It's far too easy for our social media accounts to present a kind of romantic, perfect, 'Pinteresty' (my favourite adjective), filtered version of real live, isn't it? Not everybody would admit that. But, let's face it - reality as a family isn't always as perfect as Instagram suggests.
Tom and I have experienced a proverbial perfect storm in the first few months of 2018. I understand that these are all insignificant first-world issues that we shouldn't dwell on, but we were struggling.
Tom works long days as a sales manager for a technology firm. Meanwhile, I rely on my aptitude for writing stuff down to source work as a freelance blogger, designer and writer which fits in nicely around the kids' school runs and stuff but doesn't provide any financial security. Financially, I've had to accept that Tom's the breadwinner at the moment.
Tom's work places extraordinary pressure on him and he sacrifices a lot of family time as a result of working or thinking about work when he'd prefer to be thinking about us. My work takes the back-seat but I try to keep a supplementary income trickling in, to help towards the families' expenses. I like to think I'm doing a good job for the family, but feedback from Tom (and sometimes the boys) often makes me feel a little useless, as I'll explain here.
In December, my freelance work soared, so to speak and I took on too much at once. As a budding freelancer it's tempting to accept every assignment without due consideration to the impact on family life or one's own down-time. If, like me you're the so-called 'homemaker' of the family, you'll agree that any opportunity to boost your family's supplementary income is a very difficult opportunity to turn down.
I took on two simultaneous huge website builds, two new blogging retainers, a technical copywriting job and a PR job all with January deadlines.
In January, Tom received a surprise, enormous tax demand. It was so complex, monstrous and unexpected that his already over-stretched brain couldn't process it properly. My lack of understanding in anything tax related (I mean, it's a complete mystery to me) and my financial situation left me in a difficult position - I was unable to help, either intellectually or practically. Tom could think about little else and to make matters worse, the HMRC were changing the outstanding amount daily and were unable to provide a solid settlement figure. The anxiety consumed Tom.
With Tom's tax thing going on I felt as though I wasn't contributing enough financially and so I thought I should deliberately over-stretch myself until his situation returned to normal (which it has now, thank god). I took on more work.
So, throughout January I became 'President Business' of Daddy Enterprises (basically I was SWAMPED). I got up early in the mornings and worked on the laptop at the dining table. When the kids got up I depended on them to get themselves up and dressed and then I prepared their breakfast and returned to the laptop. The school runs were a rush and then back at home I was straight back to work at the dining table until 3pm and the afternoon school run. Back at home I occupied the the boys with books, computer games or toys and continued to work until the boys' bedtime, pausing only to prepare dinner and get the kids ready for bed.
I found it very difficult to cope with Lyall's incessant pestering for snacks and things to do; ordinary stuff that I'd usually just deal with as I go along. In contrast, Richard's very good at getting on with stuff on his own. As a result I became a very frustrated parent, especially with Lyall, which in hindsight was unfair. When I think about it more, I expect the boys probably thought during the last couple of months that I literally stared at the laptop screen all day long, only pausing to tell Lyall to clear off and find something to do.
It wasn't easy for the kids, or me and Tom. The housework fell behind; the washing up piled up, the bathroom needed a clean and there was a huge pile of clean washing to put away. The boys helped me out with the occasional job - tidying bedrooms and dusting around the telly but they're too young to be able to do housework properly.
Tom was blinded by his bubble of work and financial pressures and unable to see beyond his issues to understand what I was actually working on. On a couple of occasions he expressed this opinion in front of the family which made me feel very insignificant and useless, especially considering the pressure I was putting on myself with my freelance work around the school runs and everything. As a couple, the only conversations we had for weeks were about my pipeline (or lack of pipeline), his tax demand or his work. We were struggling to find anything positive to say to each other. Despite the big projects I was working on, I hadn't actually delivered anything yet so I was feeling the pinch financially as well.
We were wading through treacle, as they used to say. Neither of us could sleep properly and the kids were misbehaving.
I put my personal blogs, social media and my work with adoption charities on the proverbial back-burner for a while. On the odd occasion that I found a couple of moments to peek at the family Instagram or Twitter feeds or if I needed to buy something from Amazon for the kids, Tom would coincidentally peek over my shoulder and naturally assumed that I was wasting the days away, shopping online, which wasn't the case.
We made it through January - I delivered two beautiful websites and received payment. Phew!
Meanwhile, throughout this difficult time we sold our house and started to make plans to move into a new house. This meant that any spare time we had was focused on house-viewings and meetings with estate agents, rather than spending quality time as a family which had already dwindled significantly.
Are you still here? I don't mind if you're fed up with my middle-class moaning and want to pop off until our next adoption themed update!
As I mentioned we were looking for a new house. Our cosy (but beautiful) little house in the city is starting to strain under the size of the boys (they're enormous) and with Tom and I both working from home it felt like the right time to move into something bigger with an office and a spare bedroom.
Eventually we settled on a lovely big new house in a nearby village. It had (yes, had) plenty of room, a beautiful big entrance hall, a shiny new kitchen and a March completion which fit in nicely with our buyers. Tom was concerned that this was going to present yet more of a financial burden on him, as my self employed income isn't considered as a secure salary for a mortgage yet. But, we persevered with the new house regardless and prepared the boys for the move - adopted children are vulnerable at times of upheaval by the way, particular when moving house.
But (enormous BUT), after more upsetting comments about my financial contribution to the family (this is where the 'had' comes in) and a realisation that Tom was taking on too much financial burden alone, we pulled the plug on the house move. I figured that it leaves us with one less thing to worry about. This decision triggered a series of improvements and things started to look better. My POO had returned (positive, optimistic outlook!). Tom was a bit happier and I was offered an amazing opportunity with HuffingtonPost - I became a twice featured blogger on their news website.
Then, more money shit. My car broke down and needed to be fixed, which meant spending the money that I'd been paid for all the work I'd done in December and January. Tits. So, I got the car fixed and then decided that I would sell it and buy a reliable smaller car.
A week later our boiler broke down. GAGH! We figured that now we're staying put we would invest in our house so we bought a new boiler with a clever wifi app and hot water literally on tap (without the hour wait for a bath that we were used to).
With the help of my lovely accountant Tom sorted out his tax and he started to regain some normality too. Meanwhile, the kids were back to their ordinary routine again and we were able to spend more time occupying them.
During half term, Tom and I were finally able to spend a bit of time concentrating on each other thanks to my excellent parents (the boys' grandparents) who looked after the kids for a couple of days. During our weekend together we went to beautiful Windsor and Tunbridge Wells to visit some lovely parent blogger friends of ours. In an emotional conversation over a couple of enormous beers we reflected over last couple of months and decided that we won't let this happen again. We're going to develop our house to cater for at least the near future and remove unnecessary pressure, to make sure that we can concentrate on the boys.
Thanks for reading this. I must say I think you're mad if you've got this far! Parenting can be such hard work. I feel much better now.