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
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
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