Sometimes, it’s just hard.

This week was hard.

On Monday, Flea’s school was closed for an annual holiday. Talking to Flea on Sunday evening, I promised Flea I’d do an hour of work in the morning, and then we’d do something fun for the rest of the day.

I worked into the small hours to get everything done before Monday dawned. But with ten client projects on the go and a phone that just would NOT stop ringing, it still got to 1pm on Monday before I was able to leave my desk. We went to the local soft play, where Flea played while I managed to fall asleep. We raced back home so I could drop her at cubs, after a quick dinner of cheese on toast, because there was no other food in the house.

Tuesday, Flea was at her Dad’s, so I should have had a clear day in the office. Only I ended up having car problems and spent most of the day walking back and forth to the local garage before ending up at the car dealership getting a new tyre – which took over two hours, during which I also managed to fall asleep. I got home late, missed a weekly commitment I have to help with the local Beaver scout group, and spent the evening doing all the work I should have done during the day.

Wednesday, I was on the train to London for 8am, which gave me the chance to grab a couple of hours sleep. I had a full day of meetings, and because I wasn’t home until almost 10pm, Flea’s Dad collected her from school, took her swimming and then she slept at his place.

On Thursday, I had a dentist appointment, then a full day of work, followed by a two hour training session in the evening – another evening out meant I couldn’t look after Flea, so my parents collected her from school and took her to their place for the night. The training session was important but it did mean I didn’t sit down for dinner until 10pm, and I ate at my desk, while I finished up some urgent website copy.

Friday was a full day in the office and I did my best to catch up. My Mum rang to tell me she thought Flea was coming down with a cold, so I told her I’d pick her up Flea early so we could spend some time together. But I couldn’t get away from my desk until 5pm, which meant Flea staying in late room almost until closing time.

As I drove up to the school and saw the signs outside, my heart sank – the Christmas fair had completely passed me by. I’m sure paying attention to that stuff is part of the Mothering Contract, isn’t it?

I arrived at school at Flea raced out with her best excited face on and croaked, Β Can we go the fair, Mummy? Please? Or have you got to work?”Β 

“Of course we can go,” I said, before realising I’d left home without my wallet, so Flea wouldn’t be able to play any games at the fair, or visit Father Christmas. I think at that point both of us were quite close to tears.

Flea took it with such good grace, I was shamed into popping round to my brother’s house (he lives a minute away from Flea’s school) to borrow a fiver. And we spent a lovely 20 minutes at the fair, even if most of the best stuff was gone by the time we got there. Then we came home, played board games for an hour, ordered dinner (the fridge is completely empty) and watched a movie, which I fell asleep 20 minutes into.

I woke up just before 10pm to find Flea mid-way through a second viewing of Despicable Me 2, and I took her off to bed.

I know in the scheme of things what I do doesn’t REALLY count as a hard week. There were no coal mines, everybody was warm and healthy and had enough to eat.

But oh, it feels like a hard week when you’re not doing your child justice. When she barely sees you. When you miss her. When it’s the sort of week that ends with you hiding in the car, in the dark, because it’s quiet there and the phone won’t ring, and you can take a breath and promise that next week, next month, next year, you’ll do a better job because she deserves better.

My mothering-guilt-complex is never helped at this time of year by all those amazing parents who are busy crafting and cooking and making home-made lovely things and finding time to blog about them. I’m not judging you if that’s your bag. I’m really not. I’m judging me because I wouldn’t even know where to find a bag. I can’t find time to remember where I put the council tax bill, much less get round to paying it.

I’ve long thought life’s a bit like an impossible triangle – there are friends at one corner; then there’s your child; and then there’s your job. And at any given time you can do a good job at two things, but it’s pretty much impossible to do all three well. And for all the well-meaning friends who tell me to take it easy, and take a day off, they’re not single parents, they aren’t self-employed and life’s just not always that simple.

This year has flashed past so fast I can hardly take it in – and if I have a promise to myself it’s to get balance in 2014. This year I almost lost touch with one of the most important friends in my life, simply because I didn’t devote enough time or attention to that relationship.

I don’t want 2014 to be like that.Β Because I look at Flea, and I remember how her face lights up when she asks me when I might be finished with work so we can play, and I say,Β “I’ll turn the computer off now”, and it just makes my heart hurt.

Is it just me?



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. 30th November 2013 / 4:51 pm

    No, it’s not just you. I’m not a single parent and my salary isn’t solely relied on to pay the bills, but I still often struggle. I think working from home, in the type of line of work that we do, is amazing and has SO many benefits. But, sometimes, it can be really hard to juggle it all properly (and well). I have afternoons when a deadline’s due and hate myself for plonking my 3 year old in front of CBeebies while I crack on. But then there are other days, holidays and good days, when we get to do fun stuff and have amazing opportunities that wouldn’t happen if I had a regular 9-5. On those days I think the bad days make it worth it. For what it’s worth, I’m sure Flea thinks you’re doing an incredible job. I know from the photos I see of her that she looks to me like a happy, fulfilled, bright and sparky child. You have much to be proud of Sally. If you weren’t so anti-hugs I’d offer you a *hug* round about now.
    Molly recently posted..Getting outside and off the sofa (again)My Profile

    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 12:49 am

      You’re right, it’s part of the nature of the job we do and there are upsides and good days that balance out the not so great ones, I guess. Just lately the balance doesn’t feel quite right, though.

  2. 30th November 2013 / 4:54 pm

    That does sound like a difficult week. I’ve worked full time as a social worker too (currently on maternity leave!) and I know how it feels when doing one thing you have to not do another, and smeone / something always loses out. It’s hard. All you can do is your best, and maybe set limits in your day where possible, so only work between the hours of…and have a lunch break. Take care of yourself xxx
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    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 12:49 am

      I literally can’t remember when I last took a lunch break – somewhere around 2001? πŸ˜‰

  3. Snaffleamummy
    30th November 2013 / 5:37 pm

    This time of year is horrendous for lack of time and extra commitments.
    Whilst I am guilty of sharing many food and craft pictures rest assured that there are also many forgotten school events and such like. Missed reading meetings, school show, nursery photo day and have been guilt tripped into begging work to let me go to Christmas show (subject to me remembering to actually go)
    I don’t have much by way of advice, even good organisation can’t prevent last minute deadlines or slips of the memory. Just know you are not alone in it though and flea knows you are Awsome

    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 12:51 am

      You’re right, some of this is down to the time of year – there are so many extra calendar things to remember, aren’t there? And I do have the upside of not having to ask permission to go to these things providing I remember them – working for yourself isn’t ALL bad. Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 12:52 am

      Oh, go on then…

  4. 30th November 2013 / 9:18 pm

    I know. It’s not just you. I’d write more but I have an 8000 word deadline for tomorrow, three of the children sitting here asking why I’m working at 9pm on a Saturday night, and my brain is addled. It’s bloody hard.
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    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 12:53 am

      The tiredness doesn’t help, does it? I know for half of last week I was so tired, I knew that if I’d slept more, I’d have achieved more, but that’s no use when you’ve got a deadline and something has to be done – you have to stay up until it’s done! Bloody laws of space and time.

  5. Frugal queen
    30th November 2013 / 9:59 pm

    Flea has a good life and has a mum,dad and grandparents who love and care for her. You are being a brilliant role model not only to her but everyone. Your work is not nine to five. Look back over your blog for the year and look at the lovely times you two sharexxxx

    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 12:55 am

      Thanks Jane, you’re quite right and we’re far from the only people who don’t have a 9-5 work life, I know.

  6. 30th November 2013 / 10:04 pm

    It is a nightmare. My OH can’t understand why I don’t work for myself (doing what, I’d like to know) as that’s what he’s always done – he’s a farmer. But at least being employed I can switch off and manage my time without feeling guilty. Although I’m married, I do basically everything looking after N outside of work (OH doesn’t take holidays, or days off), as well as anything else – so the house isn’t cleaned regularly. I only get away with stuff because we’ live within 1.5 miles of the rest of OH’s family, so if needed N can generally pop over to theirs when I need time out to go somewhere without him when the OH’s not around. My mum’s terminally ill and in a hospice, so at the moment I’m there pretty much every evening after picking up N from nursery and dumping him at home with OH. I rarely eat with them, miss bedtime lots, and struggle to get a big enough block of time to take N anywhere including just out to play. It means he’s getting a lot more tv time than I’d want…luckily he’s too young to notice (I hope) and take is as anything except routine.

    I just hold out for the fact that it’ll be a temporary thing, once we’ve got over the grieving, we’ll hopefully get back to whatever normal is.

    So anyone who’s a single parent and self employed, definitely has my admiration.
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    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 12:55 am

      Good grief, I know how lucky we are not to have experienced any major health problems in the family this year – everyone’s been blessed with good health, thank God. I can’t imagine how tricky and tiring it must be for you. Here’s to 2014 being easier πŸ™‚

  7. 30th November 2013 / 10:26 pm

    You are certainly not alone feeling like this. I always worry about my three – the fact that I am a bit short with them sometimes, I’m not at home a lot of the time. I worry that in earning a crust and getting on with my education and whatever else I do – that yes, I am a good example to them. But is spending time with them worth more than being a good example ever could be?
    I am sure that as mothers we are both being too harsh on ourselves. Your daughter will look back and understand your feelings. Especailly when she too has children of her own and is trying to balance her own life. This post is really thought provoking. I hope that you can manage to achieve the work/life balance that we all crave. x
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    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 12:57 am

      Thanks, I’m glad I’m not the only one that questions whether my priorities are right. I have always been a believer that life’s short and for living – having lost two of my brothers at an early age, it’s something that’s a daily thought, and I hate the thought that I’ve spent more time working than living this year.

  8. 30th November 2013 / 10:27 pm

    I know the feeling. I have no advice, just sympathy, empathy and an echo of your resolve to try to pace things better in 2014. xxx
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    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 12:57 am

      I am determined to do better next year. Determined.

  9. 30th November 2013 / 10:27 pm

    I don’t know what to say, but I think you’re pretty marvellous myself. I am in awe of how much you do, and what a wonderful child Flea is. You made her. You.
    TheBoyandMe recently posted..365 #48My Profile

    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 12:57 am

      Aw, thanks for that morale booster πŸ™‚

  10. Nikki
    30th November 2013 / 11:31 pm

    That does sound like a tough week. Yes, we’ve all been there but that doesn’t help you. We do properly sympathise though. 3 months into a house/kitchen extension and my normally obsessively tidy house is a bomb site, have been washing up in the bath (in bowls I add) for weeks, taking washing to my mums house, and cooking on two camping stoves and a microwave and working my ass off for clients in retails silly season. Ended up in tears the other night. πŸ™ Have totally neglected the kids and resorted to TV parenting as it’s the only thing that still works and is accessible in our downstairs.

    Don’t beat yourself up too much though……As my mum would (and continues to) says is it will all come out in the wash πŸ™‚ flea understands and she’ll understand how important a good work ethic is too.

    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 12:58 am

      Oh goodness, building work? That’s horrible! I hope she’s learning a work ethic from me, despite the fact I don’t have an office, or a suit, or anything of that nature!

      • Nikki
        1st December 2013 / 8:04 am

        Ditto here – self employed so I work from home in our converted garage/office so no suit either! I’m not sure my two have a clue what I do other than “work”

  11. 1st December 2013 / 12:15 am

    It all sounds familiar to the extent that I’m feeling that anxiety that comes with the awareness that, yet again, you have to accept that you cannot beat physics – you can’t be in two places at once, and you can’t live an hour more than once. It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard.
    But…I know my children do know they are loved, they do know that they are the centre of my world and they do know that when I’m really needed I will be there, by hook or by crook. We all have to accept good enough sometimes.
    Remember to take care of yourself somewhere in there too.
    Caz Stone recently posted..CurrentlyMy Profile

    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 1:00 am

      Damned physics.

      I am sure Flea knows she’s loved and I know (rationally) that whatever happens to kids in their family, they’ll accept as the norm. Certainly, I did growing up, and never considered my own rather unusual childhood to be anything other than perfectly normal. I guess it’s just pressure we put on ourselves, isn’t it? Because when you love someone you want to do it perfectly, you want to do everything, and I’m not very good at accepting good enough in, well, most things!

  12. 1st December 2013 / 12:00 pm

    Sally, I am in complete AWE of how much you achieve! I can’t imagine how you do it all as a single parent. Even in our two-parent family it becomes a major logistics exercise when either of us has to travel to attend anything. We’ve both got to be in different places this Thursday and have had to call in favours from three different families and pay to get my son into nursery for an extra day as well! So how you do what you do is quite beyond me! I KNOW Flea knows she is loved, and anyone who’s seen the two of you together can see how close your relationship is. I think most of us working parents feel guilty for any time we spend away from our kids, and it is a very difficult balancing act.
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  13. 1st December 2013 / 12:29 pm

    I juggle a part time paid job and 2 part time self employed one around my kids so know where you are coming from! Yesterday had to drag my kids out of bed to spend the day selling books… Got manic week in run up to Xmas. Hate the fact they spend too much time at after school club leaving less time for them to be with me or friends..
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    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 9:06 pm

      I don’t know how you manage to do all you do and studying!

  14. 1st December 2013 / 1:05 pm

    You devote a lot of time to doing interesting and fun things with Flea, but you’ve had a difficult week and you’re feeling the guilt that comes with being a busy mum. You’re working hard for all the right reasons so don’t be too hard on yourself, although finding a better work/life balance in 2014 sounds like a good plan.
    Jean (notsupermum) recently posted..ThankfulMy Profile

    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 9:07 pm

      Amen to that!

  15. 1st December 2013 / 1:31 pm

    Wow that’s some week you’ve had there! But, don’t beat yourself up over it, there’s so many times this year that I’ve read something you’ve done or seen a picture you’ve posted and I’ve thought how lucky you and Flea were to be doing something or going somewhere.

    Give yourself a break x x
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    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 9:07 pm

      Thanks Cass, we do get a lot of opportunities and have a lot of fun experiences, I know.

  16. Mummypinkwellies
    1st December 2013 / 2:15 pm

    What a week! There’s no wonder you’re questioning yourself. But, how many weeks are this bad? If you answer all or most of them then maybe something needs to give. If it’s the minority then I’d say that was pretty normal for a single, hard working Mama like you. Doesn’t make it any easier when these weeks hit though!

    I think, like others above, that you do an amazing job with Flea. You just need to look at all the amazing stuff you guys have done this year. I actually think you’ve got the balance just right. You are a great role model for Flea, you work really hard but you don’t work ALL the time and you manage to create some amazing memories for your girl. x

    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 9:07 pm

      Probably about 50/50 at the moment, to be fair – it’s not something I’d want to happen over the long term, that’s certainly true.

  17. 1st December 2013 / 3:46 pm

    I get where you are coming from. It’s really hard when you know you haven’t been able to give everything the same level of input and it blows when you know that your child is the one that is missing out. BUT Flea is a happy, healthy little girl, who has a great support system around her, activities planned etc. Yes, it’s not the same as time with you but also she is fine and will be fine.

    The past couple of weeks I’ve neglected my kids severely, my 3 day a week job has spread to 6 days and has been stressful and annoying. I forwarded the office phone to my mobile just so that I could leave the office and then took phone calls until after 8pm each night. Compared to my usual 9-5 this has been too much for the kids and resulted in the 4yr old begging me not to answer a call. I agreed and let the answerphone get it because he was right, it was his turn for attention. As much as it hurt for me to realise it.

    You need to take a proper break, I don’t mean a holiday as such, more of a break where you work normal hours and get some full nights sleep. There’s only one thing for it thought really! You need to get a personal assistant!
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    • Sally
      1st December 2013 / 9:08 pm

      I have a PA! Dread to think what the last month would have looked like without her πŸ™‚

  18. 1st December 2013 / 7:12 pm

    I don’t know how you do it all!
    You know, I think you and Flea are an amazing team. Yes there are weeks like this one where you feel like you can’t do much with her, but think of all the places you are able to take her, and the experiences she’s having!
    Hell, I’m at home with my two and there’s still no way in hell I’m gonna do all the crafting and baking etc. They get that at school.
    I know you understand what a big achievement it is for me to even get to the MADs for just those couple of days. Trying to get childcare, funding and the time to travel all at once is insanely difficult at the best of times, isn’t it?
    Sending you *hugs*… even you love my hugs. THERE ARE PHOTOS! πŸ˜‰
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  19. Eric
    2nd December 2013 / 1:21 am

    When Juggling, The kids are the one ball that cannot ever fall. Which really means you can’t drop the work ball either. So, In my opinion, if the cuts need to be made, it is the friends who must suffer. Good luck finding that balance in the coming year.

  20. 2nd December 2013 / 12:16 pm

    So weird – you just described my previous week to an absolute T! Except I didn’t forget the Christmas Fair, I forgot Mufti Day and had to race Big Sis back home and get her changed. And my car was in the garage for five hours – during which time I sat in the soft play over the road tapping away on my laptop while Lil Sis played.
    I just need A: one more day in each week B: five more hours in each day C: the ability to not have to sleep at all, so I can work right through the night (instead of JUST until 1.30am)… πŸ™‚

  21. 2nd December 2013 / 3:24 pm

    You are right about the triangle – I reckon that I’m lucky if I have 2 out of the 3 sort of going ok at any one time

    PLEASE be kinder to yourself – you are doing great it is just super hard and more like juggling than balancing in my experience
    Muddling Along recently posted..How do I get my midwife to listen to me?My Profile

  22. 3rd December 2013 / 8:13 am

    Swings and roundabouts innit? You could have an office job and work 9-5 (8 to 6 in reality) and have have to drop Flea at a childminders first thing in the morning and pick her up just in time for bed in the evenings, or you could do things your way and have the odd bonkers week but all the opportunities and excitement that come with what you do for a living.

    I had a bit of a mad week last week- spent 6 hours in the office on Sunday, was at work before 6am 3 days on the trot and then up Friday and Saturday night twice with Ned. Even when things quietened down, I was too knackered to appreciate it πŸ™
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  23. 4th December 2013 / 12:57 pm

    Mummy guilt! We all have it – but it doesn’t serve us well. One look at the lovely smiling face Flea has in all the pics tells me she is a happy bunny. And that’s what counts!

  24. 4th December 2013 / 2:04 pm

    Years ago, on some awful work training course, we were recommended to read a book called Your Best Year Yet by Jinny Ditzler. I am not a fan of self help books – I find most of them nonsense. But this one really helped when life was just getting so hectic I could barely think.
    Try it, you never know, if might help.
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  25. 4th December 2013 / 10:23 pm

    Crikey that does sound like a tough week but do you know what? you just need to give yourself a big pat on the back for all that you have crammed in even though it sounds like you were aiming to do more. You’re still doing probably 3x more than the average person fits in and juggling all those balls ain’t easy. I don’t doubt that Flea thinks you’re a hero. We all have those days/weeks/months were we wish we could be more… more patient, more available to our kids, more on top of things, more efficient, more crafty, more home-makery, more business go-gettery (yes, that’s a word…!), but ultimately we just have to roll with the punches and deal with what life throws at it in the best way we can day by day. Sounds to me like you’re doing a cracking job xx
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  26. 10th December 2013 / 10:54 pm

    This is a tough time of year and we all miss things and feel that we are letting our children down sometimes. That does sound like a hellish week though but you always maintain perspective Sally.
    I too have vowed to get the balance better, stop saying yes to others and focus on my family and friends most of all.
    H x
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