Jane Devine: Women face mother of all battles when it comes to parenting
IS IT just me or do other working mothers find the plethora of articles and programmes, from Women’s Hour to glossy magazines, about whether or not women can really “have it all”, just patronising?
Patronising because they profile women who have children and careers (not just jobs); show how they have success in both: self-made woman with pretty, clever kids; and that they also have time for a glittering social life; an active role on the school’s parent forum; have time to exercise daily; and bake their own bread.
They are held up as amazing women and role models, women the rest of us should aspire to be. I say, how much Prozac is she on, does she ever sleep, why is there no mention of “the help”?
By holding women “who have it all” up in this way, we are not just patronising, but damaging. Damaging, in that we assume it is a good thing to be able to be all things to all people, all the time, but also damaging in that we are pedalling a myth that what working mothers do everyday falls short.
The fact is that no matter how you dress it up, working mothers perform juggling acts constantly. From the moment they return to the workplace after maternity leave, it starts. The sense of foreboding (where it used to be excitement) at the mention of a conference requiring an overnight stay; the calm exterior (and inner breakdown) when a meeting goes on until dangerously close to school pick-up; the development of hugely creative excuses to avoid after work drinks because A) you’re too skint and B) you can’t get a babysitter, and the endless list of things you “really need to work on at home” (while looking after your sick child).
Then there’s the dread of fellow colleagues saying things like “I just don’t know how you do it.”
It sounds like an admiring compliment, but in fact it implies that you are pulling off a momentous feat, giving credit to the idea that once women have kids they can’t in fact cope with work unless they are in the unlikely position to be able to perform miracles. Or, “you look tired”, just as the boss comes past. Aaahh!
The truth is most working women do manage and manage well, not because they are amazing, but because they have to.
Most of us also manage to get out once in a while even if it is to the parent-teacher association meeting. We manage to exercise, even if it is walking the dog or bouncing with our kids on the trampoline.
Working mothers are just like any other working person with responsibilities outside work. We need recognition that we might, sometimes be less flexible than others, just like working fathers, carers or people with illness or disability do.
We don’t need uber-mum role models, who make what we do every day look like some sort of momentous feet.
As for baking bread, isn’t that why Tesco was invented?
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