I feel like I’m getting down to brass tacks here. My last two posts felt like digging down: from looking to improve by 1%, to trying to do just one thing. This week I have been feeling overwhelmed, and not trying to improve anything.
I want to recognise here that I am writing as a single parent, and for many of us overwhelm is just moments away at any given time. It’s also a terrifying prospect – if I fall apart, who will step in? For some people, a nearby and responsible co-parent might be on hand, or grandparents and that is wonderful. But for many, there isn’t anyone. As an expat with long working hours I have always relied on paid help which is both a solution and a cause of guilt and, frankly, expense, administration and extra work on my part.
The invisible workload of mothering (yes, mothering rather than parenting, unless you are a single dad – recognising it and owning it as gendered is a feminist position) is exhausting. There is a great post from 2018 called ‘the invisible workload of motherhood is killing me‘ which, of course, I only just found time to read. Its is an accurate and helpful portrayal of what parenting looks like – and it’s just the day to day of parenting, not what it looks like to be trying to reach FIRE, or date, or anything else at the same time.
Motherhood is in any case fraught with issues. There have been a host of articles recently about fatherhood during the pandemic and how dads are starting to appreciate the whole of parenting. But this is against a background in which women are expected to take the domestic burden (unless someone chooses to step in), though we are also expected to work as well, though by the time a woman’s oldest child is 12 she is likely to be paid one-third less than male counterparts. On my FIRE journey, earning less, and being responsible for each and every cost in the home, has a significant impact on the timeline, and likelihood of becoming financially independent. It’s not like there aren’t exceptions of course. But the system is stacked against single mothers, and in my experience, also has no sympathy for us. I would be furious, if I wasn’t so tired.
Following my last two posts, I have been hyper-aware this week of why I am overwhelmed. And it’s two things – first, the sheer magnitude of All The Things. Work, kids, feeding everyone, administration of the home, family and friends, and anything I need. Secondly, it’s the constant mental engagement – the ‘invisible workload’. Planning, organizing, working around, being in communication, trying to soothe, calm, engage, nourish and play.
I. Am. Knackered.
So this week I just want to get off my chest what last week, a pretty average week (since the kids are back in school but I am still not travelling yet), looks like.
Up at 5am every day. Drink coffee, shower. Put on some cream which is supposed to stop my now 40-year-old face looking like a pterodactyl. One hour’s work before getting the kids up. Make breakfasts (remembering who doesn’t like what, this week, or today) include fruit and vitamins. Drink more coffee. Answer work WhatsApp messages whilst listening to kids. Have the news on the radio – answer questions from my eldest about Gaza. Clear up breakfast stuff, get everyone to brush teeth and hair, check bags and out the door. Cycle with kids to school then either cycle home or to the office to start work by 8.30 – cycled 24 miles in total last week.
Work. Just so much of it. Last week I had 43 meetings, many of them back-to-back (to the point where I have to turn off video and sneak out to pee). Meetings with offices in Bangladesh at 6am my time, or with Colombia at 10pm my time. Meetings which I have to prepare for, do slide decks for, present at wearing a proper jacket and with brushed hair. Meetings which I get invited to 30 minutes before hand. Then reviewing documents, checking budgets, writing things for other people to present in other meetings. Sometimes getting overwhelmed by the heartbreak of working in the humanitarian field, where the work we do is to prevent human tragedy, but the human tragedies continue on a horrifying scale.
Do all the other things which are about staying ‘professionally relevant’ and making up for the time I spent off work at home with the kids. This week it was co-chairing a conference, so review 64 papers (to be fair, I did this over two weeks but outside of office hours). Have calls with peers, including people who want advice, and people I want to advise me. Fiddle about on LinkedIn to feel engaged.
Organise kids’ after school stuff, though I don’t usually pick them up (which they hate – please mummy please pick us up from school all the other mums are there). One playdate at our house, one at another. Make sure bags are ready for football training, call another mum about sharing pickup after one session. Swimming club, ballet, blah. Encourage children to carry on when they want to give up, listen to enthusiastic replays when they are excited. Give pep talks when they are not picked for something, like my daughter this week after not getting a part in a ballet after auditioning. Organise birthday party – emails emails to a trampoline place, checking prices, feeling guilty about throwing money at the problem rather than having them all do something wholesome and free at my house where I pick playdoh out of the carpet for weeks afterwards. Invite others, navigate times, dietary requirements, passive-aggressive responses. Order balloons for the birthday itself, wrap presents (thanking Previous Self who bought them).
Make six dinners (four people since I do all the cooking and we have a nanny who eats with us) = so 24 dinners. One take away as it’s a birthday. Make packed lunches for the three of us for all five days = 15 lunches. Meal plan and shop based on this, calorie count everything for myself for six days (not Saturday, that’s free). Continually stay aware of what we have in the cupboards and fridge, who might want something different, what we ate last week so that I don’t get complaints of sameness. Two supermarket visits, the main Sunday one then another one for bread/milk/eggs/fruit on Thursday. Discuss and think endlessly about how to eat better food which has less impact on the planet; how to get my daughter to eat more fruit and veg; and how much I resent always being responsible for cooking.
Got to the gym twice (for a special physiotherapist work out where I get chased around by a shouting man who makes me do squats outside where People Can See). One massage – first for 18 months, definitely the highlight. One coaching session. Read two books – finished one from last week and finally read City of Girls. Plan, research and write this blog. Hoover (not weekly, let’s be clear) the car and filed it with petrol; applied for a new driving license; paid a bill for my house in the UK; argued a utility bill for the house in Denmark which insists I pay upfront for a full year even though we are moving in July. Called my mum four times, and other friends and family – including a friend who I WhatsApp with on a daily basis – as much as possible, usually whilst doing some of the other things. Weekly budget check in – review all back accounts including savings, check spend, work out what to move around if I have gone over.
Make sure kids are bathed, teeth brushed, ready for the next day and in bed. Read to them, referee usual argument (not sure what it is about 19.30 which turns my kids into savages but there you go). Tuck them in, sing songs, calm and soothe twice when one of them came downstairs upset about something (once, a kid at school who was mean; second time, climate change and when we are all going to die). Look at their beautiful sleeping faces and ache with love. Go to bed and prepare to do it all again tomorrow.