Friday, 25 June 2010

How (does it feel) to be a domestic goddess

It is eleven weeks today since I walked out of my office for what still might prove to be the last time.

It is eight weeks today since I moved here. To a big house, with a big garden. With three lovely children and a lifetime ahead of helping them grow into lovely people.

So how is it for me?  How is it, after all those agonies and doubts, that uncertainty about "throwing away" my life, to be a stay at home mum with a sideline in law and a dabbling in millinery?

You know the funny thing? I haven't thought about it.  As a lovely friend wrote to me recently:

I hope that this is because your doubts vanished into the mist when you crossed the border

and to a certain extent she is right, they did.  I certainly haven' t agonised about it all in the way I did when making the decision, when still living the life I have left behind.

I think that part of that is because that is just who I am.  I'm notoriously bad at making decisions, but once they're made I'm quite good at living with them.  Having made this decision, here I am.

Part of it, too, must be because I have changed my whole life. How much harder, surely, to be in the same place, seeing the same people, but with your own life entirely different.  It's like when B's away with work:  it always feels that I miss him more than he does me. I'm not saying I love him more than he does me (and given that he's doing the ironing while I play on the internet, he must love me quite a bit), but that it's easier when you're doing different and interesting things not to worry about the niggles.  Here, in a community where many, if not most, of the women I meet are stay at home mums, where I am away from the drive and dynamism of London, perhaps the definition of "success" is a little different. Perhaps I don't need to push myself, to question myself, in quite the same way I did.  Perhaps I don't feel so pushed and questioned from outside.

My parents were here this week, as were my brother and sister-in-law.  Talking to my brother, it's clear that he has many of the same worries I did about achieving, and reaching a nebulous idea of "success", and it's also clear that this because our parents expect it of us.  But somehow, I feel as thought I have managed to put that behind me and that what my parents think no longer bothers me.

My same friend, who is really very wise, put it like this

Our parents expectations were set when we were academically able tiddlers. But the rules were different then. We participated in a straightforward game; work hard, use your noggin and see how far you can get. We've succeeded in that competition and no doubt we could carry on succeeding if we wanted to. But - genuinely - having proved that we can succeed, what use is further success? Just entering the competition (jeez, I hadn't intended to torture the metaphor quite so thoroughly, but in for a penny...) these days comes at a great cost. Post-babies the challenge is less one of intellect and more one of stamina. Are we fulfilled by rushing around like lunatics trying to please everyone? Is it really a waste of a good education not to persevere in this daily grind?

I'm not yet sure that I am fulfilled, but I am definitely no longer rushing around like a lunatic.  And I have seen, this week, that I am, in a different way, still pleasing my parents.   It might not be as impressive to talk about over the bridge table, but (I think) they get it.  They have certainly accepted it. 

And it helps, too, that I read The Undomestic Goddess  by Sophie Kinsella*.  It's not a new book to me, in fact my mother bought it for me a while back (maybe she was subconsciously trying to tell herself something?!), but the lovely Supersinglemum sent it to me as my Secret Post Club gift, and so I re-read it**.

You see it's about a lawyer, who, through a series of extremely unlikely events, becomes a housekeeper.  It's not going to ruin a not entirely unpredictable book if I tell you that she ends up getting offered her old job back on a plate, and turns it down to "clean loos".  Now clearly, I'm not a housekeeper. Or at least, I'm not paid to be a housekeeper, and Samantha doesn't have three small children to look after (now, if she'd been a nanny....) and I can't honestly say I ever worked as hard at being a lawyer as she does, but nonetheless, it struck a chord.

Because I feel liberated.  Liberated from the tyranny of recording my time in six minute units.  (If you're not a lawyer you won't get that one, but I cannot tell you how much  more I enjoy my consultancy work with no little clock ticking away in the top corner of my screen.)  Liberated from the pressure to prove myself.  Liberated from the weight of others' expectations.

Of course, it's not as simple as that. I'm sure, once the novelty wears off, Samantha will start questioning herself.  She will set herself targets (get higher up the Tots 100, get nominated for the MADs, get a millinery business up and running, get through the day without saying "because I said so"), at which she will probably fail.  She will beat herself up. She will redefine success, and start kicking herself towards that new definition.  Because that's the sort of person that she is.

But for the moment she's allowing herself, with occasional blips, to be content.

*which has reminded me I never blogged about the book I read before that: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon.  I did though, touch on it here, if you're at all interested in what I thought.

** which means I have two copies.  Any takers?  It's not going to win any literary prizes, but it made me smile and I enjoyed it.  Let me know and I'll pop it in the post. Would be a good one for the beach - not least because you're not going to get confused if you have to put it down every five minutes to wipe noses, buy ice creams and remove your toddler from the edge of the swimming pool.


  1. Very interesting post.
    My son is 14 now and I'm still a stay-at-home mum. I do a bit of typing for my husband, I'm a governor at my son's old school and I have my amateur dramatics as a hobby. I am very content. Yet sometimes I feel guilty for not getting back into the proper workplace. Or maybe it's more the case that I feel guilty when I tell people, who know of my previous career, university education etc, that I'm still at home.
    I'm not sure I could get back on the treadmill now. Im lucky,we can afford for me not to so that makes my decision easier. I look at my young lad now and don't regret if for a moment.

    ps - I have plenty of time to read the book you're offering as no toddler nose to wipe, but I'll let others have a shout first.

    pps - had such a chuckle at your comment on my post!!

  2. I struggle with this all the time, partly because I never really did achieve a "big success" before going off to have babies. I sometimes feel I'm wasting my four good university degrees. But like you, I realise that success can be measured very differently as well. And I find the second measure to be the more important to me and my family just now.

    BTW, I wish I had so many SAHMs around.

  3. a truly inspiration post!!! You are a star!
    i shall ponder many of the points it raises xxx

  4. I didn't work at all whilst bringing up my eldest (the son who married 4 weeks ago) and have never regretted it for a second as we have a fantastic relationship and he even said in his wedding speech that I was his best and only friend for the first 5 years of his life! I did work for 3 years like a maniac in our own business when my now 10 year old was at nursery and then reception class at school and drove myself ragged - and probably her too - so opted for part time and working as much from home as possible to relieve the pressure. It was the best thing I could have done, and I have time to work in her school library once a week plus go on their school trips as a CRB checked parent helper etc etc which I could not have done had I been working full time.It also gives me time for writing and I feel such a laid back person now, with mh life fully in perspective and control. Hope you continue to enjoy your lovely new way of life too!

  5. I'm going through one of those revaluating stages, im so pleased everything is going so well you for.Its gives me hope for the future.

  6. I really enjoyed reading this post, because although I was a teacher and not a lawyer it sounds very similar to all the things I went through, and sometimes still do.
    I miss my husband more too, simply because he doesn't have time to miss me when he's away.
    I battle with the way I'm getting the working itch now I've been a SAHM for 6 months. I have never not worked, I even missed maternity leave to just carry on because I had too. I went to uni for 6 years and I now think 'why did I bother, what a waste, what am I going to do in 5 years'. Drives me insane sometimes as I always felt the pressure to achieve in a career as I was teh 'academic' child.
    How do you find teh slow paced life of children? Sometimes it's fine and sometimes it makes me wild. I wouldn't change it for teh world though, it was definatley the right decision. I just can't help but panic about teh future. really trying hard just to live and enjoy the now.

  7. Such a great post, I'm so pleased to hear you are enjoying the new phase of your life. We've joked before that as you leave our little world of law for a period of full-on mothering, I, instead am looking to return to the world of ego, 6 minute units & billing targets. I'm in a real pickle at the moment and your post has helped me more than you could ever know.

    MD xx

  8. The one thing my extended bed rest proved to me last summer was that I needed an outlet - without work I found other things to keep me busy and to strive towards and to be fair being paid to achieve does help...

    And my kids are happier without me being all organised around the place

    Enjoy (and if you do launch the millinery business I would love you to do something for me please)

  9. Trish - I read what you do and I feel exhausted!! Why isn't that "proper"? My hope is that as more of us do this sort of bit of this, bit of that, dipping in and out of the workplace, it will become more normal, and we won't worry that other people think we are doing something that is undeserving.... Or maybe that's over optimistic!

    Anyway, on a lighter note, book is yours. Will need your address...

    Mwa - FOUR degrees! I'm feeling a bit uneducated now!. I think though it all is about redefining success. We've thought of it as one thing for so long, it's hard to change that. I'm part way there, sounds like you are too.

    Sorry there aren't other SAHMs where you are. Fancy moving to Scotland?! Isn't your other half from up here?!

    Notes to self - wow! Thank you! Although I think you should probably be concentrating on having the baby and let what's going to happen in a years time wait until then! Am checking in for news regularly!

    Diney - really interesting comparing two different experiences (although of course they're two different children). Clearly (I've seen the pictures) you've done something right with both of them though! Really interesting for me to see how doing different things, at different times, for different reasons, can work. Thank you.

    Walking with Angels - hello. Hope you're doing ok. Have been thinking of you. Hope the re-evaluation is helping.

    A Muse - You're totally right. It drives me insane too. But then I do think it's the right thing for me to do at the moment. I definitely think though that you can't worry about the future... see Modern Dilemma's blog - she's getting back into it after years out!

    MD - Sorry you're in a pickle. Have been thinking about you and hoping that interviews, and life changes, and decisions have been going well. Shout if you want a proper chat about it all.... And very glad the post helped too.

    Muddling Along - I think you're right. The outlet matters doesn't it? I'm sure I wouldn't be nearly so sanguine without the blog. Both as a brain exercise, and as a way of realising how many other intelligent women there are out there, thinking the same sort of stuff...

    Oh, and would be absolutely delighted to make you something - send me an email. You can be my first customer!

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. I'll definitely have to check out this book. Thanks!

  12. It's not a work of literary genius, but you'll enjoy it! (would have sent it to you, but Trish has it now...)

  13. Hey you, Tagged you over here -


I know. I'm sorry. I hate these word recognition, are you a robot, guff things too, but having just got rid of a large number of ungrammatical and poorly spelt adverts for all sorts of things I don't want, and especially don't want on my blog, I'm hoping that this will mean that only lovely people, of the actually a person variety, will comment.

So please do. Comments are great...