My heart sinks when people ask me what it is that I do. I really, really struggle with the question. I want to tell them I am a writer – because I AM a writer – but I am also the Mother of two children whom I parent full-time and that I had within two years of each other, so the conversation generally goes a little something like this:
New Acquaintance: So what do you do, Hannah?
Me: I’m a writer.
New Acquaintance: Oooo that sounds interesting. What do you write?
Me: I’m writing a book.
New Acquaintance: Oh really?! When will I be able to read it?
Me: PROBABLY NEVER BECAUSE MY CHILDREN ARE TIME-SUCKING VAMPIRES WHO HAVE NO RESPECT FOR MY CRAFT.
To summarise; it’s complicated.
Get ready for a good old ROFL here chaps – I genuinely didn’t realise when I fell pregnant with Big Savage that I would be putting my writing career on the back burner. When I thought about life with a baby I visualised myself sat at my laptop, brimming with creativity, tapping out the book at lightning speed whilst an angelic child napped peacefully in a moses basket beside me. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. More. Fool. Me. It turns out that full-time parenting and creativity aren’t necessarily cohesive. How do you quantify the worth of something that is not measured in monetary reward? Again; it’s complicated. When the thing you call ‘work’ comes with no guaranteed paycheque, and yet requires hours of your dedicated time, it becomes the thing that is least prioritised. It becomes a bit of an indulgence. It goes well and truly on the back burner. Being a parent, being Mummy takes centre stage. And rightly so, I suppose.
Yet, here I must confess that there have been many occasions in the last two years where I’ve found myself wishing I had a ‘proper’ job. A normal 9-5 job, that pays real money and that has clear, set working hours. Where I could have a conversation with an adult, or maybe just focus on a task in blissful silence. Drink a cup of tea that hasn’t been in the microwave 3 times. Engage my brain on subjects other than Thomas and his Friends or whether the baby gets enough sensory time. (Probably not – she’s number two after all) Heck – maybe even be praised for my contribution to the work place. Because it is no mean feat raising kids. (Particularly when you do this full time) I take my hat off to every single one of my fellow parents – solidarity, man. It is full on, it is relentless, there are no scheduled breaks. There is no family HR department to report to when the person you are parenting is being a dick. (Which is quite often when you have a 2.5 year old.) There is no bonus for commitment and excellence. (I use the word excellence in a very loose sense here.) Your shift patterns are, frankly, bonkers. Whilst Dad of Savages is out earning the money that pays our mortgage, I’m nurturing and disciplining and playing and organising and shopping and wrangling and adjudicating and washing and cooking and washing some more. There are times when I will feel as though I have literally not stopped all day, where I feel like a hamster in a wheel going round and round and round, and yet when Dad of Savages walks through the door and asks me what my day has consisted of, I can’t really put my finger on what it is I’ve achieved. Those are the days when I feel as though my brain, the brain I used to get a Masters in Creative Writing, is slowly dripping out of my ears. Because, actually, as a Stay At Home Mother I find myself to be quite a rare breed. I’m part of a generation who are both parents and career women. The two things going hand-in-hand; no longer putting their working lives to one side as soon as they become parents. And this is bloody marvellous. It’s just that it doesn’t work as succintly as that for me. Because the ‘job’ I’m going back to post-babies isn’t clearly defined by set working hours and a salary.
But then, the grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it? I know full well that juggling a job and parenting is no picnic. That there is an emotional tug of war for parents between the demands of home life and office life. That switching from ‘mummy/daddy mode’ to ‘work mode’ is complex. That despite it being the 21st Century, work is rarely flexible enough for parents. And as a consequence of this, doing nursery runs and school runs and finding childcare that works emotionally and financially is a huge ball ache. I don’t have to do any of that. I’m not conflicted by whether I’m missing important milestones, or that my career is suffering because I want or need to spend more time at home.
And here’s the crux of the matter: I could be better at being a writer. I could carve out more time. I could get up (even) earlier. I could stay up later to write. There are approximately 50 million women (disclaimer: no actual maths/statistics behind that statement) doing what I do. Parenting and working ‘freelance’. They’re juggling a ton of responsibility and making it work. Making it pay their bills. I’m not making it pay my bills just yet…but one day I hope I will. In essence, I need to get better at juggling.
And so I swing back round to that question again:
What do you do, Hannah?
I am a full time, stay at home parent. I am a writer. I often feel like I’m not really doing either of those jobs very well. And yet I have achieved. I’ve kept two kids alive today. I’ll do the same again tomorrow and the day after that. (Fingers and toes crossed and with a good following wind) Hopefully at some point in all of that I might find a bit of time to write a few paragraphs. Then later I might find a bit more time to re-write them. And I’ll probably look back at this time in my life in future years and realise how short it was. How important it was. It might be ten years before I have a manuscript worth reading, it might not. It might be ten years before someone pays me actual money for something I’ve written, it might not.
I think the point I’m labouring to make here is that money does not define achievement. And that’s a little nugget of wisdom that I’ll be trying to hold on to more firmly. Particularly during times of awkward small talk with new aquaintances…