“Mummy!” she said, with mock horror rippling across her angelic face. “Don’t be SILLY. Mummies DON’T go to WORKS. They stay at home with the children and they look after them and make their lunches and wash their clothes!”
My feminist heart promptly back-flipped, stopped, and turned black.
Shit. SHIT! HOW THE FUCK have I produced a child who would utter these words to me? Where have I gone wrong? I should have gone back to work! I should have shown them a better route for women! I should have read them The Female Eunuch EVERY night before they went to sleep instead of The
fucking Singing Mermaid! SHHHHIIIIT!
I’m a full, badge carrying, feminist for life
I was borne unto a feminist, and as I slithered out of the sunroof on a cold February day, I came out carrying my feminist badge for life. SURE, for the sake of boys between thirteen and twenty I hid it rather spectacularly behind some VERY tight jeans, 5 inch heels and a chicken filleted bra, but I always KNEW, in my heart, that I was a feminist, and I have always been very proud of that fact.
I’ve read a lot, and my mum talked a LOT about feminism to us whilst my Dad clutched a crossword to his chest in the next room. For me, it just Made Sense. If we, as girls and women, weren’t equal, then we bloody well should be. And that basically was the start and end point of my feminism; that I, and other women around me, should be equal to our male counterparts.
When you have children though, things change. BIG TIME. Not only do women find themselves most often being the primary child carer (usually by virtue of having given birth, and breastfeeding and The Bond) but also the party who – with a heavy dose of assumption – will give up work for at least 9 months, if not permanently, whilst the children are young.
Of course, at these coffee mornings and baby groups you make friends, albeit according to the age of your children, instead of likes and interests or your work. You become ‘Maggie’s Mummy’ instead of YOU, ‘Kate’. Random strangers call you Mummy, and talk to you via your child. And any chat you have, with friends or strangers, focuses on your child-rearing, how much you are sleeping and whether they are feeding from your breast or a bottle. The only reference or enquiry to your pre-child career life is ‘when are you returning to your JOB?’
Being at home with children isn’t work or a job. Or is it?
Because being at home with children isn’t work or a job. It’s seen as tantamount to sitting on your enlarged, post-partum backside, scoffing biscuits and cakes into your mouth and watching Jeremy Kyle all day whilst deliberating how many times you can do the phone-in on This Morning.
We are so conditioned to only be seen as ‘Mummies’ that even in your peer group of other Mothers this will happen – it took a full SIX MONTHS for my second NCT group to have the ‘work’ chat and it transpired we have an Army Officer, Aeronautical Engineer, Biologist and Astrophysicist amongst us. Who would have known when the conversation, up to that point, only focused on sleep deprivation, time out procedures and baby-led weaning while singing nursery rhymes with a foggy brain? At times, we are our own worst enemy.
There is such little value placed on women in the home, caring for children in these young, critical years. We are told all the time by the press and government that children who stay at home with a parent (MUM, wink wink) fare better socially and academically. We are also told that children who have both parents who work are more successful as adults. We are told that nursery is a BAD environment for developing young minds; but that children who start education earlier will pitch better against their Chinese peers. I could go on, but it makes me want to put my head in the oven. ARGH!
It’s all a load of bollocks
Of course, it is all a load of bollocks. Every family is different, and every child is unique. There is no right or wrong way to navigate parenthood (aside from the obvious) and the best thing to do is to do the best thing for your family. And YOU. Because as long as YOU are happy with the decision and role you take within your family unit, that is the best example you can give your children.
My four year old has her opinion of ‘Mummies don’t go to Work’ because I don’t go out to ‘work’ every morning, in an office, on a train, and drink coffee. That’s her understanding of ‘going to work’. Her understanding of ‘being at home’ is fun, and playing and lunches and sorting out the laundry. Because that’s what she sees. She doesn’t view it as work because well, that’s just home, isn’t it?
However, that doesn’t stop me from taking a short intake of breath whenever she talks about the roles that my husband and I play in her family. It’s a sharp reminder to me that we need to counterbalance and discuss things like how Mummy USED to go to work in an office on a train and now we have created The Motherload®, she sees me in my office in our house and sees me typing away furiously, with a furrowed concentrated frown on my face and she knows that ‘Mummy Is Working’.
Mummy IS working!
But importantly, we talk about the work that Mummy does IN the home to make our lives easier, and enriched and clean and all of those things that housework and caring for children brings, and how that has the exact same value to it that Daddy’s work has in his radio station every day. And little by little, we readdress that balance in her understanding, and show her that women’s work isn’t invisible, and that Mummies not only work EVERY DAY, but that their work is as important and valued as any other person’s.
I might sneak a couple of paragraphs of How To be A Woman into her bedtime reading though, just in case. I’ll save The Female Eunuch until she is 5…
Enjoyed this blog? Read more here:
Image credit: Kate Dyson