My friend recently quit her stressful full-time job to stay at home. She'd been fantasising about this every day for the last 10 years.
She is finally allowing herself the time to piece together the missing chunks of her children's lives, at last she has the freedom to arrange every minute of the day to fit her own agenda. She couldn't wait to indulge her passion for cooking exotic recipes, join a running group and catch up with friends who'd been lurking at the bottom of her to-do list for years
Two weeks later and she's as miserable and stressed as when she was working."I can't seem to enjoy it," she says. "I think I need to go back to work."
Every minute must count
Another friend, about to take some well-deserved time off after years of spreading herself thinly on all fronts for years, has drawn up a list of planned activities that will make any senior company executive break out in a cold sweat:
Refurbish the house, landscape the garden, do a painting course, volunteer for a charity, Pilates sessions every day. The list is endless and is rattled off to everyone she encounters – daring anyone to doubt that every minute of every day at home will be spent productively.
As with every other negative parenting phenomenon, I am bang on trend. My decision to re-align my life with the things I care about and enjoy – my family and my writing, is a secret rebellion against an army of inner voices telling me that without a regular pay cheque, my self-esteem will be punched full of holes by every working mum I meet.
Even if we can afford it financially, and I'm very conscious that not everyone can, mums of my generation seem to be terrified of losing their grip – even just for a moment – on the slippery corporate ladder for fear that one misstep will send them sliding down into the doldrums of depression where their minds will rot away never to spark again.
Empty diary panic
Why does an empty page in the diary fill us with panic? Why do we feel the need to justify – even to strangers – a perfectly reasonable decision to take time out from the relentless and often unsatisfactory grind of being a working mum?
We are almost ashamed of the desire to spend precious hours with our children or just have a bit of time to ourselves, doing things that might not earn money, but could pay off handsomely in brownie points with our children and in self-fulfillment.
So where is this going?
Take my writing for example – I finally got myself as far as signing up for the creative writing course I always wanted to do – (my inner voice is still not talking to me) and I love it! But the niggling voice is there every time I leave the class – So, are you actually going to publish a book? This is all good and well, but where are you going with this? Are you going to make money (highly unlikely) or get famous (even more unlikely)?
I've never been driven by money – a new handbag or pair of shoes turn me on as much as the next woman. But can I live without them? – absolutely.
The real problem, I suspect, is that my sense of self is so entangled with my to-do list, that the thought of having a day without a plan or an activity without a concrete outcome – is like stepping off a cliff.
On the rare occasion that I manage to shake off those fears and anxieties, take deep yoga breaths, eat lots of chocolate and focus on enjoying what I'm doing in that moment – sitting on the carpet playing with my son or getting lost in my writing in a coffee shop – I feel like I am the person and mother I was meant to be.
And if I can build more of those moments into my life – who knows where that will lead? (See there I go again – why does it have to lead somewhere? It's fun, I enjoy it – it's good for my children and me. Is that not good enough?)
Does this sound familiar to anyone? Am I having a midlife crisis? Am I on my own out here? Anyone?
Chené is a stroppy older mum, still struggling to come to terms with what happened to her life since she's had three children.
Blogs at: Why is her so stroppy