I’ve written before about how being a parent sometimes makes me feel out of control or that I’m failing at being a mum. A quick straw poll of mum friends, or a glance online at other blogs and magazine articles, and I take some comfort in knowing that I’m clearly not alone in feeling this way.
I was chatting to a friend recently about the fact that I never felt this way at work. Don’t get me wrong: I had plenty of moments of self-doubt, I think we all do. Feeling like a fraud at work, like your boss is suddenly going to realise that you’re just winging it, is something that has been much written about. But aside from those moments, I knew that I was good at my job and that I did it well. Words like ‘efficient’ and ‘organised’ were often aimed in my direction. The right results were achieved, appraisals were good, and the feedback allowed me some self-belief that, I’ve got this. But now, in this job, this new role as a parent, the feedback isn’t always so positive, and the results are often anything but good. Ask any parent whose child is lying on the floor of a supermarket, wailing loudly that no, they don’t want to help mummy find the avocado, how they feel they’re doing in their job called ‘parent’, and it’s unlikely they’ll be confidently putting in for a pay-rise or promotion any time soon.
So I started to wonder: what’s so different now, in this job, this role as parent, that leaves me feeling out of control. What happens now, or perhaps doesn’t happen now, that is different to before?
I still do my best to be organised and efficient: but that’s often scuppered in the blink of an eye by a threenager removing their shoes as I’m searching for their hat. I like to think on the whole, results are good, but perhaps like so many others, I view my child’s behaviour as proof of my ability to parent successfully. And if you put your appraisal in the hands of a three year old, one poor decision on whether to serve toast on the blue plate or the green one, can leave you with a written warning, and a pay cut.
Rationally, I know that this is all just my three year old, behaving like a three year old. And it’s looking for positive feedback, from someone who hasn’t yet realised that the world doesn’t revolve around them. But it all feeds into the thought: mama hasn’t got this.
So I asked myself: what can I do, to help myself feel more organised and efficient again? What did I do in my old job, that gave me that sense of being in charge? How did I do it before? And it struck me that I was a list-maker. I made lists. I wrote down every single tiny thing that I needed to do. People thought I was efficient and organised: I was just writing lists and working through them. I created a visual reminder, a tangible visual reminder of what I needed to do. More importantly, I marked completed jobs as ‘done’. I would strike through tasks with a bold red line: another visual, tangible reminder that I was getting the job done, that I’ve got this.
Now, as a mum, I keep a lot of it in my head (like SJP in that film). But it’s too whirly and chaotic in my head. There’s too much going on in there. It’s noisy, and a three year old just adds to that noise. I realised that writing it down got it out of my head and created small, easy to work through tasks. Writing it down, physically putting pen to paper, helped me to feel in control.
So! I’m going to get myself a book (and let’s be honest: who doesn’t enjoy buying new stationery?) and I’m going to find the time – no, make the time – to write lists of everything I need to do. It will be a book that helps me to feel efficient again. A book that says, mama’s in control, you got this. A book for mothers in charge. A mother booker. It doesn’t matter how small the task: do the washing; send a birthday card; text a friend about a playdate; pay a bill. It’s going in the mother booker.
And I’m hopeful that seeing that list get ticked off, striking through things I’ve achieved that day, or that week, will help me to feel that I’ve got this. That mama’s in charge again. Only of me course. My toddler? She’s in charge of her.
I might buy her a book and ask her if she’d like to know what a list is.