s credit that she broke out of the London perspective and went as far north as Newcastle in her research, to find more ‘average’ women, and did not choose to focus on the women of the south, from her own familiar milieu.
The book is very well-researched and the list of references and further reading is impressive. Much of what she says is backed up by qualitative research, talking to women, as well as hard data, and she blends the two impressively. Some of the data are astonishing – over half of women with three or more children do not work because it’s just too hard (me!). Unfortunately, like too many books, I feel it needed more judicious editing. It feels longer than it actually is, perhaps because the typeface is very small, and I felt at times I was wading through treacle, or hearing the same point being made over and over.
One to read if you have a particular interest in the topic.