I am gonna be straight with you, as ever. Having kids almost cost us our marriage. Not because of anything the lovely little
turds sweethearts did. Although it would definitely have helped if they’d slept, EVER. But because we are set up to struggle. I could go on for days about all the contributing factors, and I’ve referenced a few of them below.
But. Through commitment and tenacity, we have arrived at the most fantastic version of our lives SO FAR, with plans to push those boundaries even further. It’s time to start talking about this.
6 years ago, I was going on maternity leave, ready to have Louis. Nick was digging up a massive hole in our garden, I still don’t know why… I knew we were having a baby. I did not know that this baby was having us.
I’ve written and spoken about the shit show that followed many times- the confusing, contrasting emotions- my love for my baby vs my misery in my new role. One I’d applied for without seeing the job spec, as most of us do. (Almost wanna go off on a tangent here about how deciding to have a baby is a bit like voting for Brexit. But I’ll save that thought stream for another one.)
In 2013, I didn’t see anyone talking about the struggles of motherhood. I wasn’t on Instagram. I’m sure it was emerging elsewhere, but I didn’t find it- that conversation I was desperate to have. Thank all the gods we are having it on the daily now.
But you know what we’re still not talking about enough? The realities of trying to nurture, or even maintain our relationships with our partners alongside parenthood. Because that shit is fricking hard.
The erosion of sleep. The division of labour. The shift in dynamics. The assumptions. The injustice. The disconnection. The lack- of time, of space, of acknowledgement, gratitude, love.
All of this unfolding inside a society that is pretty clear about who should be doing what and how they should be feeling about it. Because this is just NORMAL, right?
Only this morning in my coaching group, I was helping one of my clients articulate her frustration- that her partner obviously wouldn’t come home on his lunch break to hoover up, and yet there is a sense that when she is working at home, sometimes whilst caring for 1 or 2 children, that she should also be on top of the house.
We are living through evolving times, with greater numbers of women than ever entering into entrepreneurship instead of returning to employment or remaining in the home full time after maternity leave. We are all working out the logistics as we go along, and it’s time to get clear that the old ways of doing things don’t fit. Maybe they never did.
This is not just about the impact on women- our oppression, the pay gap, and the rest. It’s about men too. The way that conditioning tells them- ‘you are the provider’. No matter how much you hate what you do, and wish you could be with your family more, TOUGH SHIZZLE, ‘man up’ *vom*, *eye roll*, and get on with it.
It’s overwhelming, it’s suffocating, it’s anxiety provoking. (I’ve heard, and I believe it, now).
Meanwhile, I must confess, at home, I was all AT LEAST YOU GET TO ESCAPE. At least you get to work/ sit on the train/ eat/ pee in peace. I was not grateful for the way that that income facilitated my risk taking in my business- I felt I was almost owed the money, in exchange for my sacrifices. And in a way I kind of was, but I should still have been totally grateful for what went into bringing it in.
Moving towards equality at home means engaging with each others’ perspectives with open hearts. Remembering why you were together in the first place- not to score points or to win the martyrdom championships, but to be happy- individually, and as a couple. Equality doesn’t mean doing half of everything, exactly the same. But it means challenging our ideas about what is possible for each of us, and what’s normal.
Yes- there’s a period of time when babies rely on their mothers to meet their needs- growing them, birthing them, perhaps feeding them. Beyond this, and sometimes alongside this, how are we yet to accept that dads are equally as capable of parenting as mothers? How are we tolerating the fact that all parents don’t have equal access to fair compensation for their work? Or to flexible working? How are there still places with baby changing only in the women’s loos (saw that at Stansted last year FYI).
I wanna talk about this stuff, and encourage you to challenge your employers, your friends, yourselves to prompt a wider change, of course I do.
But ultimately what I think would make a big difference would be to get chatting about how it looks and feels parenting, living and loving (or not) against this backdrop. Many women tell me they feel that they and their partners live as co-parents, a team- yes, but not a couple. When did we all agree to give up feeling loved and valued? When did we trade our kids’ happiness and wellbeing for our own? Surely they go hand in hand?
Nick and I did a short session at our International Womens Day event, centred around our experience of shared parental leave, followed by shared flexible working and parenting. I sort of made that phrase up because what are the words for that?
We are both running our own companies, mostly from home. We share school runs and family reads, making breakfasts and packed lunches, playing chess at 6am and bedtimes. Nick does most of the cooking. I do most of the washing. We each pay the same amount each month into the family pot. Surely this should be normal, for people who want it that way? (Cue Backstreet Boys in my head for rest of day).
Whether you want to move towards more equality in your practical arrangements, or simply to understand each other’s perspectives better, so that you can *possibly* like each other again, we wanna hold space for that. We have made ALL the mistakes I reckon, and we’re not shy about sharing them, because there are some really simple steps you can take to alleviate the uuugggghhhhh feelings.
Have you ever asked each other, for instance, ‘How is this working for us? Are you happy with this? What can we do for each other to make this better? What do I need to understand about how you’re feeling?’
We often don’t have these conversations because we assume there’s no other way- this is just how it is. Or because we are afraid of what we will hear. We have each said, and heard some challenging stuff over the past 10 months particularly. It’s not been easy. But we’ve basically unravelled 5 years of misunderstandings, frustrations and struggle.
So I guess what I’m saying is- we’ve opened up to each other- mother to mother, about our relationships with our kids and ourselves. Lets invite our partners in.
What conversations would you like to see us open up and explore? Maybe on social media, or over coffee and cake at DILAM HQ?
If you are where we were, I want you to know you can choose something different. You deserve something better- after all, parents are people too.