What is a grown-up (and do I want to be one)?

Grown-ups in action

Grown-ups! They’re calm and responsible and always have a tissue to hand. They can smell a loose roof tile at 40 paces.

Grown-ups! They learn from their mistakes and offer sage advice upon which they themselves would act. They know how to talk to the headteacher.

These guys keep their shit together big time. No impulsive spending. No tantrums. No lamentable unscheduled hangovers.

Grown-ups are bastions of assertive communication. They articulate their needs calmly. They do not behave like babies. And they never say they’re fine whilst half-slamming cupboard doors and pointedly avoiding eye contact.

Male grownups bring their immaculate cars to a high shine every Saturday morning and play golf.

Grown-up washing car
Every week without fail

Lady grownups are multi-tasking powerhouses. They can make packed lunches, answer work emails and phone the dentist all at once. They triage multiple streams of urgent shouting with ease, whilst nailing a fridge audit. Boom!


So am I a grown-up?

No, I am not.

Am I okay with that?

Well, yes and indeed also no.

Maya told me yesterday that she was ‘way more mature’ than me. She’s eight. She wasn’t trying to upset me. She slapped her hand over her mouth as soon as she’d said it, clearly alarmed that the truth had flown out unbidden.

I’m not surprised this is what she thinks. I have trouble with a lot of the stuff that grownups are meant to be good at.

My self-control is patchy. Maya takes a fortnight to eat a small bag of Maltesers. I take 40 seconds to put away the same amount.

My rucksack management is appalling. Maya slips neatly folded notes into designated pockets. I stuff scrappy bits of paper into my work bag, where they transmogrify into poor-men’s origami hedgehogs.

I hate planning and paperwork. Rapid task-switching can honestly bring me to tears.

I find it super-hard to focus on mundane tasks. Without emotional investment, I’m pretty much rendered inert. Admin makes me feel cornered, like my soul is trapped in a box.

I’m clumsy and scatty too. I drop things, I lose things, I double-book. I misplaced my iPhone at a campsite last summer. It turned up where I’d left it – in the freezer with the ice packs (bit crunchy to the touch, but otherwise in tip-top condition).

All in order here then

Our house is never spotless. Pitted against the gymnastics mums, I may as well just forget it. I’ve seen their homes on Zoom. They are pristine. I know they smell of Lenor.


Does all this mean I’m not mothering material? Sometimes I feel like it might.

Because PE kit and uniforms and parents’ evenings. Because emails from nursery and school fancy-dress days and can she bring a whatever in. Because sisterly scuffles and I had it firsts and can we all stop talking at once!

Dad and daughter fancy dress
Jesus, not again

Society tells me that, as a woman, I’m a peerless multi-tasker. Motherhood is my moment to manifest my destiny, sequester my own selfish needs and serve. I was engineered for this role!

Society talks some bollocks.

My brain threatens to implode with the intensity of it all. The pressure of split attention fries my neurons. There’s a reason why I turn down the music if I need to focus when I’m driving. Even one distraction is too many for me.

Brain
Ouch

Sometimes modern life feels like traversing rush-hour Paris with no brakes and a smoking bonnet while your passenger shouts at you, punches you in the face repeatedly and tries to grab the steering wheel.


I’ve always been a dreamer. I can stare out of a window for an hour with only the most nebulous of notions passing through my head. I like it that way. And it’s that state from whence my best ideas spring.

So I’m forever trying to swat the boring-but-taxing stuff aside so that I can either recharge through drifting or crack on with something I’d much rather do. I’m never sitting up straight on my mental reception waiting for the next job to come in.

There are lots of things I love doing. Maybe that’s part of the problem. I love painting and writing. I go to an acting workshop. I love learning about history and psychology and languages and geography. I’ve just learnt to label the US states and am tackling the countries of Africa (cheers, Sporkle). I’m learning to draw on my iPad and starting to dabble with screenwriting.

Doing the things that my brain enjoys reboots my mental health. When my attempts to do so are too often thwarted, I quickly descend into misery.


I love being a mum and I love my kids. But I need headspace to keep me up. Motherhood often robs me of that and replaces it with jobs I am shit at. It’s blown the lid off ineptitudes I thought I was great at hiding. And it’s started to mess with my self-esteem.

Oh, you are lovely though

Because these days, if birthday cards aren’t posted on time or nursery fees are late, my breath gets shallow and my head starts to spin. I feel judged and declared inadequate, though I couldn’t quite tell you who by.

I watch other mums with wonder as they deliver fresh-faced children with neatly styled hair to school in clothes that look like they might have been ironed.

Some children at my younger daughter’s nursery even have wellies that aren’t caked in mud. I know! I just can’t fathom where the motivation comes from to wipe a welly clean. Unless you’re handing it down to another child and you don’t want to look like scum.

I’ve just been reading about executive function and I’m sure I’ve got problems with mine. It’s the system that governs all the things I suck at: goal-oriented planning, switching attention at speed, not putting your iPhone in the freezer.

My self-analysis could be wide of the mark but it still makes me feel like crying. A possible explanation, after all this time, for why I struggle so much with everyday tasks that many people seem to find simple.


Truth is though, I don’t know many women who take modern parenting in their stride, no matter how tight their admin game. We are just not designed to do six hundred jobs at once.

Our plight reminds me of a nightmare I had as a child. I loathed fishfingers at the time. In my dream, I had five breadcrumbed cod batons on each hand, in place of the standard digits. And I knew I had to eat them. My life depended on it.

But each time I forced one down whilst gagging, another grew back in its place. I would never get through them; I would die if I didn’t. Motherly brainswamp is the eternal fishfinger of modern life. Or…..well you get what I’m saying anyway.

You have got to be kidding me…

Researchers now know, of course, that women are no better at multi-tasking than men. We just have to do it more often.

Nobody’s brain can, in fact, focus on two things at once. The best we can hope for is to switch our attention from one job to the next and then on to a third or back again.

Which perhaps explains why I feel I was not designed for modern life.

We live in a world now obsessed with productivity. We revere those who can do a gazillion things at once. The ability to be on all the time has come to be expected.

Unable to prioritise your completely unreasonable workload? Fear not. There’s an app for that! And once you’ve learnt to use it, we’ll crank up your workload some more.

And you can shut your face about the extra three hours you do each night after bedtime. There’s a mindfulness class you can take in your lunch break that will fix your stupid pain.

Man using smartphone
At last! Something that lets me work smarter, all the bloody time

I can’t bear this toxic approach to living and it’s weaselled its way into our private homes and spaces. It thieves our restorative downtime and robs us of quiet moments of self-connection and calm.


In the end though, I can’t change what life throws at me. I can only work on my own response. So I need to be kinder to myself.

Because it really is okay that I’m shockingly bad at some bits of adult life. As parents, we’re still unique people, with strengths and talents and crippling flaws that we have perfected the art of concealing.

I know that while I’m busy hating on myself for my rotting soffits or failure to plan, some other poor mother is ruing her lack of artistic flair or her fragile grasp of percentages.

We’re none of us perfect, after all.


So yes, I’d like to be a grown-up. But I need to stop equating the world of grown-uppery only with the skills I lack.

There are lots of good things I do model well. Trusting yourself to wing it for one, eating apples and clementines daily. Kindness to strangers and thank yous and sorrys and properly hearing what people say.

Listening to the birds, spending time in nature and respecting your creative drive. Being curious about yourself and the world you live in. Childishness and playfulness and keeping your own self amused.

And the adult stuff that doesn’t come easy? I’ll never stop trying, of course. But there are problems I feel more compelled to address, so I think I’ll focus on them.

I’d like to develop a thicker skin and learn to complete what I’ve started.

I’m trying to be braver and more willing to fail in the pursuit of personal growth. I’d love to model that.

It’s time to stop dwelling on the things I do badly and remember the things I do well. To stop trying to be what I’m not and instead be the best I can.

Maybe the most grown-up thing I can do is admit that I’ll always be growing.

So here’s to embracing those meaningful challenges that could really change our lives and theirs.

Here’s to growing up.

One task at a time.

What aspects of parenthood make you question your fitness for purpose? What three things do you most want to model for your kids?

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