I have just read a piece by suffolkmum about attending a christening. She talks about seeing other women apparently making other choices about how to live, how to work, how to be a mother. It is the huge unanswerable question: how to live? Not just for women, for men too, but women are brought up against it by childbirth in a way that men often aren't until later in life. That might be it's own strait jacket too, the assumption that men will work and support and be relied upon whether they like it or not.

I stopped work when the first of my children was born although I was young and hadn't really got a career to leave. I loved my children passionately, lost myself in the smell and feel of them, marvelled at the chance to see the world through their eyes, but struggled too. Some mothers seemed to have houses that hummed around them, warm and bright and covered with children's pictures. Their children played with playdough and sand but the table was always covered with a bright wipable cloth, both boys and girls had bright wipable aprons and, when they were finished doing and making, their children had dilute apple juice and homemade biscuits. I felt often that I was walking in treacle, constantly putting my hands down in sticky stuff, suddenly and unexpectedly falling into a day of delight with my children and then back into the confusion of missed appointments, broken nights, lost socks, full washing baskets.

I found some part time work out of necessity when the younger was three and that was both harder and oddly easier. My marriage had come to pieces around me and the job was money, competence, self respect somehow, not to be wholly dependent. And I was better at slightly older children. I never knew this before I had children, that you could have a propensity for different ages, like a mastermind specialist subject. I loved reading to them and with them and watching their difference: my daughter reading before school, becoming the kind of child who hoovered up books, who read so fast she was always clamouring to go back to the library, who loved the books that I had loved and who introduced me to all sorts of new ones; my son much more physical, although thoughtful, the amazement of the mother of a boy at producing a creature so other, strong, skilled at ballgames, delighting in roughness.

When the younger was about eight I went to work full time and remember the constant sense of failing to do anything well, of choosing a week of focussing more on the children followed by a desperate catch up week at work, of having practically no social life. Have you read Allison Pearson's "I don't know how she does it"? That catches it so right. People were always asking me in that way which pretends to be admiring but holds within it the silent possibility of criticism, the belief of the full time mother that you couldn't be doing a very good job, as not just a working mother but a single one.

"How do you manage?"

"I just have very low standards."

The questioner would laugh as if I had made a joke but I was deadly serious.

And then teenage children and remarriage and oh how much easier to be sharing it all again, although my children's father was always a big part of their lives. But four children now and the building of a new home and a new family from two with different histories and traditions and different unspoken unassumptions. Is it all right to leave your schoolbags in the hall? not to lay the table? to leave a wet bathmat on the bathroom floor? not to send a thank you letter? One family's sin anothers normality. Leave it, leave it, leave it. Focus on the positive, the laughter, the mutual support, the joy of a full house and as for the other stuff, let it go. And all the time working harder and harder, hooked on the adrenalin of work, the buzz of approbation, the joy of cracking something difficult, of playing with the big boys.

And now the children are adult and making their own way and I am working less and wondering what the next stage of my life is for. It is extraordinary to have grown up children while still feeling about thirty four. I look at what mine have coped with - full time mothering from me, part time care, holidays with my parents when I was working, the break down of my marriage and the forming of a new family - and there they are clever and kind and strong, there for each other and their stepsiblings, making their own way in the world but still rooted in family, forging their own relationships and preparing to make new families. Maybe it matters less what choices you make that how you live day to day, loving them, being there, being reliable, trying as my husband says, to give them roots and to give them wings.

Let them fly now.


  1. ah, it's brought a tear to my eye. I know that I will have to let mine go one day - and it's one of the reasons, I am sure, that I am so fond of my own parents, an almost insulting lack of clautraphobic need for me! - but I do dread it. But then I can, since mine are 8 and 10 and that day is long off while galloping towards me still. You are very soothing and wise and funny!

  2. This was just great. My thoughts are always so muddled and you write so clearly and succinctly. Yes on enjoying certain stages more - I was never really a 'baby' Mum, although of course i miss that now. And it was really interesting what you wrote about step-familiies, though I've no experience of it myself. You've obviously created a fantastic family, hope I'm that lucky. In James's 8 short years I've crammed in full time work, 2 bouts of part-time, and more recently been full-time at home. Nothing's perfect, but we muddle through.

  3. How true, as a friend in the profesion told me " parenting is just damage limitation" you do the best you can with what you've got.

  4. This is beautiful, Elizabeth m, (but of course it is, yours always are). I so agree with the roots and wings, and the leaving behind of unnecessary hassles. I think it is one of the gifts of blended families, that you have to rethink everything and let go of so much and open new doors in your mind. There are so many ways to be happy and so many ways to be a good parent.

  5. Perfectly put, Elizabeth, particularly about the step-children and new situations. I was lucky in that I had known my two since they were born and yet, even that was fraught with difficulties. There is no perfect, I guess. You just do your best and reap the rewards. xx

  6. Giving them roots and wings. Letting go and yet still being there . . . .you write it all so well.

  7. Yes, I've read Allison Pearson 's book and loved it, i knew exactly where she was coming from. I've always worked through having the children sometimes part part time, sometimes more and now fulltime but from home. When the 2 oldest were young was the hardest and I did't cope I fell apart and got very depressed, stressed and anxious and had to have counselling etc, I got a cleaner that was a godsend, I stopped trying to do everything and started to relax and enjoy them again. But I didn't stop work, except for having one long summer off one year, that was bliss. I must admit I didn;'t really enjoy the Baby stage, much better once they started playschool, and even better once independent, teenage years have been good and bad, I've found I've coped better than I thought I would !Its all about keeping communication going with teenagers!
    Lovely blog.

  8. Isn't this blogging lark wonderful when you read something and think 'that's me that is'. when something strikes a chord. As this did. Here's to walking in treacle right beside you

  9. That is so so true Elizabethm. You are indeed a wise woman who can write so very well and touch us all, whatever our circumstances.

    warm wishes

  10. That's a lovely blog - and if you get a sense of recognition from mine I certainly get it from yours. One of the causes of 'Rose's great distress recently was that they play by different rules to us in her Dad's house. By way of compensation I let my stepsons get away with murder here, trying hard not to be the Wicked Stepmother!

  11. I,m still slogging through treacle,but i like treacle.xx
    A walk at your end sounds good..

  12. Lovely piece of writing by the way.
    I didnt have the joy of the baby business, as GOH came part of a package with two boys - another type of motherhood. I will blog about it I think - though I know there are other steppies out there.
    I am now reliving my non babyness with The Heiress I guess - I am lucky that her real mum lets me!
    Then I did the care of two sick ladies, mum and mum-in-law and now I am in limbo - at 51, time to start again - but where.
    I am only on husband No 1, so.. perhaps .. only kiddig!!

  13. Lovely blog - I think you've managed to write something for each of us. I like your line about it mattering more about how we live day to day than about choices made. Very true.

  14. I have just read your 'other blog' by mistake (or not?), I have probably been where you have and I agree with a lot of what you say. God willing you do reach a very nice place where you leave it all behind and start to enjoy every moment. I am there.
    Now I will read this blog.
    Very best wishes,

  15. Loving them and being there when they need you I also feel definately is the most important thing. When it comes to step parenting, when I am sure it is much harder even just liking them would help. My husband has a step mother who just doesn't like children, we haven't been to their house since I announced my pregnancy 10 years ago and so my hubs very really sees his dad, very sad becuase their relationship was not great to begin with. She was also quite tough on my sister-in -law when they first married. Also a very close friend of mine (who is kind thoughful and caring) was made to feel most uncomfortable in her own house when her dad re-married. She very rarely went there in the end and often came to mine during uni hols rather than face the atmosphere.

    On this site I read about these wonderful step parents, mousie being one great example, and I just grieve for my husband. Even his mother's new partner started creating huge problems recently when they moved in together basically not wanting us there because of the children. My mother - in - law who is a lovely woman has been so upset by it all.

  16. Lovely, thoughtful blog. As suffolkmum says, we all just muddle through don't we? I haven't worked while my children are small (3 and 5) and I feel guilty that I don't have a perfect, clean house and tidy garden. I compare myself to working mums and feel humble. But I think we all feel guilty for whatever reason at various times, it seems to go with the job of 'Mum'.

  17. How very very true all this is. I have struggled with motherhood - poss anther reason why I only have one? I want to work but the guilt is huge. I have had several stints of work, both part and full time, since having Henry but feel split in two by the differing responsibilities. I am not a natural housewife and get bored at home - I let the dust and ironing pile up and struggle to get a move on with any project. I was not a 'natural' mother when Henry was a baby and while I adore him in the extreme, I am not a 'mumsy' or maternal woman.

    It's a challenge for all of us to find a place and a pattern that suits us, whether at work or home, and those who can do so without guilt or feelings of some kind of inadequacy are the lucky ones.

  18. Just found this but can so empathise with your position. I try to juggle everything to and feel I succeed at nothing..
    And I do so agree about enjoying a certain age of child. The baby stage did nothing for me and I was happy to work more then, leaving them in professional hands! But now at 8 and 11, I adore this stage; have all but given up work to spend more time with these lovely enquiring little people. Their views on the world are so interesting and they are so interested in everything about them, I really feel I am helping to mould them into caring, thoughtful, enthusiastic people. Well done, love your blogs, will look in more often.
    Pats x


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