Should working mothers return to the homestead?

Having survived the media onslaught telling all working mothers that they should return to the homestead, I am feeling a little tired. Okay, so I always feel a little tired, if not a lot tired and I am really looking forward to my week off in two days, 6 hours and 37 seconds. One thing I think coverage of the study failed to bring out was the issue of time. Time is a problem for everyone these days, but a million times more so for working parents. No-one has enough of it and we are trying to cram too much into what we have. At work, the pace is increasingly hectic, aided by constantly changing technological innovations [and all the training days, manuals, passwords associated with them. I’m afraid I cut corners by not reading the manual and hoping that it is all self-explanatory, but, sadly, it rarely is. I had to try and install a router this week and I fell at the first hurdle when the disc said “this will take 20 minutes” – that’s, one hour and 20 minutes with kids in tow. Life is too short. I would say the same for Ikea furniture assemblage. It tends to get left in a corner in our house until one of us feels up to tackling it].

In many professions the intensity with which we now work means that working life has become more stressful and more incompatible with family life. In my field, the media, news is expected on the second, you do all your own administration and you are expected to be “multi media” friendly – ie juggle, so theoretically I should be good at it. Home life is jam packed too – endless ferrying of kids to activities, educational trips, deciding whether you should change energy supplier before the cheap fixed deals run out [I think I have missed the boat already on this one] etc.

Busyness has its up side – it’s exciting, it makes you feel as if stuff is happening. But it doesn’t allow you time to stop and breathe and think what it’s all for. Things are changing: more and more companies are offering flexible working, not just for parents, but for all workers. Young people put flexibility as their number one priority. In my day, endless work was the norm and even fun, in my 20s. It all kind of blended in with the social stuff, but now the social stuff is getting further and further away from the work stuff.

Another thing the study brought out is the irrelevance of many of the commentators: as we enter an economic slump, harking after a life of housewifery seems totally unrealistic unless it is paid housewifery. Those who support working parents, on the other hand, need to be realistic about how they portray their lives. We are surrounded by a celebrity culture which seems obsessed with pregnancy [perhaps an extension of their obsession with the female body], with getting back to “work” asap after birth and looking the million dollars it probably cost in trainers, nutritionists etc, to do that. These women are held up as role models for the rest of us who have none of the range of support that money can buy. They just don’t look like they have had no sleep for months and had to do the washing, cleaning up poo and taking a late call about falling profit margins, simultaneously.

I read an interesting defence of working mums last week. It was by someone who had a one-year-old child saying how easy the whole thing was. I remember the days when I had just the one child and took her to nursery three days a week, when she didn’t speak, want to ask hundreds of questions about life in general, need help with homework, need someone to talk to, didn’t go to a school with no after school club and even when she did have one was too tired to go there every day of the week, didn’t have six weeks off in the summer, didn’t have two sisters with hugely differing needs…It’s the difference between that green newly pregnant person in the office who you lie to about the ease of childbirth [it’s a breeze, just take the drugs] and the one who has survived 48 hours and still had to succumb to a forceps delivery, stitches and a multitude of after birth “complications”…

Anyway, back to more serious matters. I finally went swimming alone this week with all three girls. Big girl little girl daughter, as is her wont, clung on to me for dear life and then told her dad that she had been a really good swimmer. Bonkers daughter kept wanting to be spun around by the legs and rebel daughter wanted to go into the deep end. She can swim, in bursts, and is very fast, but it’s the kind of fast that signals trying to stop drowning rather than Olympian prowess. Then bonkers daughter had a swimming lesson. She was taken to somewhere she couldn’t stand and told to swim to the shallow end. You should have seen her go, legs flying up in the air in total panic. She was sobbing when she got to the end, terrified by the experience. I was watching through the glass and would have broken through it if it hadn’t been double glazed. I said she was going very fast trying to get to the shallow end and she just looked at me with big eyes and said she wasn’t trying to get to the shallow end, she was trying to get to me.

One of the days, I worked round the girls, which basically entailed getting up very early and going to bed very late. In fact there was very little time between the getting up and the going to sleep. I figure I’m used to this anyway. I also had to do an interview at one point. My sister was over to look after the kids while I worked, but she has two as well so it was noisy. I retreated to my office – the car. The interview was going well, although I was being circled by the next door neighbour on his bike and then, crisis, the ice cream van went by and then back again and parked across from my car. Fortunately, the interviewee didn’t seem to notice. I also visited Canary Wharf, which I had only previously passed through. I stood waiting for my lunch meeting watching all the people passing by and all the hubbub around the restaurants and cafes. I felt like an alien from the land of poo and vomit. It is hard, sometimes, to reconcile the different parts of my life.

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