Time for Parenting...
...because raising children is a full-time job
October 2003 NewsletterThe mother of all choices; Maternal Feminists; Motherhood vs work: is there still a choice?; The best job in the world
Motherhood Vs Work: Is There Still A Choice?
When I went to school I was going to grow up to be something important, a professional, a high earner. Somehow motherhood was something which would happen to other people, and the last person I wanted to turn into was my mother - after all, that's all she had been.
I got married and continued to work and stumbled into pregnancy by drinking too much and believing Biology lessons to the letter. My first son was born, I hurried through maternity leave, dutifully breastfeeding but continuing to work from home, confused by the conspiracy of midwives who spoonfed you on one level and left you to flounder on another. How on earth was I meant to know how to change a nappy - I wasn't ever going to be a mother, remember?
here followed another son, then the pressure at work to go for promotion increased - well, I'd had my two children. Simultaneously there could be no compromise on hours. After all, I wanted to be a full-time professsional, didn't I? Then a third pregnancy. Disbelief at work, financial ruin at home. Three pre-school children and my entire salary would be consumed by the childcare cost. So I resigned.
There followed months of shock and anger as I dealt with the isolation and reinvented how to run a house with tiny children and stay sane. Everyone I met told me how happy I must be and I simply wanted to off-load the difficulties, the tiredness, the boredom. I just don't do coffee-mornings. Just because I am a mother it doesn't mean I'm no longer selective about people I talk to. Now, after a year or so at home, I am slowly learning to tailor my ambitions (momentarily) and enjoy my children when they are young. The new "have it all but not all at once" story.
I love my kids. I already regret hurrying back to work after the first two-but I really was not programmed to stay at home. I am lucky, I have had the choice to do so. Close friends are either back at work convinced that's where they should be, or worse, have been so busy fulfilling all that professional promise that motherhood (in all its fluffy, rose-tinted form) is moving ever further out of reach. The problem is there is nothing out there to encourage my children to approach motherhood with more open arms.
And it's not just my chaotic washing/cooking/cleaning/ shouting which is going to put them off. I look back at the teaching world I have left. Girls continue to be celebrated as the new boys as the curriculum is biased towards more diligent and organised study. Who on earth is going to promote the non-earning, professionally stagnating world of motherhood, which now barely exists thanks to the handcuffs of the joint mortgage and the wonderful new low-risk world of childcare?
I suppose I'm just waking up to the fact that looking after my children isn't so bad, but that I had no positive role-model which accommodated all my personal and professional ambitions.
If we want women to have children with confidence and to look after them willingly, then motherhood, with all its positive impact on the mental and social well-being of children, needs to be promoted as something to aspire to from an early age - at home, in the childcare unit and at school. While I fear my children will simply see me as 'mother' with all the negative connotations attached, I fear more that they will choose, or be forced, to remain childless, or sue me for raising them in their early years without being qualified to teach the foundation stage.