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

Reading in 2015 – food, family and feminism

What sort of a year has it been? A good one, I think. I went back to work. I think I even managed to do some useful things, in between nursery drop-offs, pick-ups, repeated toddler-borne colds, holidays and all the rest. I started putting E into nursery for an extra half-day, to give me a morning to myself each week, which has worked brilliantly. It gives me a slot to run, that I really can’t miss, or there are no other opportunities. And I can get household admin and errands done without a toddler in tow. We have had a lot of good times as a family, and have had more meals with friends than the year before, simply by setting a schedule in advance where we would make time for a Sunday lunch.

Here are some of the things I read and enjoyed this year.

The Silicon Valley Suicides – a daunting read, about high school and normalising the pressure kids are under from parents and from each other.

This piece on stereotype threat from the MIT Admissions office blew my mind, and continues to influence me each day, especially at work. Are we priming ourselves and each other to underperform without realising it?

The writing exercise of ‘greening’ or striking out a specific number of words from a short piece is an appealing one, although I expect very hard to acquire.

To mark the anniversary, the New Yorker republished a huge essay on the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. It’s a stunning piece of work, detailed and engaging and manages to personalise a tragedy on an epic scale.

Oliver Sacks died this year. This piece on coming to terms with the end of his life is characteristically good-humoured and beautiful.

(Many of these stories I found via the excellent Next Draft email newsletter, that brings me links to some of the best writing on the web every day, without overwhelming me. Not a sponsored link, I just like it.)

On food and cooking:

The Myth of Easy Cooking – argues that cooking at home every day is hard, and we should stop pretending that it takes no effort.

Bee Wilson is a voice of incredible reason in the fad and trend-ridden world of food. I am currently mid-way through her brand new book on how we learn to eat, First Bite.  I loved this piece on whether or not you should stick to recipes.

This piece on a ritual of Friday Night Meatballs inspired our own series of open Sunday lunches in 2015, something we are likely to repeat this year.

Eating Well at the End of the Road shines a spotlight on a food community in a remote Alaskan town.

A debate broke out earlier in the year around Food52’s Piglet cookbook tournament: is it sexist to judge a cookbook by the pictures?

On family, kids and work-life balance:

I loved a lot of Rachel Jeffcoat‘s writing at Make a Long Story Short this year, but special mentions go to this piece on parenting a boy that seems to have a lot in common with you, without transferring your own anxieties; and a runner’s creed, for those who hate it (but do it anyway). She also has a reading and writing round-up of her own.

Shauna, aka Gluten Free Girl, is another writer who writes beautifully and with raw honesty about family and parenting. This is a lovely piece on accepting where you are, in the midst of messy, sometimes scary life.

And this piece of hers about having a rhythm and a ritual to eating each week is probably the food piece I referred back to most this year.

I added Miriam Gonzalez-Durantez to my list of inspiring women this year. Lots of good stuff in this interview, on work, and feminism and family (from before the election).

Via brainpickings, a lovely 1925 article on the rewards of fatherhood.

Advice to a daughter – a chance to revisit advice from mother to daughter, scrawled in a notebook and unearthed later.

New York Times writer David Carr died this year. I didn’t know him, but someone who did linked to his 2008 piece about being the father to twin baby girls while being addicted to crack. It is exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure, and not at all what you might expect.

A former clerk for Ruth Bader Ginsburg on being a stay at home dad.

Brilliant and down-to-earth make-up columnist Sali Hughes being interviewed on how she balances work, life, kids and the rest.

And if all that wasn’t enough, Bloomberg’s list of the 38 best stories we didn’t write had me bookmarking every other link to read later.

Friday (non)-food links – 26 Dec 2014

Christmas tree

In place of the usual list of weekly reading (and because I haven’t read much this week), here are a few links to articles I’ve really enjoyed this year. Some are food-related and some are not. I hope you had a good Christmas, and enjoy the New Year.