Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Working Mother

The vast majority of mothers I know have a job of some description; be it in an office, working from home, childminding or running their own business. It doesn't make them superstars, martyrs or villains, it's just life.

I'm actually struggling to put into words what it's sometimes like having a job when you are a parent. There are days when I am flying by the seat of my pants; just about on time getting everywhere, stressed, worried, always looking at the clock, feeling guilty that I'm not where I ought to be, wondering whether I put on deodorant this morning and knowing that I didn't brush my hair. And then there are days when getting everyone up and out of the house in the morning is a breeze; when the children wave me off absent-mindedly as they launch into an activity that is so much more interesting and stimulating than anything they'd ever get at home, and I go to work, drink hot cups of tea and have proper grown-up conversations.

The point is it's a massive undertaking to combine working and parenthood, and the two rarely cohabit peacefully. Indeed, they will often have stand-up screaming rows with each other over who gets priority. This means that there are certain truths about working mothers that need to be universally acknowledged:

  • Working mothers will not put in as many hours as non-mothers
  • They will likely have more time off work (due to child's illness, lack of childcare etc.)
  • They will be less flexible when it comes to working overtime and business travel
  • They will be out of the door at the end of the day
  • They will be less "social" outside of working hours

  • I'm not saying that these things are good, bad, justifiable, deplorable or lamentable. They just are facts.

    Unless of course you are Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, who appears in September's Vogue draped sexily across garden furniture in Yves Saint Laurent stilettos. I'm going to try to say the next part without venom (but you can probably guess whether I'm a fan or not) - Mayer got the job when she was 5 months pregnant with her first child, worked up until the day she gave birth, worked later on the same day she gave birth, took 2 weeks' maternity leave (because it's the law), built a nursery in the adjacent office for her baby and full-time nanny and proclaimed: 'The baby's been way easier than everyone made it out to be.'

    Maybe that's because you're not actually doing anything, Marissa! How can someone who has 24-hour help, including cleaners, housekeepers, gardeners, personal assistants, chefs and full-time nannies claim to even be a mother, let alone a working one?

    Mayer ingratiated herself further to her staff by demanding an end to flexible working hours and working from home, insisting instead that all remote employees report back to the office full-time. Does this mean that she built nurseries and paid for nannies for everyone she therefore screwed over who had to scramble to find somewhere to put their children? It does not.

    The irritating thing about this whole situation is that people might look at Mayer and thinks that's what a working mother is. A woman who can earn a gizillion dollars, be at the height of her profession, be a devoted wife and mother and still find ample time to frolic around being a sex symbol on the pages of fashion magazines. This is not what a working mother is, and not what a working mother should ever attempt to be. This might be the least feminist thing I've ever said, but after 2 years of juggling work and children, I really don't think we can have it all. What's more, I don't think we should try.

    After feeling perpetually inadequate when faced with Mayer and the like I have decided to prioritise and concentrate on doing the important things well. This means that I probably won't be a CEO by the time I'm 35, appear on the cover of Time magazine, have an immaculate house, finally lose the babyweight, do another master's degree, travel to foreign climes, volunteer for charity or get my freezer in order. But it might just mean that I enjoy my twins' childhood and every so often have a nice sit down and a biscuit.


    1. another twin mum22 August 2013 at 08:36

      Great post. Your comments don't strike me as anti feminist at all. Expecting women to juggle work, family and housework can be just another form of slavery. I guess a feminist goal would be for each family to decide each parent's balance of time in work and child care without stigma or socially expected roles.

    2. Agreed, especially the, "less social" bit. I can empathis with that one having just been invited to the formal, evening Christmas party by work - "Are you kidding me?! I'll be asleep by half past ten!"

    3. Ha! Yes, my first thought when I'm invited out is always to calculate how late it will end and how much sleep I'll have that night! Rock and roll, eh?

    4. About time someone actually put it out there that you simply cannot have it all! Loving your blog - 2 year old twins here, self employed, and rapidly turning grey!!!! Keep blogging!