What parents don’t do – making it work by letting things go

Sometimes a work space, sometimes a tea table for toys

This is a bit of a digression for me. But I have read quite a few things about parenting recently that I wanted to respond to. (Don’t worry – normal food-related service will resume soon).

The particular spark for this post came from a discussion between food bloggers Molly Wizenberg and Ashley Rodriguez about ‘how do you do it all’ with kids, a question that they rejected and turned into ‘what don’t you do?’

I really like this idea: that instead of sharing our ‘tips’ for ‘having it all’ or ‘making it all work’, we should share more often what things we choose *not* to do as parents, to make time for the things we want or need to do. It feels like a more human and achievable way to make progress.

So, in that spirit, a list of things I deliberately don’t do. I’m not proud of all of these, but they are all conscious choices that I make in order to fit in the things I want to do. I’m also aware that some of these are luxuries that I am very fortunate to be able to afford.

  • Cleaning – I have a cleaner who also does the ironing. This makes an incredible difference. 
  • Tidying up – Our house is full of clutter. All surfaces are covered in paperwork, unopened post, and magazines I can’t bring myself to throw out (even 6 month old copies of The Economist).
  • Cook dinner every night – I do prioritise cooking from scratch, because its something I enjoy, but lots of dinners are assemblies of previously cooked things, and lots are just bread and cheese and maybe soup. Or beans on toast for those in the house who will eat them.
  • Work past 9:30pm (most days) – I aim to be at the office from 9:30am – 4pm. I make the best possible use of my 1 hour commute in and out, but I am usually off-the-clock from 5pm until whenever my daughter is in bed. That usually means I get an hour to an hour and a half of work in the evening – unless there’s something that needs urgent attention. 
  • Books – I no longer read books that much. I listen to podcasts when I’m travelling to and from work. I Instapaper lots of articles and blogs to read when I have some spare time, but I never get time to read as many as I bookmark. Part of me is sad about this, but it’s the right thing for me for now. 
  • Follow the news – I don’t watch/read/listen to the news. This is sometimes a bit of an issue for work, but I don’t read newspapers (although I sometimes buy them for the food section). I no longer really listen to radio news, except sometimes in the car.
  • Go out in the evenings – It might go without saying, with a 2 year old, but I don’t go to the pub, bars, the cinema, the theatre, restaurants in the evening. This is a bit of an exaggeration, and it’s not completely child-induced: we did relatively little of this before she came along too. And I scarcely drink, so it’s not a big sacrifice.
  • TV – Again, I’m not proud of this, and it’s not a high-minded stance. I don’t watch TV. Again, that’s not completely true (and I watch plenty with E), but I don’t watch box sets or TV series. I don’t know what’s happening on Masterchef. I have never seen an episode of Game of Thrones or House of Cards. I didn’t make it all the way through The Wire.
  • Go shopping  – this isn’t a big sacrifice for me, as I was never a huge fan of shopping-as-leisure activity. But everything is ordered online now – groceries, jeans, kids clothes, stationery. My last visit to a shopping centre was probably 6 months ago. 

The other side of this is that there are a team of people behind me helping me do things:

  • My amazing and supportive husband
  • A cleaner
  • An amazing nursery that looks after E three or four days a week, 8am-6pm.
  • My parents and parents-in-law, who are always ready to step in and cover the inevitable gaps that emerge with one-off work events, travel, illnesses and the like.

I don’t have a nanny at the moment, but one of the things reading lots of other women’s stories has taught me is that it can be an important way to make things work when you are working. I am well aware that I am extremely fortunate to be in this position, and to have all these resources to draw on. But I think it’s helpful to be honest about how things work from the inside, what it takes to keep things on the rails. Only by being honest with each other can we set realistic expectations.

So it’s not that I’m ‘doing it all’. I am deliberately not doing things. And I am part of a network of support, so what we do, we do together.

Inspired by:

There are lots of blogging mums that have helped me figure out what I want my parenting life to look like. This post was particularly inspired by:

Anna Whitehouse a.k.a Mother Pukkaher ‘I quit’ post was a great description of what it looks like when it’s not working, and how even well-meaning companies can make parenting incredibly hard.

Rachel Jeffcoat at Make a Long Story Short is one of my favourite I-will-read-anything-she-writes writers and her post on kicking smug parenting to the kerb is a great encouragement to be honest, and to be understanding of however other parents make it work. 

Cup of Jo has a short series of interviews with mums making it work for them.

Selfish Mother is a great desintation for all sorts of articles on realistic parenting. This one is on redefining having it all. 

The Dualista is a blog that doesn’t seem to have kept going but the whole premise of its short life was to interview women combining the home and work parts of their lives.  What switched me on to this was an interview with the brilliant beauty writer Sali Hughes

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