Simple Things.

I can’t remember where I read it – Twitter probably – but there’s a theory that you can be a good friend, a good family member and a good worker. But you can’t be all three at once.

I don’t know how scientific it is, but God, it feels true. 

Lately, though, it feels like I’m not doing a terribly good job at anything other than work.

I always feel a bit fraudulent saying I work hard.

I mean, I’m not working down a mine, or anything. And I have far too much fun at my job for it to be too much of a hardship. Besides, a huge chunk of my work involves talking to people and drinking coffee. It’s barely even a proper job, if you think about it.

But it’s hectic.

Driving home from the station tonight, I realised I haven’t seen Flea since Wednesday morning – and I won’t see her again until Sunday.  Working long hours when you’re a single parent means your child spends nights away from home. This week Flea’s spent a night with her Dad and two nights with my parents because I’ve had to leave home early for meetings and couldn’t take her to school, or I’ve been at meetings and got home too late to collect her, and put her to bed.

The one day this week I did the school run, I dropped Flea early at school breakfast club, and didn’t collect her until the end of the school’s late club. Hardly Mother of the Year material.

I’m not sure how much Flea minds. I know she loves spending time with her Dad and with her grandparents, and we’re lucky to have them around, and so happy to help out.

But I mind. I hate that I seem to be failing at the most simple of parenting duties – being there when Flea wakes up in the morning, and tucking her into bed at night.

It’s passing so fast, and I’m missing it.

I’m not sure what the solution is. I’ve considered a husband but they’re just so much bother, and they never really understand the importance of a well-folded towel (thirds NOT quarters) and a properly-organised mug cupboard.

I’m morally opposed to lotteries, so an unexpected fortune that renders paid work unnecessary seems unlikely.

So, yeah, I suspect this post just falls under the “self-indulgent whining” heading.

Long-term, we will have to move back to the South. But short-term, life just is going to be about compromises and making the best of a slightly chaotic family situation.

Anyone else struggle with this one?



Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. 19th October 2012 / 10:08 pm

    Oh God yes how I struggled with this in the past when working full time and raising children but until a day consists of as many hours as we need I think it is just a sad fact of modern life. Whats the saying ‘Quality not Quantity’ and I’m sure that counts here x
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    • 21st October 2012 / 10:07 pm

      Yes, I think it’s definitely true about quality – I’ve never been one for plonking Flea in front of a TV – when we’re together, we’re usually interacting in some way. So perhaps I earn bonus points for that?

      • Fiona (@nlpmum)
        22nd October 2012 / 10:23 am

        You definitely get bonus points for that! Definitely, definitely and it may just be that Flea gets more, better quality time with you than some kids who have sahms/dads. I speak as a sahm who is jaded and bored to death by lego/playdoh etc. BUT, I’m on the lookout for a job and will probably have to go back to work full time so the prospect of being a mum with no time is looming – but hey, maybe when I’ve got that job lego will suddenly become fascinating again! I think it’s more about perspective than reality….. everybody’s reality is different and God knows none of us get it right the whole time, but if you pick out the good bits then there’s a good chance you can feel good about what you’re doing…… after all, your job probably helped Flea get to Legoland and it sounds like she had a bloody brilliant time there, so….. it’s swings and roundabouts 😉

  2. 19th October 2012 / 10:24 pm

    It is a real dilemma. I could work more hours and the kids have more stuff but they don’t need it really. I am at least home for them as much as possible. It was a choice we made and so far, it’s OK if a little uncertain. At least we had a choice, because lots of people don’t.

    And still, I don’t pay enough attention to them. It’s never enough.
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    • 21st October 2012 / 10:08 pm

      I think for me, it’s not so much the hours I work – I am lucky to have a flexible job that allows me to take time off here and there to spend time with Flea. Overall, I spend about as much time with her as seems right. I just HATE missing mornings and bedtimes. It seems like such an important time of the day, and maybe I need to look at how I stop work intruding on that.

  3. 19th October 2012 / 10:36 pm

    Nope because I’m too busy to work and fortunately, I don’t have to have that choice made for me. I do however, have to have one of those troublesome husbands instead. I put up with towels in quarters daily, but he empties the bins so it’s swings and roundabouts. I suppose you are allowed to moan about it occasionally though. We forgive you.
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    • 21st October 2012 / 10:09 pm

      As a single parent, yes, I’m the breadwinner so there’s no life of leisure on the horizon!

  4. 19th October 2012 / 10:56 pm

    Sally your job brings Flea amazing experiences and opportunities and only unconventional jobs do that.
    Some of my very best childhood memories are of time with my grandparents they are not around for long enough in our lives so these are precious times. Whenn I lost mum I was thankful for every day the kids had spent with her.
    Don’t worry love it does (and should I think) takes a village to raise a child and each person looking after her loves her. Thats is pretty fabulous right.

    My husband thoruws his wet towel on the bed or the floor. You are missing nothing in that dept!
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    • 21st October 2012 / 10:10 pm

      Thanks Becky, I appreciate the comment – I think it’s important for me to remember (when I’m not feeling sorry for myself) that Flea gains enormously from spending time with other members of the family. I’m sure if was just her and me 24/7 that wouldn’t be particularly healthy either!

  5. Gayle
    20th October 2012 / 12:45 am

    Yes. I feel exactly like this. Although perhaps a little less guilt. I’ve had to let it go.

    I am also a single mum, and moo is 3. I work a conventional but incredibly busy and stressful professional job. I work 4 days a week, which means I only work 5 days instead of the 6 my full time colleagues work. And a day can last until midnight or beyond when things are particularly busy.

    But I need my work. Not just to pay the bills, but because however sad it might be, it’s part of who I am. I love it. The only bit of the stress that actually stresses me is the unpredictability and arranging childcare. Moo is remarkably flexible and my parents and her dad get to spend precious time with her. I’ve felt guilty this week because she has had 3 overnights elsewhere. I sometimes lose sight of the fact that that means 4 with me!!

    And to be honest, I’ve decided I need to make use of the village for more than just work. I’m allowed to enjoy myself, and not just on the one night a week that her dad has her.

    Flea will benefit in all sorts of ways. She’d benefit if you were home too, don’t get me wrong, but I see nothing wrong in what you’re doing. I just see a mum who loves her daughter.

    Sorry for the very long response!

    • 21st October 2012 / 10:12 pm

      I don’t mind the long response – I think we’re very similar in the respect that we both love our jobs and find them challenging and interesting and a big part of who we are. I would never want to NOT work, I confess.

      Having a social life is a bit beyond me still, to be honest, but you’re right that it’s important for children of single parents to see other family and friends – I think especially for only children like Flea, maybe.

  6. 20th October 2012 / 10:24 am

    This is one of the main reasons I left my full-time job because of the long hours and took a part-time job, I just couldn’t manage it and I didn’t have anyone who would look after the girls overnight (at the time, my ex refused to ‘babysit’ his own children). Things are a bit easier now they’re older, but you have to try and balance the sacrifices with whether your child is happy, and it sounds like she’s doing fine.
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    • 21st October 2012 / 10:14 pm

      To be honest, I wonder if it’s more of a sacrifice for me than Flea – she’s doing great, and everyone comments on how happy and well-adjusted she seems. I just HATE missing those moments, the mornings and bedtimes. Grrr.

  7. 20th October 2012 / 2:49 pm

    I don’t have an ex or parents near enough to leave DD with even for one night. I know she would benefit from sleeping over with grandparents without me – even once a week. My nephews in London used to stay with my parents regularly and they loved it. I also remember sleeping over with my grandparents and also my aunt and loving it. I think the time away enhances the times together. I’m not just saying that, I really believe it – we’re not talking about weeks on end here.
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    • 21st October 2012 / 10:15 pm

      Yes, I love that Flea has had the opportunity to build a great relationship with my parents – particularly because we lived away when she was born, then moved back. It’s great for her to test out other adults and relationships, I definitely agree with that – great point!

  8. 20th October 2012 / 7:09 pm

    I’m currently debating whether or not to go back to work at the end of my maternity leave. I don’t want to, but I can’t really afford not to.

    The one thing I do know… You are being far too hard on yourself. What I know of you from reading your blog, is that you are a fantastic mum. And like Becky says… You give her fantastic opportunities through doing what you do.

    As for husbands… Mine doesn’t even know what “folding” is!
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    • 21st October 2012 / 10:16 pm

      Aw, thanks for the lovely comment, you’re far too kind!

      Husbands never understand folding. It’s in a mental blind spot along with cushions.

  9. 20th October 2012 / 8:16 pm

    My kids were sick all week, my work suffered, my boss was not happy my stress levels were high. on the friday I made them all promise to get through the day, found out later my daughter was ill all day but made her teacher not call me as I had an ‘important’ job.

    winning crap mother award here!
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    • 21st October 2012 / 10:16 pm

      Oh dear. We shall have to share the trophy.

  10. 20th October 2012 / 8:52 pm

    Oh that’s a tough one. But without wanting to gloss over things, I’m sure far tougher for you than your daughter. You probably have much more ‘quality’ time with her, than many other mums for whom the school run is just a twice daily grind, and you’re a role model as well as a mum. I have a lot of time with my kids, but if I’m completely honest, I wish there was the option of occasional weekends with grandparents and I wish I had more work – for my own sanity and esteem, as well as just financially. I guess we’re never happy! Hope you can find some balance that feels right.
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    • 21st October 2012 / 10:18 pm

      You are right, it’s tougher for me than Flea. She’s actually really happy and loves spending time with my folks, especially. I just feel sad at the end of a long day and a commute and coming home to a dark, empty house, and I just wish she was there for a hug. Sigh.

      But I’m also conscious my job is – for the most part – far more flexible than many women experience – we can take days off here and there, I can (if I’m home) finish early and pick Flea up from school, or sneak off to the cinema or out for an early dinner. But lately it’s been so busy we’ve not done much of that, and I’m missing it, I know.

  11. 21st October 2012 / 8:27 am

    With my first two children, I worked full time – from 3mths old they were at the childminder from 8.30 to 5.15. I chose to not do that any more, and fend for myself instead, much like you.
    I’m not a single parent – I have the husband, who takes on equal child acre and house chores with me (WAY better housekeeper and all round towel folder than I am). I work from home, and rarely leave it so am here for pretty much all school runs and bed times.
    And I fail daily as an attentive mother/great wife/successful business person.
    There’s no magic answer, there’s no perfect solution – there’s just us, doing the best we can. And when I think back to my own childhood, I know that no matter how much I screw up because I’m tired and busy and hormonal and just feeling shitty – they’ll be okay. Because my childhood was NOT okay, and I still loved my mother, and was mostly happy, and I turned out (pretty much) okay.
    Children adapt – they don’t NEED you there at their hip every step of the way. What they need is to feel loved and listened to. And I think Flea has that in spades. I guarantee you suffer WAY more than she does when you’re apart. Because children are just plain Heartless Creatures.

    • 21st October 2012 / 10:19 pm

      Yes, I know you’re right and I agree – independence is good and important and I do try and foster it. But missing bedtimes is hard, and I think missing three in a week maybe hit me a bit harder than I was expecting last week. Luckily, I can usually schedule things so that doesn’t happen.

  12. 21st October 2012 / 1:49 pm

    Yes. And if you had known me before the great disasters of 2006-2010, you would know that we truly are twins. I built a job that meant I was flexible enough to be with my kids and compelled myself to make it so successful they suffered.


    I beat myself to a pulp over it. You know what though, despite the fact that that bit was shit and I felt AWFUL, they seriously don’t remember it. The eldest just about does, but she also knows I meant well, wanted to get it right, cared and struggled, but the younger ones have just forgotten. To them it’s a blip – and also just how life is.

    Flea with forget, and forgive and actually she still gets fabulous opportunities and joy and she will encompass, have a work ethic, know about compromise and juggling and all those things.

    I’d love to introduce you to my eldest, who lived through just such a mother as you are. She’s great, well adjusted, able and competent – and Flea will be too.
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    • 21st October 2012 / 10:21 pm

      Sss! Don’t tell anyone about the twin thing.

      I think Flea’s okay these days. Actually what has stuck with her more is the stressful period we went through a couple of years back, when I was often upset and she’d try her best to comfort me. She’ll still talk about “the people on the Internet who told lies and made Mummy cry” which is (as you can imagine) like a knife in the heart every time. Bloody kids. Always remember that stuff and forget the magical picnics you made with love, eh?

      • Merry
        22nd October 2012 / 4:23 pm

        Oh yes, I can imagine. I am *not giving you a hug* on that. Hmmm… Supportive arm squeeze? Is there an emoticon for that?

        Long term, she will remember legoland and Linux demos, promise 😉

  13. Sarah
    21st October 2012 / 2:07 pm

    I think everyone struggles to get the balance right, and no matter which way you go you will always feel like you should be doing more in the other direction, Like the others have said your job means Flea has such great opportunities and its an amazing job which you enjoy.

    • 21st October 2012 / 10:22 pm

      I AM lucky with my job, I really know I am – and I think that’s why I stick with it even though it’s hectic and demanding sometimes. Can’t imagine doing anything else and enjoying it so much

  14. 21st October 2012 / 9:15 pm

    Definitely, that’s why I left my job. I felt that I wasn’t doing it properly or being a proper Mum. My husband travels a lot for work, I had no family childcare support and paid for childcare is elusive in the rural area we live in. I was able to leave my job because my husband could support us all, but it wasn’t an easy decision. Five years on I’m trying to make a new career that enables me to earn some money while being there for the kids.
    It’s never easy, but it sounds like Flea has a great time being looked after by her loving family. Don’t feel guilty, you’re doing your best.

    • 21st October 2012 / 10:23 pm

      Yes, I know finding work/life balance is hard – mine is rubbish at the moment but what I tell myself is that I’m building something that should provide us with a better work/life balance as Flea gets a little older – and honestly, the alternative would be to have a job I don’t enjoy, which doesn’t offer that potential, and be miserable – I’m not sure that’s an option!

  15. 22nd October 2012 / 7:52 am

    Towels, thirds – Yes yes yes. Why dont men see this?

    I dont think there is a perfect balance. You are doing your best, what more can you do.

    I like to tell myself (mostly to ease the guilt) that the time I am away from the children for work is balanced out by the things the money allows us to do together. Not ideal I know but it teaches them good values, and means we can have trips away and days out together.

    As long as you make the most of the time you do spend with Flea, which you sould like you do, then I think you are going just grand.

  16. 22nd October 2012 / 10:40 am

    Tell me about it – things are out of balance here and I’m having too many days when I leave when they are asleep and get home when they’re in bed – I just hang onto the fact that we will have holiday together and things will swing back in the other direction at some point

    And at least I am showing them that you can work and be a parent and that it isn’t all rose tinted glasses but hard work

    Who knows?
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  17. 22nd October 2012 / 11:10 am

    I’m just getting back into working again and get what you are saying. I am trying to be this picture perfect working mum who has a good job, family bliss and is a domestic goddess. At very very best I manage 1.5 at once but honestly if someone says they can do more than that then they are a big fat liar! I also don’t know how people work, raise a family and actually have a social life? They must know something I don’t!
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  18. 22nd October 2012 / 7:39 pm

    It’s a myth that we can do it all. We can’t. Time to be honest with ourselves and others.

    This is not a self indulgent post at all Sally, but a very honest one.

    At my busiest times I remind myself that I (hopefully) am a role model for my kids – A mum who works, who doesn’t always make the correct decisions, where the balance between family, friends and work isn’t always right, but one who tries bloody hard to keep everyone happy, who enjoys her job and feels like (sometimes) she makes a (small) difference.

    You are laying realistic foundations for Flea and showing her that this work, life, relationships, mates stuff isn’t easy to balance. Life can be tough. Decisions can be hard. But it sounds like you and the family are doing a brilliant job and I’m sure she tells you that in her own way every day.


  19. Sarah ffelan
    22nd October 2012 / 8:25 pm

    I don’t think there is a magical solution and we all do our best. Nothing prepares you for the emotional agony that comes with juggling a demanding (however challenging and interesting..) job with parenthood. I wasn’t prepared for it at all and when pregnant with my first my boss at the time said, ‘You better get used to the idea now that you can’t have it all.’ I thought, what a cow. But it is something that I’ve thought about a great deal since. Now, 3 kids down the line and still juggling a long commute a 4 day week etc, it all got the better of me and I’ve had a bit of an early midlife crisis, the peak of which I recall asking in all seriousness, ‘What do I advise my daughters? We have be miss-sold a career dream. Shall I advise them to marry someone rich so they don’t have to work?!’ Don’t worry, I got over that but I have concluded,my advice to them is, do something you love. I’m currently not doing something I love anymore (aye, there’s the rub, hence the crisis) and it’s time to change (I’m working on it…) I don’t have a no-work option and to be honest I do want to work to some degree for me, so I can feel like I have an identity (and because I like nice things…erhm), but I do think it’s time to focus all my energy on doing something I truly love. Sorry, this is all about me, but my point is when I eventually get to it, is that you are doing something you love, Flea sounds like a really balanced, clever girl who gets to build important, strong bonds with her extended family AND gets a clever, interesting, something to be proud of – mum who doubtless makes the most of her quality time with her little girl. And sod the washing and the housework. I keep telling my husband, I will have years ahead of having a tidy, clean house when the kids are older. Right now, sod it!! They’ll only trash it 5 mins after I’ve tidied, anyway…

  20. Jen
    29th October 2012 / 11:33 am

    This is a really tricky one. Do we ever get the balance right? Maybe for a few days or weeks it all seems to fall into place, seems calm and under control but it rarely lasts. Not if you want the adrenalin rush work gives you. One day you’ll look back and release you did your best and Flea will love and respect you for it! Hang in there!

  21. 31st October 2012 / 1:31 pm

    I really struggle with this at the moment too. I am currently working full-time and my 3 year old is in nursery all day long. Some days are easier than others, depending on what projects we have on at work but most of the time I walk around wrapped in a cloak of guilt. I also tend to overcompensate at weekends and make sure we do lots of activities together to make up for all the time I am not spending with him during the week. Just means I’m even more exhausted but at the moment, it is what it is. This is how our life is right now and it won’t be forever so I just need to suck it up for a bit. Parenting is such a privilege but my goodness, it’s hard work juggling sometimes.
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