I had a Natalie Bennett moment at the end of last week. My brain froze and I didn’t know where it was supposed to be going or why. When I was young I think I was able to recapture the thoughts that led up to the blank moment, but now my whole brain just whites out. Eventually the thought comes back about 10 minutes too late. Is it age or lack of sleep? It’s not as if there are not a lot of thoughts going on in my brain. The problem is that the thoughts come and go so quickly that unless you voice them instantly they are lost for ever. Perhaps my brain has just adapted to the everydayness of my life where a thought is not allowed to linger for long before being pushed out by about 10 other immediately important issues which often require instant action. Far from being a drawback in work, this can make for quite a creative concoction and as long as I write down the important thoughts they are preserved from the immediate, slightly less reliable memory and slip over in the medium term section which is much more trustworthy before eventually sailing down into the long-term memory which is becoming more and more vivid by the day.
To be fair, it had been a bit of a week and doing different jobs and having more than the government-approved three children doesn’t make it any easier. In addition to the various demands of work, I had to go into the secondary school again to talk about stress and how we tackle it. Apparently the school’s counselling service is overloaded due to the number of GCSE students who are in meltdown. A lot of these are the so-called “high achievers”. The expectations on them are immense. From primary school and SATs they have been schooled to think that hitting some random number and letter combination target is all that life is about. The girls in particular. They are told – or they absorb – that they need to show they are better than the boys in a world which is still tilted against them. They need to be smarter, prettier, more than perfect or they are failures.
When they leave university, they need to network like crazy at all times and clamber their way up the career ladder to show their worth. Someone told me the other day that young people in the office are “much more serious” than their older counterparts. A young woman added that it was taken as read that you had to network these days, on top of a long-hours job. There’s not much time in all of this for fun. When did we ditch fun?
They then look around at the next generation up, many of whom are working mums. What do they read about these in the press? Mainly that they are stressed out, guilt-obsessed wrecks who have suffered a massive amount of discrimination in the workplace just because they had a baby and kept the species going. And don’t get me started on the articles saying that having a baby is “the most selfish thing you’ll ever do” because, of course, as soon as you have a baby everything you do is wrong. No wonder surveys show large numbers of young women think having a baby will damage their career.
What should they do then? Risk being a failure at work after years and years of being drilled into hitting their targets and “succeeding” or start a family?
Daughter one doesn’t want to have children currently because the whole working mum things “looks too much like hard work”. Obviously this is my fault. I should make it all look an awful lot easier. She wants to “have impact”. Like John Lennon, even though she finds him deeply “problematic”. I tell her there are lots of ways to have impact and that even if you have impact on one person that is something amazing. If you have to, play the system, but know that it is a stupid one – and ultimately seek to change it.