My three-year-old daughter, Rose, is the person I get the most happiness from in the world. Each night at bedtime, I want to hold her and never let her go.
She makes me laugh so hard and love so much that the thought of ever not being there for her makes my breath catch in my throat. Weekends with her have always passed too quickly.
But, since she was six months old I have worked full-time in demanding jobs — as deputy editor at Elle magazine, then as editor of fashion title Grazia for the past three years — and travelled regularly.
Time together: Natasha reads a story with daughter Rose, three, after a day at work
So many times have I longed to be with Rose: on the fourth weekend in a row when I hadn’t been home, when I couldn’t remember what day I was supposed to be in which country, and during our countless FaceTime calls — from the office, or a fashion week abroad.
I constantly questioned whether I was working too hard. Then, last month, I left my job to go freelance.
Since then, I have had to acknowledge a strange truth: that being with my daughter every day doesn’t bring me, or her, the happiness and fulfilment I had hoped for.
I now know that the one thing that keeps me sane and calm — and allows me to love Rose so completely — is spending some time apart from her.
That is why I have decided to keep my full-time childcare in place, despite working from home — even if that means working solely to cover the costs of her nursery and au pair.
Candid: Natasha admits she doesn’t enjoy being a full-time parent to her daughter
I firmly believe this allows me to be the best parent I can be.
Not every parent will share my view. But I know I’m not alone, and that so many women feel so consumed by motherhood that it can feel like a burden that is breaking us, rather than a joy that is sustaining us.
The lack of time we have for ourselves can turn into hatred of our children, then horrendous guilt for feeling that way, creating a horrible spiral from which it can feel impossible to escape.
If I’m completely honest, I felt suffocated when Rose was a baby. I found even six months of maternity leave hard — the birth had been tough, and it took a long time to heal, but more than that, I found the days a mind-numbing cycle of feeding, nappy-changing and ferrying Rose around to various classes. I loved her so much, but I really struggled.
Once back at work, I felt stimulated and happy, but still had a punishing daily routine: get up, get dressed, get Rose dressed and fed, get her to nursery, get to work, get home, get Rose bathed and to bed. Then, with my husband, sort dinner, eat, relax for 20 minutes, sleep.
At work, I was always switched on, answering questions and making decisions. At home at the weekends or on weeknights, it felt as though Rose was always attached to, or on top of me, often literally.
Balance: Natasha, who has recently gone freelance, is now able to get home earlier because she is working from a cafe nearby, or coming from a meeting she has arranged
I had no physical space at all unless she was in bed — and then I had a million other things to do.
I’d completely lost myself. As my husband said recently, I just wasn’t ‘in the room’.
Leaving my job — to focus on the business I wanted to launch, as well as writing more — became the answer. Financially, it would have made more sense to reassess my childcare at this point. Did I really need my amazing au pair and full-time nursery place for Rose, when I could do a lot of paid work while she’s asleep or during the 15 free hours she qualifies for at nursery?
Did I really need someone to do my pick-ups each weekday? No. But is that what I want? Yes.
It was shocking to admit, but I just don’t enjoy full-time parenting. The experience convinced me that as valuable as it is for Rose to have time with me, there are great benefits for us both to have some space
For although I love getting home earlier than before — because I’m working from a cafe nearby or am at a meeting I’ve arranged — this extra time I’ve carved out is for me, be it for work, going to the gym or catching up with friends or old contacts. And it is so liberating.
It’s not that I didn’t think about doing it differently. The first week after leaving my job, I took Rose out of nursery to be with her. We went to the park, out for lunch, to play with some of her friends. And while I know she loved a lot of it, we also clashed. I lost my temper over nothing.
By the time I’d bathed her each night, I was tired, irritated and irrationally taking it out on her.
The adjustment for me was huge.
For nearly three-and-a-half years I’d had hours without her every weekday when I didn’t have to go to the loo ‘with a guest’, have someone to constantly clear up after, or pick up because they didn’t want to walk down the road for no reason at all.
I’m not used to timing lunch or tea for the perfect moment — when Rose is hungry enough to eat, but not hungry enough to have a meltdown.
Benefits: Natasha explains her decisions have made her a better mother to Rose
And I’m not used to taking her to ballet, waiting until the 40-minute lesson is over, then driving her home again.
After just two days, I felt I was failing as a parent more than when I was working. I was exhausted, overwhelmed and nowhere near as engaged with my daughter as before.
It was shocking to admit, but I just don’t enjoy full-time parenting. The experience convinced me that as valuable as it is for Rose to have time with me, there are great benefits for us both to have some space.
By day three, I took her back to nursery, where she has the most amazing group of friends and teachers.
On day four, I asked my au pair to get back to the old routine — even though I didn’t have any work to do.
I believe the decisions I’ve made make me a better mum to Rose, and in the past four weeks we have become closer than ever
To ensure my sanity, I went to see friends and stayed out until she was fed, bathed and in her pyjamas.
I know what is right for me — keeping weekdays for myself and for my work — but it isn’t for everyone.
I’m incredibly lucky to earn enough to cover my share of the childcare and the mortgage by working from home. And I don’t think I’ve ever admired parents who don’t work, or work part-time, more.
I’m also aware that speaking so honestly about the parts of parenting I don’t enjoy may seem hurtful to those who would give anything to have children. Some might argue that I am ungrateful.
But I am grateful for my forthright, funny daughter. It’s just that there is a less pleasant side to motherhood and it’s important not to stay silent through guilt.
Our children rely on us for so much. But surely it’s vital to prioritise ourselves, too.
I believe the decisions I’ve made make me a better mum to Rose, and in the past four weeks we have become closer than ever. She said to me last night ‘you haven’t shouted at me today’, and I hadn’t, because I feel so genuinely happy with my new life.
I’m also nearly five months pregnant with our second child, and the baby is due about four weeks before Rose starts primary school.
I will, of course, take about six months’ maternity leave, but I’ll be keeping our au pair, whether it’s picking up Rose from school, cooking, tidying or looking after the baby for an hour so I can get a break.
So often women are judged for the choices they make —working full-time, staying at home, breastfeeding or not. Whatever our decision, we’re made to feel bad. But I refuse to be judged.
For the first time in a long time, I’m doing what I really want to. And I know for certain it’s better for Rose, too.