Why dropping the ball makes you a better mum

When I first became a mum, I told myself (and my boss) that I was going to return to work part-time after the first six weeks. I believed that by working part-time, I’d still be able to do all the mum things, go to the gym, and have enough time to keep the house looking fabulously clean.

I knew that it would be hard of course and that people wouldn’t expect me to be on top of everything. I knew that they would understand if the house was a mess, or that I’d be let off the hook for arriving late to a get-together. I knew realistically it was ok if I didn’t make it to five training sessions each week, and that some nights we’d be getting takeaway because we would have no time to do the food shopping or make dinner.

I knew all of this, and yet deep down, a nagging voice told me that I didn’t want to be that mum. You know, the “struggling” mum, the mum who couldn’t juggle all the things, the mum that needed help. I wanted to feel capable, productive and above all, successful. I didn’t want to just “manage” being a mum, I wanted to absolutely f*cking nail it.

It’s understandable to want that as a new mum and to think it will come naturally enough. All it took was one scroll through the mums of Instagram that have gradually taken over my feed, with their organisation tips, cleaning hacks, and their beautiful children, in beautiful clothes, photographed in their beautiful, spotless homes. It paints a picture of what a successful mum looks like. The gold standard of #mumlife.

When we combine this unrealistic narrative with the outdated social values that we still live with as women, it layers that picture of motherhood with expectation instead of understanding, obligation instead of allowance, and as a sole responsibility rather than a partnership. 

It’s no wonder that we internalise the notion that we are meant to be on top of everything, all the time. It’s no wonder that we tell ourselves that we need to be propelling forward at every moment of every day, and if we aren’t, we feel irrationally guilty because we could be doing more. We should be doing more.

We tell ourselves that everyone else is managing, everyone else is capable, but really, we are holding ourselves accountable to a standard that simply doesn’t exist. The truth is that most mums aren’t absolutely nailing every single little thing. Most mums need help, only no one wants to admit it. No one wants to be seen as the “struggling” mum.

So I juggled all the things, and surprisingly I kept all my balls in the air for a while. Then when my son was about four months old, I had a moment where I realised that my partner had been the one to feed him every bottle that day while I had been busy hustling to finish everything on my to-do list.

A thought occurred to me. What if by being on top of everything all the time, I was missing out on what was actually important? What if I was so busy trying to be a successful mum that I was forgetting about the reason I was working so hard in the first place?

Almost every day I look at my son in disbelief of how fast he’s growing, how he is already so different from the tiny newborn I brought home from the hospital. I think about the moment I first held him in my arms after he was born. A moment when I wasn’t watching the clock; when I had nowhere else to be and nothing else mattered beyond holding his tiny little body against mine and just breathing him in.

Now I wonder if I’m sacrificing some of those moments, for the sake of getting the washing done. I wonder if I’m allowing the chaos of the daily grind to occupy mental space that should be reserved for the stillness found in those precious moments.

When he is grown and I have all the free time I could possibly need, I want to think back and remember the exact way his tiny hand felt when it reached out grasping for mine, and the exact expression of delight that lit up his face when I got him out of his cot in the morning.

I want to remember the warmth of his body against my chest as I held him, and he gazed up at me with pure contentment, without worrying what time it was or where else we needed to be.

I want to remember all the hours spent pulling silly faces and dancing to music to keep him entertained instead of distracting him with toys so I could be elsewhere, catching up on housework.

I realise now that I don’t want to live for washing, and wiping over countertops, and ticking off to-do lists. Yes, it’s important to get things done, we still need to do life, to keep our world turning. But I don’t want to get so lost in nailing #mumlife that I miss the special moments within the madness. 

So now I take the time to play for an extra ten minutes or hold my son for just a little bit longer. If I don’t get the washing done, or if the dishes start to stack up in the sink, or if I need to order takeaway because I didn’t manage to do the food shopping, I don’t worry. 

My son won’t remember that I didn’t wash my hair for five days or that we ran out of clean clothes every now and then. But he will remember that when we played, I got down on my hands and knees and we had epic adventures together.

He will remember that mum took the time to really listen to what he was trying to say and that we had conversations that probably made no sense to me at the time, but were important to him.

He will remember that I loved him, hard, in a million different small but significant ways, and that’s what will make me a great mum; a successful mum. That’s my new gold standard.

So if you’re new to this motherhood gig like I was, thinking that you need to be constantly juggling everything in order to be a successful mum, know that it’s ok to drop a ball or two. It’s ok to let someone else take over for a while. In fact, at Mumli we recommend it because we know that’s what makes you a better mum. 

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