Many of us who grew up in the 1980's found a hero in the form of The Cosby Show's Claire Huxtable--TV's quintessential working mum. She had it all: a booming career, lovely children, and no-nonsense shoulder pads. Now that my generation has joined the workforce, some of our expectations have crash-landed into a different reality. Here are ten examples.
1. The Morning Routine
Expectation: You'll sleep all night, wake up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee, and then dig into eggs benedict and avocado slices.
Reality: You'll nurse your baby all night, wake up to the smell of a freshly brewed poo in your toddler's pants, and then dig into his butt-crack and hope your hand-washing routine is thorough enough to remove any residual "souvenirs".
2. Dressing to Impress
Expectation: You'll wear a flattering pencil skirt, a black blazer, and a smart hairstyle.
Reality: Pencil skirts encase your body like a pack of sausages. Years ago, you would have worried about visible panty line, but now you worry about visible C-section scar. Your black blazer won't button anymore, which is fine since every time you wear it your son hugs you with a full yoghurt moustache, leaving your jacket looking like target practice for a firing squad of incontinent seagulls. Your hairstyle is always one of two options: the "Billy Connolly got electrocuted", or the "severe librarian bun".
3. Climbing the Corporate Ladder
Expectation: Your senior-level position will command admiration from others in your industry.
Reality: Despite your two undergraduate degrees, your master's, and your fifteen years of work experience, visitors to your workplace assume you are the receptionist simply because you lack a Y chromosome. They will dictate messages to you, and ask you to schedule their appointments. You consider changing your Microsoft Outlook photograph to Dame Judy Dench just to get some respect.
4. Being the Nurturing Staff Member in the Office
Expectation: Co-workers will sense your maternal instinct and flock to you for comfort and wisdom like woodland animals flock to Snow White.
Reality: You're about to lose it with the hipster in IT who is late for work again because he had too many drinks at an ironic dive bar last night. You offer him no sympathy. After all, if you can keep two children, a marriage, a mortgage, and a career alive--the least he can do is roll into the office with a smidgen of punctuality and sobriety.
5. The Power Lunch
Expectation: Ever the multi-tasker, you'll hit up the gym (for equal parts cardio and strength training), then shower, eat a salad, and freshen up your make-up in time for your 1:00pm meeting.
Reality: Exercise? Who has time for exercise when you have to pick up a prescription for your husband, buy a gallon of milk, fill out a thirty-page pre-school registration form, and renew your driver's license? Your cuisine is less "salad" and more "sad ham sandwich consumed from your Honda in the DVLA car park".
6. Taking a Sick Day
Expectation: You'll watch Come Dine With Me, eat homemade soup, and cuddle on the couch with your perfectly still, darling cherubs.
Reality: You go into work because you'll get more rest answering emails from your cubicle than at home where your kids will cling to you like starfish, vigorously bicycle-kick your abdomen, and demand snacks every quarter-hour.
7. Business Trips
Expectation: You'll board a first class jet to an exotic destination--Fiji maybe?--wherein you close a deal at a big, fancy meeting and celebrate with champagne that sparkles as much as your colleague's personality.
Reality: You take an EasyJet economy flight from a remote airport to the exotic destination of...wait for it...Birmingham. Socially awkward Larry from accounting sweats on you the whole journey. Your big, fancy meeting takes place at the airport Holiday Inn--after which you hide from Larry in your room where you drink Tesco Express' finest chardonnay while watching Gogglebox and looking at pictures of your kids on your iPhone because you miss them like crazy.
8. Good Housekeeping
Expectation: Your home will be something out of a John Lewis catalogue, boasting a tidy, open floor-plan and a distressed, "Tiffany Blue" accent wall.
Reality: Your décor can best be described as "Mummy no longer gives a shit". Not that it matters, since you aren't entertaining these days because...
Expectation: You'll have weekly girls night, monthly book club, and plenty of couples dinner parties.
Reality: The SAHMs in your neighbourhood have formed a clique of Regina George proportions, so that when you bump into them at the park you're painfully aware you don't fit in. You never hang out with your childless friends anymore because mum guilt makes you feel like you owe all your free time to your kids since they don't see you during the day. You spend most evenings on the floor playing trains.
10. Your Love Life
Expectation: You'll hire a babysitter for frequent date-nights wherein you and your husband stay out until midnight eating sushi and staring deeply into each other's eyes.
Reality: The list of people you trust to watch your kids is approximately two long: you and your husband. The soundtrack of your romantic life is In the Night Garden's theme song, because parking your children in front of those shape-shifting demons is the only way you can get ten minutes alone. You never stay up past 9:30pm since you know the baby is going to wake you up seventeen times each night (see #1).
Working motherhood is relentless. It is always feeling as if you are failing either your company or your children. It is spreading yourself thin and picking your battles. In short, it is nothing like a 1980's sitcom would have us believe. However I suspect at the end of the day, the actress who played Claire Huxtable hung up her shoulder pads, got on the floor to play trains with her kids, and embraced the chaotic mess that is being a working mum. Maybe that's what it really looks like to "have it all".