Few things elicit eyeroll championships more than extremely rich women talking about the juggle of a career and motherhood. “Oh c’mon! You must have an army of nannies! All that money and your kid in a golden cot – shurrup. She can afford to stop working if she’s that bothered!” is often the sentiment, as though money eradicates the ache of being separated from your child because you are working. As for implying that making money is the only reason a mother would want to work, well I’ll let you unpack that industrial-storage-company-sized misogyny in your own time.
Work and divorce are the primary reasons a mother is separated from their child. In her interview with Oprah, Adele spoke about the bleak lyrics on her album, which come from the pain of this separation. Of course, there are problems non-millionaires have that Adele doesn’t. For example, if you have paid for a childminder and your kid gets a last-minute playdate, do you let them go on the playdate and quietly seethe because you are now needlessly paying a childminder or forfeit it and plan the playdate for another time when it will save you money?
And what if your flat is freezing because you can’t afford to put the heating on since your part-time job doesn’t pay for heating and food? Your kids have constant runny noses, are wearing so many layers on them they look like Mr Stay-Puft from Ghostbusters, and you cry after they are asleep because you can’t afford to keep the home warmer. This might seem petty, but when you don’t have much to spare, spending money unnecessarily is stressful.
Like Adele, I am a single mum. Although she can afford to go to Barbados this afternoon if she wanted to, take ten of her friends with her and buy as many Toblerones as she wanted from duty-free, and I can’t, I totally relate to the awful adjustment of forfeiting time with your child that has to be made when your relationship breaks down.
Add keeping your work going on top of this can make you buckle. Adele’s generation is very different to mine. Younger people have a far better understanding of the need to look after themselves when going through a process like a divorce or any other change, seismic or otherwise.
They have vocabulary and turns of phrases that I wish I’d had. Adele says to Oprah, “I had to show up for myself every day”. This might sound like self-help gobbledegook (to use a word that will make me sound firmly in the “in my day” generation) but it totally made sense to me. I wish “turning up for myself” was a concept I would have understood when I was 36 and going through a divorce. “Drown your sorrows” was my generation’s coping mechanism. The annoying thing about sorrows is that they are quite buoyant so they come sailing back in a massive hangover galley and claw at your heart as you are being sick in the loo. As therapy goes, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Not seeing your child every day is absolutely the worst part of a relationship breakdown. For a long time, when my toddler son was at his father’s, I would lie on my bed and cry until he came back. I felt robbed of time with my boy especially as I had a job that frequently took me away from him too. For me, nothing felt more unnatural than not being with my child when I wasn’t at work.
Childcare is a massive issue for most parents, especially single ones. You can’t use your ex like a nanny. My ex-husband and his fiance help me as much as they can, but they can’t hold the fort as and when I need. Neither can my friends, neighbours and family because they all have lives and jobs of their own.
For a number of years, we had Wonderful Will, our live-in nanny. He recently escaped, however, and went off to study so now I’m faced with the post-Brexit au pair deficit. Au pairs from Europe can’t work in the UK freely anymore so ten families will now scramble to get the same au pair. It feels like I’m in a game of childcare Hungry Hippos. I rush to meet deadlines (as I am, this very minute) because I must finish on time to get to the school gate. My job isn’t nine-to-five; I often work at night so after-school club does not work for me.
I could have found someone else to do it I suppose. But what is the point of having children if you can’t arrive at the school gate with an apple, unbrushed hair and asking them what they had for their lunch? For every mum I know, showing up for that as often as you can is the dream.