Leona O'Neill: Busting the myth of the 'mega mum'

'Mega mum' Helena Morrissey created a myth which many less well-off mothers tried and failed to copy, leaving them feeling inadequate when they were unable to replicate her 'have it all' lifestyle. It's great that she's finally admitted the truth, writes Leona O'Neill...

Helena Morrissey and family

FOR a long time, English mother-of-nine Helena Morrissey was put forward to us as an example of how mums can 'have and do it all'.

The 'mega-mum mega-fund manager' managed to hold down her gruelling job as a city boss while meeting the demands of motherhood and looking glamourous and well-slept while doing both. She was heralded by many as a modern superwoman and inspired other mums to strive to do it all.

Frankly, in projecting this image of perfection, she made us mere mortals – struggling to do even one of these things, with a fraction of the children – look and feel bad.

I remember reading about her years ago, about how she didn't sacrifice her ambitions for motherhood, how she achieved both success in the boardroom and in her home with ease and thinking, if she can do it, I can do it. And it wasn't just quite as easy.

Creating a myth and sending it out to the world ensured that many mums, who might not have had Helena's resources – she had a live-in nanny and a very well paid career – tried and failed to emulate this success and it left them feeling inadequate. Now, she has confessed that she regrets peddling the myth that "it's easy for women to have it all".

Writing in the Daily Mail, she spoke about the pain of going back to work after her children were born – she took just 11 weeks off with her youngest – and how she was constantly blighted with a "nagging feeling that my priorities were all wrong", despite telling the world that she could still "do it all".

"I found it draining to throw myself back into my city job and then over-compensate for my absence when I got home, anxious to prove myself as a mother," she wrote in the Mail.

"But the psychological toll of returning to the office went deeper than physical exhaustion. Irrespective of whether it was my first baby or my ninth, the second I set foot outside the house, I missed them terribly, felt guilty about the other children and had this constant nagging feeling my priorities were all wrong.

"And yet I told no one [apart from her husband, Richard] how I felt. Quite the opposite: I doubled down on creating the impression I could 'do it all'. Even when I suffered a painful miscarriage in the office at 12 weeks pregnant, I soldiered on, chairing a board meeting, telling no one, keeping up appearances.

"Looking back, I can see that it's women like me who've created the myth you can have it all. Today, I wish I hadn't been so stoical. I wish I hadn't helped perpetuate this pernicious illusion that we can breeze through big life events, such as having a baby or enduring a miscarriage, and carry on as if nothing much has happened.

"I feel that if I, and other women of my generation, had been more honest, perhaps there wouldn't be this pressure to be a 'supermum'. I am keen to dispel any myth that this was easy: it was not, no matter how much gloss I tried to put on it."

Helena has urged other mums not to be 'taken in' buy the illusion that others find it easy and regrets contributing to that illusion.

Being a mother is not easy. Not for wealthy city bosses with nannies or single mothers doing it all by themselves, or any mother in-between the two. Being responsible for the physical and mental well-being of little human beings is a 24-hour job and involves an astronomical amount of skill and resilience.

I'm glad Helena has spoken up and smashed the myth. Parenting is hard, it's tough and it's not pretty at times and we shouldn't be pretending otherwise so that when mums struggle with any aspect they feel like they have failed.

The truth is much less glamourous, but one we can all relate to.

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