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27/06/2011 / melgardener

Nobody knows how you do it

About a year ago, when I was still working full-time, I was introduced to a book called “I Don’t Know How She Does It” by Allison Pearson. For those of you who are not familiar with the book, it chronicles the life of Kate Reddy – fund manager and mother of two. Although the details of Kate’s working life were not exactly my own, there were numerous happy, sad, funny and awful moments in the book to which I could relate. I laughed and cried my way through the book – mirroring every stressed thought, every desperate measure, and every heart break.

Because I enjoyed the book so much, I’ve loaned it to many a friend. It’s been around the traps but recently it made its way back to me. This happy occurrence happened right when I had finished one book and was looking for another so I fell on this book with delight.

Only, this time around, I’m not enjoying it so much.

Rather than being able to relate to the main character, I now just feel immense sadness for her situation. I am finding that I no longer laugh at those moments in the book that are truly awful, but with which I could identify so easily last time around. Now I read about this poor woman being pulled in so many different directions and I cannot bring myself to think “I’ll laugh…because if I don’t, I’ll cry”.

Now I just want to cry – for Kate, for myself, for every mother out there who wants to be everything to everybody. The stress and guilt and overwork do not magically appear one day. They are insidious, slowly creeping up on you and taking over bit-by-bit.

When I worked full-time, “I don’t know how you do it” was a refrain I heard over and over. The sad thing is that part of me loved hearing it because it re-affirmed that my façade was firmly in place. Hearing it fed my confidence and self-esteem, and for a while, it helped me to believe that maybe I could do everything after all.

On the flipside, it was also very hard to hear because it made me feel as though I couldn’t admit how stressed I was, couldn’t talk about all the things I found so hard. Because I didn’t want to shatter everyone’s illusions (including my own).

But I knew deep down that, while it may have looked on the surface as though I had everything under control, I was like a duck swimming – serene on top, panicked activity below.

I think the turning point came when I gave myself permission not to do it all. That little sentence makes it sound so easy but I assure you, it was not. To survive with a full-time job and children you absolutely must believe in yourself every moment of every day. For if you admit you are not coping, what then? I also had to come to terms with my own idea of success and reconsider what that might look like.

I am very happier (and less stressed) now, although I’m not sure I’ll ever master the ‘perfect’ balance of work, life and kids. But I know that I’m a few steps closer and that’s enough for now.

Do you work full-time and have kids? Or do you work part-time? Maybe you are a stay at home mum or dad? What are your coping strategies?

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