What do you see?
My hair is back, looking tidy, my makeup is on, I’m wearing a white suit and smiling. I’m on my way to talk to a group of underprivileged young adults about adversity, success, life.
What they will see initially is someone together and doing pretty well.
If they look closer, what they may see is that I have brown rice smeared on my lapel that Rumi left on me as I walked out. That I have a smudge on my cheek from where guilty tears ran down my face as I left her feeling unwell with her grandparents. They might notice the dark circles under my eyes because I was up all night as she cried in our bed. They might see my fingernails, broken and spilt or my hair, thinning from not having the time to take care of them, or because my body is still recovering from 16 months of breastfeeding.
What they won’t see, no matter how hard they look, is the inner battle of being a working mum. The guilt, the tearing of my heart as I pursue my passion but leave her most days. The mental and physical effort it takes to be at a meeting. They won’t know that my hair is back because my daughter was an octopus this morning and showering was out of the question. That I put my makeup on in the car because her tentacles were wrapped over my face and any attempt to put her down resulted in screams from a B-grade horror; that to get to them today meant planning babysitters, school pickups, packed food, and Panadol for her pain.
I recently watched the Handmaids Tale. I was warned against it because of its intensity, especially for mothers, and because I stopped watching violence 11 years ago. There’s no doubt the shock value of torture and separation. I can’t help but wonder though if the pain it evokes is somewhat linked to a bit of truth. For me, it absolutely brought my choices into account. Watching it was like having my eyes held open against my will staring straight into the fire at the judgments and guilt and consequences of combining work and family. Maybe from others- definitely from myself. This may sound extreme. I assure you, ask a working mum or dad and the pain can be very real. Many of us have found ways to hide it, justify it, accept it, live with it, downplay it, celebrate it, and work with it. In a society that celebrates achievement, success, equality, and independence what choice do we really, practically, have? (I’ll admit there are days I wish to throw it all in and live in a camper by the ocean homeschooling and growing vegetables.)
The other way some women handle the immense pressure and mental and emotional load is to rebel against the high achieving standard many of us set. Think Bad Moms, or that comedic duo who laugh and joke that perhaps their kid does have nits.. ‘who knows? We don’t actually bother brushing their hair hahahahaha’ *insert laissez-faire head throw back and uncontrollable laughter.
I tend to not find this funny, or helpful. I feel like it’s shielding a sense of overwhelm. Of not being able to manage it all. And this is real and something worth feeling the pain over. How else do we address the injustice and the challenge and what it means for us? To me there’s always some sense in trying to make it happen, in putting the effort in that will be felt and seen by our children. There’s a very delicate balance, or perhaps tension, which I’m sure we all stumble across from time to time when all the stars align, between self care, and self sacrifice and it feels good. It’s kind of like parenting. So much struggle and yelling and frustration and then that one little impromptu kiss from tiny sticky lips that makes it all worthwhile.
Its a tough gig, there’s no denying it. I wonder if it’s made better by sharing? By coming together in our efforts? By having the occasional days where hair brushing is too hard but then jumping back on the horse the next day. For me I find comfort in the small wins, not in giving up or throwing it all in. Each journey is different, each struggle takes its toll. No judgment here. Just know that if you’re out there trying really hard, feeling it day after day and wondering if you’re alone, that you are absolutely not. I’m here too. So many of us are here, looking good and working hard. But if you reach a liiiitle further in, you’ll see that underneath the suit jackets and mascara, we are all in it together, feeling all the feels.
I feel as though I’ve ranted. Hopefully there’s some sense in there, somewhere. Some measure of comfort and connectedness. This is our 3rd night awake in a row with sick and screaming Rumi, so I’m honestly too tired to know.
Take care, Tiffany
PS. About the group I’m meeting today - they may not see the challenges, but I’ll be sure to fill them in. Transparency is key!