Con­fes­sions of an Al­pha Mum

A 44-year-old City lawyer with two chil­dren, who prefers to re­main anony­mous, aspires to be the mum who never messes up

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front Page -

Inever set out to be an al­pha mum. But af­ter we ar­rived 15 min­utes late to my daugh­ter’s first day of nurs­ery – and were greeted by an un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous tick­ing off for that, and for al­low­ing her to bring in a teddy bear – I told my­self that I would never again be the mum who messed up. My daugh­ter is nine now, and my son seven, and I know their sched­ules off by heart. Their uni­forms are pris­tine and we ar­rive at school on time; mean­while I still man­age to hold down a job, do my squats and get drunk on a Fri­day night with my hus­band.

Oth­ers may – and do – call this al­pha: I call it work­ing hard for an easy life. I ran a team of lawyers in a City bank for 10 years and now I run my fam­ily in the same busi­nesslike way – moth­er­hood is chal­leng­ing, af­ter all, and this is my way of deal­ing with it.

Per­haps that’s why I found my­self as­so­ci­at­ing with the blow-dried su­per-mum, Amanda, in the new BBC Two com­edy, Mother­land, this week. Amanda curls her top lip more than I ever would at other mums, but I guess I’m as poised and or­gan­ised as she is – the an­tithe­sis of manic beta mum Ju­lia, whose strug­gle to bal­ance child­care with work sees her send­ing her kids off to swim club mi­nus their kit, and throw­ing to­gether the world’s most hap­haz­ard ninth birth­day party at a mo­ment’s no­tice. “It’s hor­ri­ble to watch,” Amanda tells Ju­lia at the ram­shackle cel­e­bra­tion, and she has a point – the party is a com­plete dis­as­ter, in­dica­tive of the sham­bolic na­ture of Ju­lia’s, well, life.

I’ve come across plenty of beta mums in my time and I al­ways want to shake them and say “stop mak­ing your life so darned dif­fi­cult!” Ju­lia’s kid’s birth­day party in her shabby kitchen is a case in point – if your house isn’t up to it, hire a venue and a de­cent en­ter­tainer, or don’t have a party at all. I didn’t host a party un­til my daugh­ter was in Year 1 and a group of us clubbed to­gether and held a joint bash. Why put un­nec­es­sary pres­sure on your­self un­less you have to?

I don’t think my group of mum friends is as cut­ting a clique as the al­pha gang in Mother­land, but we do stick to­gether, sim­ply be­cause we do things in the same way – and at the same time. We be­came friends be­cause we were first at drop-off in the morn­ings. If your sched­ule is sorted, you’re more avail­able and more fun to be around.

My mother some­times asks me how I man­age to fit ev­ery­thing in with the kids and my job, and the truth is, I find my job very easy. I’m lucky to be well paid to work as a lawyer in a City bank three days a week. If my job started to stress me out, I’d leave and find a dif­fer­ent one, but I’m de­ter­mined to keep work­ing – at least un­til my chil­dren are a bit older. It keeps me fresher than if I was at home all day. At work I have the chance to ar­range my di­ary and do on­line shop­ping and then on my two days off, I can hang out with other mums and their kids know­ing that ev­ery­thing is un­der con­trol. None of my mum friends are over­wrought by their jobs: a few of them don’t work at all, but most have honed a part-time ca­reer that fits in with moth­er­hood, even if it means re­train­ing as a nutri­tion­ist or life coach or some other kind of ther­a­pist.

I guess one of the main dif­fer­ences be­tween mums like me and the likes of Ju­lia is that we pay hand­somely for child­care. I have an au pair who lives with us and I pay her dou­ble the go­ing rate plus over­time to en­sure I can leave for work con­fi­dent that the kids will be ex­cel­lently looked af­ter. She also babysits two nights a week – one night I’ll go out with my hus­band, the other with my friends. I rarely rely on my own mother or my mother-in-law for child­care – they’re busy, and quite frankly, why should they? Pay up and shut up is my mantra when it comes to child­care: a good nanny or au pair will trans­form your life from Ju­lia’s to Amanda’s. I also have a cleaner twice a week, fresh flow­ers de­liv­ered and a gym mem­ber­ship. Life is ex­pen­sive – we’re not putting any sav­ings aside – but in 10 years’ time my daugh­ter will be an adult, so it’s not for­ever.

We may look like the model fam­ily, but our 4x4 was bought on a fi­nance scheme and we have a large mort­gage – it’s just that liv­ing well is what we choose to spend our money on. While it might seem as if we have ev­ery­thing, we are ex­tremely fru­gal when it comes to spend­ing money on our­selves, and my hus­band buys our au pair a much more lav­ish Christ­mas present than he buys me. We know which way our bread is but­tered.

Our life is far from joy­less, how­ever. I do let my hair down and get a bit tipsy at week­ends, and if we didn’t have sex at least once a week I think we’d end up di­vorced – I’m very mind­ful of nur­tur­ing my mar­riage. The rest of the week, how­ever, I’m in bed by 9.30pm; I don’t gulp down large quan­ti­ties of white wine, and I get up an hour ear­lier than nec­es­sary to go to the gym. It’s the only time of day when I can fit it in, and I en­joy hav­ing 45 min­utes to my­self to think. I Mother­land: might look like I’m win­ning all the time, but of course, I’m pad­dling hard be­neath the sur­face too. If I told some of the more dis­or­gan­ised moth­ers at the school gates that I lie in bed wor­ry­ing about the fact I haven’t taken my daugh­ter to see the Ro­man ex­hibits at the Bri­tish Mu­seum (she’s study­ing the Ro­mans in his­tory), they’d laugh in my face. But this is the prob­lem with mod­ern liv­ing; there’s so much you can do to en­hance your child’s learn­ing – so many apps to down­load, or pro­grammes to watch – that you never stop feel­ing guilty. Last week­end I dragged my son around the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum only to read an ar­ti­cle that same evening about dam­ag­ing your chil­dren through over­stim­u­la­tion. I’ve been feel­ing guilty ever since that my kids are al­ways too busy to play in our beau­ti­ful play­room.

My mum friends don’t help in this re­spect. To be hon­est, we’re all com­pet­ing to be ear­li­est, thinnest, and have the most suc­cess­ful chil­dren with­out look­ing as if we’re try­ing. We share crois­sants in the café af­ter drop-off (none of us will eat lunch af­ter­wards), and I sus­pect all of us se­cretly hire some kind of tu­tor – if not more than one – for our chil­dren. I wish I wasn’t caught up in the com­pe­ti­tion but I can’t help my­self. In this re­spect, I sup­pose I might like to be a lit­tle more beta.

If I cared less about get­ting it right, I’d have had more chil­dren. I know my hus­band would like more kids but I’m 44 now, and I know my lim­its. There’s a fine line be­tween or­der and chaos and an­other child might take me to the dark side.

As far as I can see, there’s no cor­re­la­tion be­tween al­pha par­ents and per­fect chil­dren. At least be­hind closed doors. My daugh­ter reg­u­larly tears strips off me in front of my hus­band and my son still climbs in to our bed most nights. My hus­band re­fuses to be­lieve the child psy­chol­o­gist, who sug­gests he has “at­tach­ment is­sues”. I’m not so sure.

Noth­ing is ever as per­fect as it seems on the sur­face, but when it comes to moth­er­hood, an al­pha ap­proach is the only way I know how.

As told to Anna Tyzack

‘I might look like I’m win­ning all the time, but I’m pad­dling hard be­neath the sur­face’

The BBC Two se­ries takes a funny look at al­pha and beta moth­ers – and one fa­ther

Al­pha moth­ers: Big Lit­tle Lies, the US se­ries star­ring Reese Wither­spoon, Shai­lene Wood­ley and Ni­cole Kid­man, looked be­neath the sur­face of the ap­par­ently per­fect lives of three moth­ers

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