Karen Kay on why getting help to manage a job, home and family is not failure, but a necessity for many working mothers
PUBLISHED: 16:53 15 January 2015 | UPDATED: 16:55 15 January 2015
Recently, I posted a Facebook status declaring "I need staff!'. Like many of us, I was exhausted by the constant demands I place upon myself. Running a home, managing a career, spending time with family is a relentless round of school-runs, meetings, snatched windows with my sister, parents or husband, and desperate attempts to tick items off a to-do list.
Like most women, I never stop. And I’m one of the lucky ones, with a supportive partner, healthy family and job I love.
My comment received a list of ‘likes’ but, tellingly, I also received a deluge of sympathetic private messages and school-gate asides. Those who’d previously admired my organisational skills and ability to conjure a costume for a school dress-up day overnight were relieved that the price was a messy home. Clearly I’m not alone in being swamped by modern life. Beyond the never-ending deadlines, conference calls, phone interviews and meetings, housework and family responsibilities sometimes feel like an insurmountable challenge. No woman, and no man, can have it all.
Our family home is a mess. I have ‘stuff’ everywhere. Piles of unread magazines. Bags of my daughter’s too-small clothes and shoes that need to be sorted for charity. My own wardrobe from a former life far more glamorous than this one. Paperwork that needs filing or shredding. Fabrics and yarns bought with the best intentions of making clothes. Pots and pans purchased years ago under some delusion that I would one day be an earth mother making soup and shepherds pies for the freezer.
Don’t get me wrong, I am as fond of a spick and span kitchen as Mrs Beeton. It’s just that in our 100 year-old cottage, we have run out of places for everything we’ve accrued in our 21st century life. I’m struggling.
My parents’ generation seems to view domestic help as something that demonstrates either a superior class or pathetic inability to do things for yourself. But I really do need some external support and am now not ashamed to admit it. My husband and I work unpredictable, often long and unsociable hours. I am also (pretty much) a full-time mum. It doesn’t make me a failure that I can’t conjure extra hours to sort the house: I simply need to manage life more like a business and delegate. It makes sense to plough some income back into a support network that streamlines our lives and keeps my sanity intact.
I’m not wonder woman. I exist on less sleep than most (and feel dreadful on it). I don’t have nights out with the girls. I can’t remember the last time I went to the cinema and only watch TV if I’m also doing something ‘constructive’ at the same time.
Was it ever thus? I’m not sure. I know I expect more from my work life than many women of previous generations did. It leaves me fulfilled mentally and rewarded fiscally, but stretched to within a hair’s width of my frequently unwashed locks. ‘Me time’, I’ve concluded, is incompatible with working motherhood. I’m lucky if I slick on some lipstick and get a brush through my hair, let alone indulge in a candlelit bath with one of those novels gathering dust in my living room.
I’m certainly not high-maintenance. Many of my contemporaries have regular salon appointments for facials, massages and therapies. However, I’m a shave-my-legs-in-the-shower girl with a penchant for DIY manicures and a daily Dermalogica skincare regime. Waxes and fake tans can be left to the Strictly Come Dancing entourage. I’m happy as long as I get my session with the fabulous Zoe* and her magic touch with the Aveda highlighting potion every couple of months.
So, here I am, with newly-re-touched roots, blonde again and ready to face 2015. How am I going to do it? With some help. I’ve succumbed to the services of a cleaning agency and someone to help with my garden. And, on the recommendation of a friend, I’ve booked some time with a local girl who works as a freelance personal assistant. Her website makes all sorts of promises to help sort ‘life administration’, undertake ‘de-cluttering and charity shop runs’ and offers ‘small business support’. Sounds like a dream come true, so I’ll report back once I’ve road tested her operation.
And you know what? If it doesn’t work out, and we still live with clutter? No-one ever died wishing they’d ironed more tea-towels and dusted more frequently. Life is too short to sacrifice family fun and stimulating work for a pristine home.