You can have it all. It just might kill you…

Have you ever played that game where you imagine what your dream dinner party line up would be?

You know the one, where you can invite anyone you like to sit around ‘the table’. (A bit like a normal Saturday night must be for Amal Clooney.)

Well along with Lauren Graham, Bill Bryson, Tom Hanks, Nora Ephron (yes I know she’s dead) and Kirstie Allsopp, I’ve always thought mine would include Emma Thompson.

Because along with being brilliant, funny, just the right amount of bonkers and a great British export, she always comes across as nice, normal and someone who wouldn’t be above feeding crispy chicken dippers to screaming offspring.

But then a couple of years back she gave an interview where she spoke about the perils of trying to have it all as a mum. She talked about how hard it is to juggle career and being a parent, and how having it all at once might not be good for you.

What’s she on about?! I thought to myself.

Surely you should be flying the flag for working parents who are trying to have it all Emma, I muttered to myself. After all I’ve always thought of you as someone who does that.

I said the same to hubby who quickly became bored by the conversation…

Anyway, a while further down the parenting track, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Emma’s words were actually very wise ones.

You see I’ve spent the last two months trying to have it all and the plain fact is I’m bloody knackered, the laundry pile in the house is now so large that it is soon to be named a local landmark and quite simply it hasn’t brought me happiness. It’s made me, and most people around me, stressed.

I haven’t had the time in my life for all the little things I used to love, such as blogging, and what I’ve realised is that, at least for me, having it all at once has not been a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, going back into an office has definitely had its upsides. Tea rounds, office banter and child-free lunch hours being three of them.

But trying to manage full-time hours with other freelance writing jobs, the school run, seeing friends and family, trying to have quality time with Mini-me and Blue-eyed boy and all those little bits of ‘life admin’ that you have to do to keep things ticking over has been really hard.

Plus on top of everything else Blue-eyed boy is facing challenges of his own (more of which another time), and I need and want to be around to give him all the help and support he needs.

So the upshot is that I’m going back to freelancing – for the next couple of years at least.

When I realised that this was the only decision that made sense for us right now I couldn’t help feeling like a failure. After all so many parents juggle much more than I do on a daily basis, and they manage, so why couldn’t I?

Fortunately a very good friend was around to mop up a few tears and give me some more wise words.

‘You tried it, it didn’t work for you at the moment and so you’re making a change,’ she said. ‘At least you gave it a go, and that’s something to be proud of.’

A much better way of looking at it – and another thing this whole journey has reinforced for me.

Like most mums I really rely on my friends, and I’m lucky because they are a bloody brilliant group.

In fact Amal really should invite them over…


Please, Please, Please, Judge. Off.

I love reading other mum blogs. Especially those of the ‘honest parenting’ variety that I hope Neat Freak Mum peddles. Or tries to anyway.

It can be a bit overwhelming trying to juggle work and small people and blogging, but having a good ‘ole vent on here is indeed therapeutic stuff. And I love it!

Anyway, this particular blog is called ‘Mama Said’ ( and one post ‘Mama’ penned recently really struck a chord with me. It was all about those times in the wee small hours of the morning, where you’re sharing your bed with several offspring, someone needs a bottle, someone needs (another) change, hubby needs a good kick in the shins so he’ll stop snoring (and farting) and, well, you just want to SCREAM!

For a few minutes your yearning for your pre-child life is so overwhelming that you can almost taste it, and you just want one good night’s sleep and to wake up to 30 minutes’ of uninterrupted bathroom time.

So, being as it’s the middle of the night, you pen something to the above effect on social media – only to be greeted by comments from ‘well meaning’ people about how you should be grateful for this time because it goes so quickly. (As if you weren’t aware of this yourself.)

Now, I’m not looking to make a new career out of cribbing other peoples’ blogs I promise you! This just got me thinking about all those ‘well meaning’ comments I’ve had from people about my freelance career.

These have ranged from queries as to why I don’t simply give up my job ‘for my own sanity’. (Do they know me at ALL??!) To whether I should be turning work down, spending more time doing laundry, to ‘helpful’ input about the amount of childcare I’m using.

The childcare thing in particular really, REALLY gets my goat – mainly because putting my children, particularly blue-eyed boy, into nursery a couple of days a week already drives me insane with guilt.

I feel guilty literally all the time. Guilt about whether I put them in too much, guilt that I can’t devote as much time to work and that looming deadline as I should on a particular day, guilt about wanting to work, guilt about needing something in my life that’s mine other than being a mum, and major, major guilt about still being driven and inspired by my job even though I have now also procreated.

The thing is that these comments, however kindly intentioned, are a form of passing judgement on me as a mum, and believe me they can make the daily juggling act of working and parenting even harder than it already is.

I know for a fact that good friends who are stay-at-home mums are also on the receiving end.

I think most mums feel like they come under the microscope at some point – and who wants to be analysed?!

This is precisely why I try never to pass judgement on how other people choose to parent. Because we’re all different and what works for you may not for me, but good luck to you.

After all some days it’s about just getting to the end.

Now the above ramblings would have come in very useful during our Mother’s Day lunch out. If I could have packaged them into a perfectly honed yet concise argument that was just acerbic enough to slightly sting.

The recipients would have been a table of pensioners sitting across from us who tutted, raised their eyebrows and unsubtly and loudly talked about hubby and I behind the backs of their hands throughout our entire meal.

And the reason for their disgust? The fact that we put Night Garden on hubby’s iPhone to keep blue-eyed boy entertained while we ate for 20 minutes because he’s currently teething, miserable and very, very clingy.

Yes being judged for being a ‘bad’ parent throughout the meal made me feel great. And I probably should have said something to them, but I didn’t.

Well I am now.

Anyone reading this who likes to post ‘helpful’ comments on social media about their golden days of parenting… Judge Off.

If you feel the need to give me your ‘top tips’ for how to cope with freelancing whilst being a mum… Please Don’t.

And if you have strong views about the occasional use of ‘technical’ products to entertain my pre-school brood and keep me sane… Keep Them To Yourself.

In fact blue-eyed boy is at this precise minute watching Night Garden in his cot while I finish this because he woke up early from a nap…

And so ends my Party Parent-ical Broadcast!


Hello readers and fellow harassed parents, if some of you are in fact still out there.

Firstly massive apologies for the long radio silence. All work and NO play has recently turned Neat Freak Mum into a shadow of her former self. (Or to be correct one with slightly less sense of humour and massively bigger eye bags…)

I’ve probably mentioned that alongside my adventures in blog-dom I’m also a journalist and copywriter, and as well as tap, tap, tapping away on features and regular commissions, I’ve recently launched a new copywriting business venture.

All very exciting but quite stressful too, so if anyone has worked out how to pack 30 hours into a 24 hour day I’d be very grateful for some tips!

The good news is that should I get totally fed up of penning features at 2am and throw my laptop out of the office window I now have another employment option to turn to.

Yes apparently a parliamentary report – don’t zone out just yet, Ed Miliband wasn’t involved in this one – has declared that spy chiefs at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ should start recruiting spies from Mumsnet.

Apparently the drones of middle-aged men ‘secret agents’ are causing an uncomfortable sounding condition, ‘permafrost’, and we mums would bring a new breadth of skills, intuition and more emotional intelligence to the job.

Where they think we’re going to find the time to jet off to some dark, dingy (because they always were dark and dingy on Spooks) former Soviet state and crack a code, infiltrate a criminal gang and free some hostages or defuse a bomb I don’t know.

Hmm, perhaps I could fit it in after sticking on the fish fingers. If hubby was around to turn off the grill and turn on the saucepan of spaghetti hoops that is.

Neat Freak Mum, double ‘Oh no not another bloody nappy change, blue-eyed boy!’ Sounds good doesn’t it.

One thing’s for sure, our supreme multi-tasking, general juggling and ability to clean up poo at the same time as fixing a bottle would certainly give us the edge.

Thinking back to Rupert Penry-Jones in Spooks I seem to remember certain qualities were required of ‘good’ spies.

*Keeping unsocial hours – Well that’s hardly going to be a stretch is it. Once you’ve got to bed at 2.33am having finally finished a piece of work only to be raised again at 2.35am by a teething baby, working through the night isn’t going to phase you.

*Always being on call – ‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Muuummmmy, MUMMMMAAAAYYYY…..’ Need I say more?

*Able to respond in a flash to the messiest of emergencies – Yes once you’ve simultaneously mopped up ‘the trots’ at the same time as baby sick, or had to soak those grubby items of clothing nursery send home in a little plastic baggy, even Lisa Faulkner having her head shoved in a pan of boiling oil would probably all be in a day’s work.

*Always being prepared – Mums are famed for their ability to think ahead.

Whinging pre-schooler? Whip out the notebook and crayons you’ve brought to the restaurant, and if that fails the iPad.

Permanently hungry baby? Yes hubby of course I stashed a second bag of rice cakes in the change bag.

Other half falling asleep in his dinner? Where’s that can of Diet Coke I threw in earlier.

Yes this is sounding more attractive by the minute. Especially if RP Jones is still on the job too.

What’s that you say? We’d have to do this spy malarkey on top of the supermarket shop, nursery run, cleaning pen off the wall, washing hubby’s pants and fishing toys out from under the sofa.

And we’d be expected to make most of the tea rounds for the ‘permafrost’ gang.

Oh, s** off.


Hubby had an exciting announcement to make the other day. Brace yourselves, it’s really worth waiting for this one…

‘I don’t like doing ironing during the week,’ he informed me, during a ‘put-upon partner’ lament about his lack of work shirts and why more hadn’t been washed, hung up and basically draped over the ironing board for him in preparation for some steam-filled action in front of Sunday’s ‘must-watch’ football match.

This week it actually featured his own team too which makes a change. Of course they threw away a two goal lead, causing much muttering and gnashing of teeth, but what do you expect if you support West Ham?!

Don’t worry, I of course calmly explained that no one ‘likes’ ironing – even neat freaks such as myself – regardless of what day of the week it is.

The difference is of course that while men expect a gold medal, or at least some sort of badge of honour and a beer, if they help out with humdrum household tasks at weekends (or whenever) we harassed mums expect (and get) nothing in return for juggling a million different menial tasks a day.

It’s just assumed that when something needs rinsing, washing, fetching or filing we’ll do it. Yes that’s right because we’re female.

It’s the unwritten rule of family life that no one ever tells you. Your body has gone to wrack and ruin pushing out a few children, so now you get to celebrate by washing up for the next two decades!

Take this constantly manic freelance journalist and copywriter for example.

While hubby would never need factor sock washing, hoovering or doing the weekly supermarket shop into his working day, I’m just expected to do it. Yes that’s right, because I’m female.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s great at picking the odd thing up on his way home, but when it comes to all those little ‘invisible’ chores that keep family life ticking over, you guessed it it’s down to you. That’s right, because you’re female.

One of my best mum friends summed up the whole sorry scenario very well this week. Apparently her other half is suffering from a serious case of dishwasher-phobia. You’ve probably come across it – the chronic inability to put anything actually inside the machine, just in its vague vicinity.

Hubby does it with his clothes at night. They don’t get hung up, rather slung over the sofa. Clearly they plan to walk back to the wardrobe by themselves.

Now, as I said, I’m pretty lucky that hubby is a fairly ‘new-age man’ – in the sense that he chips in a lot of the time – but I do still wonder what would happen if I went on strike for a few days.

Would he realise that empty loo rolls need to actually be thrown away, and replaced, for example?

The trouble is that my fear of dirt and chaos means I’d crack within hours of course, which is his psychological warfare weapon.

But I’m still not ironing any bloody shirts…

Pondering on the politics of childcare

While I like to think I know what’s going on in the world I certainly wouldn’t call myself a ‘political animal’.

Although I do quite enjoy watching Question Time on a Thursday night – especially when someone like Kirstie Allsopp makes a guest appearance.

But with the General Election lumbering into view the issue of who and what to vote for is suddenly becoming more of a dilemma.

And after having been to the cinema to see Selma t’other night on a rare date outing with hubby, both of us agreed that abstaining just isn’t an option. Not when you consider what hardships other people went through just to be able to put a cross on a ballot paper.

Sorry this is all sounding rather serious isn’t it, but listening to a lively discussion about the soaring costs of childcare yesterday morning on Woman’s Hour (yes, am sad and ageing) only underlined for me that this could well be the issue that swings my vote.

As an ‘always under it’ working mum it constantly amazes me just how much stress, juggling and expense we have to go to in order to simply go about our daily profession.

Yes it’s a choice you make to go to back to work, but when you consider that the Government wants us to return to the daily grind but there’s been a whopping 27 per cent increase in childcare costs in the UK over the last five years (according to the Family and Childcare Trust) it’s no wonder that so many women are actually wondering whether it’s all really worth it.

Now I’m fortunate enough to love my job so much that sometimes I’d happily write for free, but let’s face it that’s just rubbish economics.

Plus when I spoke to a top educational psychologist a few years back for a feature on pre-schools, she insisted that sending your kids to some kind of formal day care setting before primary school is hugely beneficial to them developing good communication and negotiating skills and independence.

So frankly it should pay not only for you to work, if you want to that is, but also for them to go to nursery.

The worrying part about all this is that it’s Labour that has pledged to extend free childcare for three and four year olds from 15 to 25 hours per work.

Not worrying in the sense of supporting this policy you understand, but HUGELY concerning that this would mean actually voting for Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister.

This is after all a man who manages to look uneasy and a little surprised no matter what he’s doing and who, to be blunt, I wouldn’t trust to run a bath, never mind the country.

I mean come on, even Declan Donnelly says he can’t picture him as PM.

Have always had something of a crush on Dec. Hubby also used to get mistaken for him when he was younger and once fraudulently signed an autograph as Dec whilst on a cross channel ferry. I know, shocking behaviour!

Now he gets mistaken for Richard Hammond which massively irritates him and amuses the rest of us. Not that I’m going off on a tangent here or anything…

So getting back to the childcare issue, this is surely going to be one of the biggest factors in any or all of the parties winning women’s and family votes in 2015.

And what I’d like to know is which of them will really be putting the money where their mouth is…

Does anyone really work in their PJs?

At the end of last week I had one of those perfect ‘pick-me-up’ moments that are sadly becoming increasingly rare in the freelance feature writing game.

At least in my (recent) experience, when sometimes even actually getting paid for completed work can be an uphill struggle.

A lovely commissioning editor I work with emailed to let me know when an article I’d written for her magazine would be running and added that the editor apparently loved the piece I’d penned.

Isn’t it amazing how a two-line email can brighten your day?! And after a week when I’d been struck down by some dreaded virus from hell, making juggling work and the little people much trickier than usual, her timing couldn’t have been better.

Anyway all this, plus several days’ experience of trying to type cogent copy with a raging temperature and limited childcare, got me thinking about the big list of pros and cons that adds up to working from home.

It goes without saying that when you’ve always commuted to an office, the idea of running a business from inside your own house sounds incredibly indulgent. After all you don’t have to go out in the pouring rain and cold to get the bills paid, so just that fact alone should improve your quality of life, right?

Not to mention being able to get chores done at the same time, thus surely saving you time, having your fridge and Facebook on tap, plus the enviable ability to work in your grubby PJs without brushing your hair for two days, should you so wish.

This is certainly what I thought freelancing from home must be like – before actually taking the plunge into the self-employment game, with children.

And there certainly are big, BIG pros to ‘lap-topping’ your day away at the dining room table.

The inclement weather factor is certainly true, and that many means many fewer frizzy hair days too. A vain point maybe, but still worth considering (especially when you have hair like mine that looks permanently as if I have just inserted my finger in an electrical socket.)

Quickly ‘grabbing’ lunch is literally as easy as walking into the kitchen and slapping two slices of bread on a plate.

If not too busy I can catch up with a TV programme on planner without the soundtrack of mini-me asking a million questions, or the risk of me falling asleep on the sofa because it’s past 9pm.

I can even make a start on dinner so hubby and I actually get something of an evening after getting the rugrats to bed.

I’m not distracted by office gossip or chatting to colleagues or those meetings you have about other meetings, so my productivity level is bound to be higher.

And finally I don’t have to remember complicated hot drink orders for a large number of people.

Now for the cons:

On a lovely sunny day I often long for the chance to get out, but if snowed under with deadlines the only ‘outings’ factored in are nursery drop-off and pick-up related.

Sometimes it’s really nice, and necessary, to have a quick break from your desk, even if that’s only picking up a bite to eat. Sadly walking five metres to the next room really doesn’t count.

There’s no defined boundary between ‘work and play’ when you run a business from home, and that means you can feel guilty most of the time for doing other things when you should be working. Even when that’s folding laundry at 10pm on a Saturday night.

I often miss sparking off other people in an office environment – it’s hard to brainstorm with yourself after all! Joining a couple of Facebook groups with like-minded journos has really helped with this, but again you get the guilt factor when chatting over social media.

And being part of a tea round of one is rubbish!

I suppose what it comes down to is that home-based freelancing is like most things in life, on certain days you’ve got the world at your feet, and on others the grass is always greener on the other side.

I would like to point out that I’ve never yet stayed in dirty PJs for two days without brushing my hair. But I’m not ruling it out…

Waiting for Farmer Christmas

Do you often find yourself not so much frazzled but deep fried? As a mum with a toddler who should host her own chat show and a seven-month-old baby boy (who for blog purposes I’m going to call ‘mini-me’ and ‘blue-eyed boy’) I frequently find myself either dozing off during conversations or with my nerves totally shot to pieces.

Add to the mix my job as a journalist and copywriter with a slowly-expanding run-from-home business, all the usual house/life type chores, my other half’s hugely stressful career and my increasingly fleeting attempts to still have some sort of social life and it sometimes all boils down to a recipe for disaster. Or mental insanity.

The kind that even an evening with the West Wing’s Josh Lyman can’t even cure.

But often on ‘one of those days’ either mini-me or blue-eyed boy will drop a little gem of sheer, laugh out loud joy into my day – and those are the golden nuggets that make all the constant juggling and frequent bickering matches worthwhile.

So I thought I’d share a few of my little girl’s recent hilarious soundbites. She might only be three but on good days her material could give Michael McIntyre a run for his money. Of course I’m biased!

  •  Whilst racing home from nursery to shoe-horn in blue-eyed boy’s dinner before snack and bath time – and trying not to think about a looming work deadline which could possibly mean working until the early hours – my daughter suddenly piped up about Christmas. She loves it, as do I. But it turns out we may have some explaining to do when it comes to the Nativity.

‘Mummy I know who’s coming down our chimney – Farmer Christmas!’

  • Mini-me is obsessed with our postman and his red van – probably something to do with her fondness for Postman Pat – but it was only recently I discovered she believes that his work schedule is closely linked to the weather, rather than so-called ‘days of rest’.

‘Mummy the postman won’t be coming today. He doesn’t deliver on sunny days…!’

  • Her three-year-old evaluation of her baby brother being little like she once was, and me and her dad recounting tales to entertain her of when she was very small and explaining her baby photos?  ’Mummy, when I get older I am going to get really small like in the olden days.’ 

Clearly we haven’t done a very good job.

Then there are the general ‘one-liners’ that make me chuckle.

‘Mummy I think it’s time for me to have another birthday party.’

‘This is ridiculous Mummy!’ (Add hands on hips and scowl for full effect).

‘I’ve only got one pair of hands Mummy!’ (Hmm, wonder where she got that one…)