I Don’t Know How She Stays-Home-With-The-Kids-All-Day

I DON’T think the notion of a “supermum” is an outdated one. Juggling kids and anything else requires Herculean strength some days. Which is probably why Alison Pearson’s 2003 novel I Don’t Know How She Does It, is just now released as a film. Women are still relating to it powerfully.

But nor do I think that women forfeiting their careers in order to provide better/more care are necessarily pioneers. I think most women are still stumbling their way towards an agreeable work/life balance and I do commend women who sacrifice their careers for the sake of their children.

But that’s not for everyone.

Some women can’t afford to stall their career while they procreate for financial reasons – as suggested by Michelle Griffin in The Age – but some others can’t suffer the person they become when they have nothing but the kids in their life.

I don’t know why it’s still so hard to say that some women are better mothers if they’re not doing it full time.

The response to Griffin’s article was kind of typical. “Not a mention of what’s best for the child,” say some. Well, this article wasn’t about effective child-rearing. It’s about a woman’s career and the hassle of maintaining it during motherhood. It’s about the dangerous assumption that quitting your career may be best for all involved. It may not be.

If you had to flesh out every component of this discussion, we’d be reading this article well into next week.

But that’s besides the point. Some women accept the fact early on, that they’re not built solely for mothering.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise. We groom young women into careers, put them onto the scent of success and hope they don’t become a teen pregnancy statistic. Young girls and guys are pushed into tertiary education, encouraged to embark on career paths and put off purchasing the people mover until much later in life.

What happens is a generation of people unprepared for parenthood. This is not to say they’re not good parents. But the trap is thinking there is a seamless transition during the nine months of pregnancy from fulltime career woman to mum. This was me.

I was shocked by the solitude of motherhood. By the confines to my day.

I was delighted to leave the office, which had begun to feel a bit like a prison. But the reality is now, sometimes, my home feels that way and I never expected it.

I know of mums who went back to the office part-time just for the novelty of having a place to be at 9am. The thrill of putting on her big girl shoes and talking with grown-ups about grown-up stuff. Gillard, Gaddafi, Gaga… anything but Giggle and Hoot.

Sure, finances would have been improved but it was more about her mental and emotional needs than anything else. This doesn’t make her a bad mum. This makes her a good mum. A better mum than she would have been if she’d grown to hate her lot in life.

For others, the work/life balance is not so black and white. It’s in fuzzy shades of gray that vary according to toilet training, ear infections, birthdays and mental health days. What Griffin points out – and I think this is the important part – is that making workplaces similarly prepared for employees’ parenthood may make it easier for us all to find a healthy balance.

Embracing parents into the workforce may even have the unexpected result that young people are exposed to the challenges of parenting well before they have kids themselves.

And, in turn, could make it okay for mothers to draw their own work-life line in the sand.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. petajo
    Nov 07, 2011 @ 04:15:39

    I work from home two days a week and had the unexpected delight/dismay of having to take one child into an office for about three hours last week. It made me soooo very grateful to be able to work from home. I can tune out the relentless yelling, but my colleagues last Friday? Maybe not so much… I commend the real “pioneers” who had to have their kids in the office, interviewing politicians with toddlers clambering for a piggy-back ride.


  2. Rachel
    Nov 07, 2011 @ 04:56:21

    Very relatable. I worked from home for many years after being rather burnt and burnt-out from an office environment. But in the last couple of years I HAD to get back into an office to speak to other adults and feel like I was part of something. I now work in a relaxed office with a bunch of other sole operators and it’s perfect. And on the core theme of the post – I am very unhappy if I am not able to work. Nobody wants an unhappy mum.


    • petajo
      Nov 07, 2011 @ 06:26:57

      Exactly… maybe if people recognised that it takes different things to create happy homes/happy mums, then there’d be less “sledging” going on between opposing sides! I quite liked the civility of being back in the office (aside from my two-year-old), maybe with a working portable DVD player next time! 😉


  3. Amber Miller
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 00:13:41

    My mum bought me that Alison Pearson novel and it really made me think (considering it’s not a deep, intellectual novel!). I don’t like it when people argue about what is best for the children, because it’s fairly obvious to me that a happy, well-adjusted mum is best for the children. It doesn’t matter if she is in paid employment, or volunteers, or studies, or raises her children at home, or is an International Ping Pong Champion, or any combination of these; as long as she is happy and well-adjusted, everything else will fall into place.
    I started to have problems after my second child, thinking that I had to stay at home until he went to school, until one day when I found myself looking into the mirror, wondering who the miserable person was that was looking back at me. Now there is no way that anyone could honestly believe that me sitting on the couch watching Oprah, crying, and letting the dishes pile up in the sink while my little boy played at my feet was best for anybody. So I went back to work part-time, and went back to uni part-time. And even this was not a perfect solution. Being a part-time worker means I have to accept that even though I am exceptionally good at what I do, I will never get a promotion or climb the corporate ladder. It is very difficult to watch others get exciting opportunities to take on special projects, travel, and get management experience. But this is part of the work/life balance that you wrote about. We can’t have everything we want.
    Mums are people too and we have every right to create, develop, and have goals just like everyone else. ‘Nuff said.


  4. petajo
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 00:49:45

    I feel your pain Amber – it’s been incredibly frustrating watching people I’ve trained move on to bigger and better things. And to put my hand up for things and be passed over. Never knowing if it’s because I’m not full time (even though I’ve worked for the same company for almost 12 years!).
    I don’t know if there’s ever really a “perfect solution” because the nature of child-rearing is always going to be a bit manic. The first 12 months especially feels like a constant state of flux. I have no answers… people who think I’ve got it great (working at home), I must educate on just how “f**ing awful” it can quickly turn. I’m grateful for my situation but I’m not deluded – it’s hard and stressful and I come scarily close to quitting on a regular basis.


  5. Trackback: Thinking out loud « PetaJo

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