It’s funny how when you’re a child your mum is only your mum, you don’t see her as a person with a job or a person with her own problems or a person who has any other responsibilities than to look after you. However, – surprise surprise – you grow up and you learn that your mum is so much more than that; she's a woman with opinions, dreams, hang ups, fears, goals and a lifetime of knowledge. I sat down with mine to find out more about the parts of her life I‘ve never heard much about and hear what wisdom she had to impart with me. We talked getting over boys, loving motherhood and why you don’t always need to put 110% in at work.
“If I could go back in time and sit down with twenty-something me, I would say don’t think that boys and relationships are the most important thing in life. I thought that every girl should have a boyfriend in those days, all my friends were in couples and it singled me out when I didn’t have a boyfriend, like I didn’t quite fit in. When I was twenty, I met a boy who I thought I would settle down with, but it didn’t quite work out and I became quite depressed about it; my whole world caved in. Mum and dad suggested I go stay with my aunt and uncle and cousins in Georgia, USA for a bit. There wouldn’t be any reminders of him over there and of course this was in the days of no mobile phones so there wouldn’t be the constant communication with home. I stayed for three months and it was a long holiday really. It threw me into situations where I had to deal with things like making new friends and I was totally out of my comfort zone, I had to live with a different family and just get on with making the most of my time there. It made me realise there was more to life than boys, and when I came home I followed through with that, although unfortunately I did sort of contact him, which is not quite the point, but I felt I could have control over it and I did.”
“Going to America did my confidence a lot of good when I was younger because I’d never travelled on my own. I had to think for myself and I could do whatever I wanted with no one judging me – it was such a free and easy life. When I came back I had the confidence to go and get a part-time pub job and then that built my confidence as well, so I became a much more well-rounded person, interested in lots of things and willing to try things. Now, however, I’m not confident enough to know that if I take a risk and things go wrong, it’s not such a bad thing. I always want things to be perfect, so if I think something isn’t going to be perfect then I’d rather not do it. I suppose it’s a fear of failure, really. It can stop me from doing things I want to do and I don’t think I deal with it very well, to be perfectly honest! But I think a lot of women my age who have dropped away from their careers to have children and then try to go back definitely lack in self-confidence and until you just make yourself do something that is out of your comfort zone you will never get over it and I don’t know if I ever have. I wish I could do things and not worry about consequences, I always err on the side of caution, but I think sometimes you’ve got to take risks and make mistakes, it’s never going to be the end of the world.”
On ‘leaning out’ and motherhood:
“I’ve always held a bit of a backseat at work [my dad runs his own company and my mum has worked for him for the last 22 years], and although in some ways I regret not getting more involved and taking on more responsibility, I would’ve had to have given up more time with you and your brother and my role at home if I’d wanted to do that – even when you were teenagers I still really wanted to be around for you both. I only regret it because I still feel a bit uninvolved at work, but that was my choice. I get frustrated that you can’t do it all. [I asked my mum if she thinks women have an obligation to ‘lean in’ at work] No, I don’t think they do. I don’t think women should push themselves so hard at work at the risk of not experiencing motherhood because that would be a great shame and I think generally women gain a lot from being mums. For instance, as a mother going back into the workplace, you might not be up to scratch with certain skills but you have maturity, a sense of commitment and conscientiousness on your side. But you shouldn’t think you’re inferior just because you do actually enjoy being a mum and you enjoy being at home, doing things with your children and being involved with their school. I think there needs to be a whole different attitude towards women having responsible jobs and also being able to experience motherhood. I think we feel it has to be one way or the other and it’s a shame it’s like that. It would be great if we could have more men and women job sharing because that could be a step towards equality in the workplace and sharing the responsibility of bringing up children.”
This interview has been edited for clarity.