Working mum or working parent?

I knew it was coming. I couldn’t possibly escape years of sleeping in torturous positions with children spreadeagled across me without some sort of comeuppance. It came on Sunday. Toddler daughter was very hot, the kind of piping hot that only small children get. We had been to see Nim’s Island [I love the cinema – two hours of doing absolutely nothing, yet feeling as if you are being a good parent] and she fell asleep on top of me. I thought the hotness was due to that, but as the night wore on she got hotter and hotter.

We flannelled her down and gave her Calpol. And just to be on the safe side, I got into her bed, although maintaining a small distance to avoid heating her up even more. She cooled down during the night but ended up pinioning my left arm to the mattress. I woke up with a crick in the neck, only it got worse during the day. On Monday night I woke up and couldn’t move. It was agony. I must have trapped a nerve in my neck. My partner got out the Radian B and a hot water bottle while toddler girl [she was in our bed again] maintained a running commentary and told me she would kiss it better and how she wanted sweeties for her party. It’s next week, but she keeps trying to bring it forward. I don’t think she really cares about the invitees. She just wants the sweeties.

Anyway, I managed to crawl through the getting everyone ready for school routine by begging them for mercy and asking them to get themselves ready. This worked very well and maybe I should use this tactic another time. However, it is a difficult balance between using it sparingly and overusing it and getting found out. I worked through the day with a Tigger hot water bottle attached to my neck. Luckily I am working from home for much of this week so no-one can see. Unfortunately, as most of my work is on an hour by hour basis, I can’t afford to go back to bed and hope it all goes away.

The day before my neck went kaput my partner’s sister arrived. I was all ready for a full-frontal assault. My partner had been out with her the night before and they apparently had a long debate about the virtues of working for something called workingmums. My partner’s sister is an in-your-face feminist of the old school. She was a single parent and believes very firmly in childcare. I am not sure she understands the concept of flexible working. I think she sees it as some form of defeat, a way women give in to the forces of society which seek to drag them down and make them less equal to men.

Her argument is a sound one: that men should be doing much more at home so that both people in a couple are equal. Presumably, though she doesn’t say this, if they were doing more at home, they would also be much more likely to ask for flexible working. This would in turn remove the female stigma from flexible working. The problem is that we are very far from this situation at present and women are much more likely to want flexible working and many are getting penalised as a result. Social changes of that magnitude take ages to take effect. They are based on so many different factors, such as how girls and boys are still brought up with different expectations.

Look in any toy shop. It’s like the 70s never happened. Everything is pink and fluffy on one side and superheroish on the other. I found two books of doodles the other day – one for girls [in pink, naturellement] and one for boys [in blue]. While girls spend the first few years of their lives being told to be princesses, they spend the next stretch being told to be porn queens [although porn queens who are “in control”. We have, of course, passed through the girl power era]. It’s all very confusing, but unlikely to lead to mass gender equality, methinks.

So do women just sit in full-time jobs and face collapse due to the expectation that you can give everything to your job and still have time left over to give everything to your family, do they opt out of work entirely, do they go part-time and face possible discrimination or do they campaign for change from their own platform and bring the rest of the workforce kicking and screaming into some sort of manageable arrangement? I would say the latter.

And don’t get me onto the subject of childcare. This country is rubbish at providing affordable childcare which covers working hours, although, in a spirit of generosity, I am prepared to believe this is changing. At least there will soon be more after school care, though probably at a price. Currently the price in our area is £17 a day. That’s just for the one child. We will have three when toddler girls starts school next year. You do the maths.





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