The working mum

I mentioned last week that I had attended a networking event recently at which a female MP had presented.  Her talk was all about her; her background, her life choices and why she does the things she does.

The woman in question was the Hon. Melinda Pavey, member of the NSW legislative council and Shadow Minister for Emergency Services.  Pavey is definitely a good role model for girls looking for equal opportunities in their lives and has achieved some great things in her career so far.  She was the minister I mentioned, when I questioned how vehemently I held my own feminist beliefs in admitting I would have thought twice about electing her when she was heavily pregnant.

I wanted to share with you something else she said in her talk, to illustrate some of the ways that we women seem to be our own prison guards while we try to make the break for equality.

I don’t remember Pavey mentioning what her husband does for a living, yet when discussing how she manages her public responsibilities with those of her family, she admitted that to be at the event that evening she was missing her son’s cross country race.  She quickly explained that if he makes it through to the state championship then she will definitely be there to see him… but it all got me wondering.

How many men would:

a)      feel the need to explain how they juggle their family and career

b)      apologise in a public forum for missing their son’s cross country

c)       actually be judged negatively for it

And I also wondered why parents beat themselves up over things like this.  Sure, the child may have stuck out his bottom lip and stropped, but think back to your own childhood.  Can you remember whether your parents were at your school sports day (I can’t… but suspect with full time jobs they probably were not)?  Can you remember how many nights a week your dad was home before you ate your dinner?  Again, not too sure, but I do remember him bringing home crunchie bars for my sisters and I on Fridays.  He must have done it no more than 3 times but in my mind it has become a tradition.

When I was growing up my dad worked in the public sector and my mum was a teacher.  Both worked long enough hours that I had to go to a childminder before and after my school day.  Once I was 10 I managed to convince my parents to let me be a ‘latch-key kid’, carrying my front door key on a rainbow coloured bootlace around my neck (and under my jumper for safety’s sake).  I never felt neglected as a latch-key kid… I felt empowered.  Seriously.  I loved it.  And I may have given my mum a hard time occasionally about the horrid lady who child minded me (my sisters and I still tease her about deserting us), but it hasn’t made me love or respect my mum any less.

Somehow, however, the experience engendered a subconscious thinking that the child is firstly the woman’s responsibility.  Subconscious thoughts I have to remind myself to question and disregard time and again.  I don’t know whether it is because my mum always picked us up from the childminder’s (Pam)… that she paid for the service from her cheque book… that my mum was responsible for organising days and times… or  because while we regularly whined about Pam to both mum and dad, it was mum who looked painfully guilty each time.

If the next generation is to grow up and consider men and women equal, we need to demonstrate that equality for them from the start.  And the demonstration cannot stop at actions alone.  If a little boy or girl sees mummy working long days just like daddy… but apologising for them and giving extra big hugs out of guilt each night, what does that say to them?

We need to give ourselves a bit of a break and stop bowing to society’s expectations that women can do everything.  A couple *can* get outside help to raise the children without the woman being a bad mum.  And children enjoy freedoms and learn from the experiences of mixing in playgroups and crèches and with family and friends so mum can continue to have a personality and a life.

Next time I am back in the UK though I have decided it’s my dad’s turn to take the flack for sending me to Pam (said very primly and remarkably fast…. PAM) the probably-perfectly-lovely (even if she did make us wash our chalk drawings off the pavement when we had finished) childminder.  I have only just realised it was him, and not just my mum, that couldn’t meet us at the school gates at home time.

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3 responses to “The working mum

  1. I couldn’t agree more, and I think one major step for feminism would be if fathers got as much paternity leave as mothers got maternity leave (while presumably taking account of the fact that the mother will actually be physically incapacitated for some of the time). We need men to find it easy to take up traditional female roles, not just the other way around!

  2. What you need to remember Em is that it was over 20 years ago – a long time in terms of equality. I was unusual among our friends in being a full-time working mum, and the guilt was enormous. To compensate I still felt that i had to make all your clothes, take you to every dance class available, cook ‘proper’ meals. Why did I feel guilty that I made you empty, fill and refill your own lunchboxes? I never actually felt guilty about leaving you with Pam, I chose her because I knew that you would be safe.
    I see many working mothers in my job, and most still feel guilty. they either show it by almost denying that a mother’s role is important, or by over-compensating with fussiness about unimportant aspects of their child’s life.
    Mums just can’t help it. You are all grown up and independent now, but I am still quite capable of wanting to ‘mother’ you all when you come home. (See! Home! You haven’t lived here for years!).

  3. Thanks for commenting mum! It’s really interesting to see the other side of the coin. x

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