Whenever I imagine other journalists writing, which I sometimes do as I skim through their words in snatched moments between burning dinner, pouring wine down my throat and melting into a state of agitated catatonia, I imagine a scene of civilised decorum: a study, a desk, some books, maybe a vase of flowers.

So it is with a growing sense of self-loathing that I see myself now in a horrifying out-of-body experience: Laptop perched on my knee on the sofa, surrounded by half-drunk cups of coffee while the sound of Cbeebies, which is babysitting my eldest, fails to mask the shrieks of the baby who has decided he no longer needs an afternoon nap.

Not for the first time, as I see my life spread before me like an unravelling tapestry, I find myself resisting the urge to stand up, throw open the front door and run until my feet bleed, and only then laying face-down and waiting for the world to swallow me whole.

Since giving birth to my first child three and a half years ago, I have faced these moments on a fairly regular basis.

In the beginning I worried about the possibility of post-natal depression, but the doctor confirmed it wasn’t that. “It must be the hormones,” my mother noted as I regaled feelings of annihilating fatigue. Perhaps she was right, though months and then years down the line, this mantra wore thin.

For women who return to work, there is often a pressure – either external or from within ourselves – to be seen to be excelling in the office

It was only as I started to speak to other mums that I had an epiphany: maybe there was nothing wrong, maybe it was OK to feel this way sometimes – maybe it was even normal.

While feelings of not coping, anxiety or hopelessness could signal something far more serious and should always be addressed to a GP, sometimes – despite the niggling sense that everyone else has it so much more sussed than you do – we all feel, to put it politely, a little overstretched.

Not least today when, for a lot of women, being a mum per se is no longer enough.

For women who return to work, there is often a pressure – either external or from within ourselves – to be seen to be excelling in the office. Understandably, with “psychological barriers” and stereotyping responsible for women being written off in the workplace, according to research published earlier this year. Though interestingly, according to the same study Cracking the Code, women without children were just as likely to be held back from promotion, with a man starting at a FTSE 100 organisation almost five times more likely to make it to the executive committee than a woman. (And this despite a spate of recent research showing mothers in the workplace are actually more productive than their childless counterparts.)

In Germany women get 14 weeks’ paid maternity leave paid at 100 per cent of salary with no ceiling payments

How long we take off to raise our little ones if we are going back to work is another source of guilt and self-doubt with inner turmoil following you as you swing between the prospect of more time with your child (but what about your career and making money?) and a swifter return to the office (abandoning your baby in the process and paying a fortune on childcare, if you can find it…)

In the UK, 84 per cent of women take 39 weeks for maternity leave, though we are entitled to 52 – with six weeks paid at 90 per cent of your average salary while weeks seven-39 are paid at a maximum of £124.88. This translates over the total period to women receiving an average compensation of around 40 per cent of their salary.

Compare that to Germany where women get 14 weeks’ paid maternity leave paid at 100 per cent of salary with no ceiling payments. Or Iceland, where couples get nine months’ paid leave at around 80 per cent of their salary: three months is reserved for the mother, three months must be taken by the father, and the couple can choose to share the remaining three in whatever fashion.

In the US, by contrast, women are given just 12 weeks’ maternity leave which is mandated by federal law, but there is no pay during this period. A number of states including California and Rhode Island offer disability benefits that can be used by pregnant women, yet overall just 42 per cent of mothers in America have access to some form of paid maternity cover.

But the supermum dilemma exists not just in the office, where the threat of being written off for that next promotion looms large. There is pressure, too, in social situations with women needing to be seen to be coping. Of the women I’ve spoken to, every single one has mentioned comparing themselves to the perceived successes of others, whose lives they imagine as a 24/7 Instagram feed. Which is obviously not helped by endless media coverages of famous beauties who have sneezed out their baby and then skipped out of hospital in their pre-pregnancy jeans. (Lies, lies, lies.)

Then there is the small matter of Being A Mum, which is no longer just about being a loving, nurturing carer for your offspring.

While looking after your children 24/7 is hugely rewarding it is also a bit like being beaten up daily by a pack of Duracell bunnies

Being a mum worth her salt today involves an endless timetable of extra-curricular activities, reading up on – and having an opinion about – every available form of parenting, which is sold to us at length by a baby industry generating more than £1.1 billion in the UK alone. Between creating organic, nutritionally-balanced meals from scratch (because otherwise, the Daily Mail helpfully reports, our children will be obese and miserable), parent’s evenings, arranging play-dates, doctor’s appointments, shopping, cleaning, having the occasional shower, it’s a wonder we find time to weep into our pillows. This is all not to mention the responsibilities of being a partner and friend…

Is it any wonder then that the majority of the women I’ve spoken to have, when coaxed, admit to feeling regularly bamboozled by all that is expected of them? The drive to be supermum – to be everything to everyone all the time – is not only unrealistic, it’s impossible. And, most importantly, it’s making us a bit miserable.

What are the solutions? Delegating childcare and missing out on important milestones? Loosening our career aspirations and jeopardising the progress our foremothers fought so hard for? I have no idea. Everyone is different, and I’m not sure there are any easy answers: Speak to a full-time mother and she will soon tell you looking after your children 24/7 is – while hugely rewarding – a bit like being beaten up daily by a pack of Duracell bunnies. Any working mum will regale the misery of battling the daily commute knowing you’re missing bed-time while your colleagues begrudge you for leaving early – along with the pleasures of hopping into a coffee shop for an uninterrupted pick-me-up and regaining a sense of her own independence.

Maybe it’s alright to admit you’re sometimes tempted to have a mid-morning bath with a bottle of Tanqueray and a straw

What we can do, though, is be a bit more forgiving; accepting of our limitations. Lighten up a bit and try to have a bit of fun with it, even. Sure, we’re knackered. Yes, the prospect of lying flat out on a beach with a Margherita is a distant memory, but that doesn’t mean we have to spend the next 18 years in a black hole of self-loathing, judging ourselves for failing to live up to our own unattainable goals. As my mum likes to frequently remind me, she was a single parent for most of my childhood, went back to work when I was three months, fed me defrosted chicken pies and pretty much left me to be raised by our large and smelly menagerie of pets (to paraphrase). And I am still here.

While this perky anecdote might make me want to rugby tackle her every time she tells it, maybe there is something to be learnt. Maybe, in order to make life a little easier for ourselves, it’s OK to let your kid watch half an hour’s Cbeebies while you chuck on a load of washing; to hold out on taking him or her to toddler latin classes; maybe it won’t vanquish your life-long chances of happiness and fulfilment if you turn up to work with lipstick on your cheek occasionally. And maybe it’s alright to admit to your NCT class that you’re bloody knackered and are sometimes tempted to have a mid-morning bath with a bottle of Tanqueray and a straw.

For my part, I shall concede it’s possible that I am not the only writer who scrawls out sentences from a room that looks like the aftermath of a tornado – and then I’ll blame it on the children in a fit of indignation when my husband comes home from work and gives me the looks that makes me want to wallop him with a broom (if only I could remember where it was).

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