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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 21 February, 2019
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My reality as a working mother: Anxiety, guilt, baby wipes and coffee

Being a working mother is a crash course in muddling through, writes Sharon Mannion.

Sharon Mannion

WHEN I FELL pregnant, I had a very clear idea of the kind of mother I would be. A working one for sure. Slim within a few months, mentally balanced, well turned out.

The kind of mother who doesn’t give into tantrums at the supermarket checkout, who only allows their child the recommended amount of TV time daily, but aims for less than that.

The kind who loves her baby, but doesn’t bore people to death with tales of how “He’s started pointing”, or insist on counting his age in months, far beyond his sixth birthday.

This mother, let’s call her Samantha, continues to strive forward in her career and has no issues maintaining a thriving intimate relationship with her husband.

She doesn’t waste romantic time starting arguments with lines like: “You’re not doing enough tummy time”, “No, I’m more tired than you”, and “Why would you eat the last two Jaffa Cakes?”

Samantha doesn’t worry if her child isn’t hitting developmental milestones right on cue. She knows that all children develop in their own time.

She’s neither anxious nor guilty, has a healthy relationship with coffee and hasn’t cleaned her whole house with face wipes since she was a student.

Samantha’s sensible, smart. She’s great. Unfortunately, she’s not me.

Like those contestants on Total Wipeout, who believe they’re going to skim over the red balls without falling off and getting themselves covered in shit, reality hit me full force with a bang.

Muddling

I had anticipated coping with this new arrival the way one might prepare for a new pet.
More time consuming than a gerbil, but definitely less than a horse, I assumed.

I still wanted, and financially needed, to work, but far from gliding back elegantly, like a swan on the Grand Canal, I stuttered, stalled and chugged all the way, like the 96 reg Cinquecento I learned to drive in.

It doesn’t help that once you’re six months into this baby lark, there’s a palpable assumption that you have your stuff together. That you know what you’re doing. That you’ve thought everything through, and are ready to embark on the perfect work/home balance for your family.

Hmm.

I work for myself, as does my husband, mostly outside the home but often in it. It means we’re in a position to juggle childcare between us, for the most part.

Yes, we are lucky. But on days when there’s more spaghetti on the wall than in anyone’s mouth, or I’ve finally ran out of verses for the wheels on the bus, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t envy a routine of dropping off in the morning and picking up in the evening.

Being a working mother is a crash course in muddling through.

The epitome of moving through life, moment to moment with a dose of anxiety, a dollop of guilt and an IV drip of coffee, in a constant state of making it to the next meal, the next nap, the next work deadline, the next bedtime, the next time you can get drunk.

Doubt

The media bombard us with images of  ”celeb moms” who “have it all”.
What exactly do they have? Unwanted photographers in their back garden? An unrelenting pressure to stay in shape? Children who will smear tomato ketchup on the walls with the best of them?

These “supermums” know how to get the balance “just right”, but is anyone out there doing it without at least some self-doubt?

Am I working too much? Am I working too little? Are we going to have money to send him to college?
Am I being held back in my career? Will my colleagues judge me if I put my family first? Will other mums judge me if I put my career first?
Why can’t I sleep properly anymore? Can you use baby wipes to clean the oven?

Always in the back of my mind is a little voice reminding me that my mother didn’t work outside the home. She wasn’t distracted sending emails, ignoring me when she had to make that important deadline, leaving before dawn when she was filming, or missing bedtime when she had a gig.

No matter what I do, my son won’t have the same childhood that I had. Samantha knows this is OK. Me, I’m not so confident.

For all my grand plans about being the perfect working mother, here I am 14 months in, doubting many a move, using Peppa Pig as a bribing tool, and holding on to that last 10 pounds.

Muddling through along with the other parents you find yourself nodding empathetically at in Tesco, all doing their best to make it to the next whatever.

Happy, though.

And sure isn’t that all any of us need? That and baby wipes, lots of baby wipes.

Sharon Mannion is an actor and comedian best known for her role as Concepta in the RTÉ 2 hit comedy series Bridget and Eamon. She performs every Monday with the Dublin Comedy Improv at the International Bar in Dublin 2.

Read: How heartbreak inspired Annabel Karmel to write the baby food ‘bible’

Read: “I never thought I’d do stand-up comedy… but last week I did my first set”

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Sharon Mannion

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