Hello, I'm Charlotte.
Regular readers may remember me from Monday Morning Musings a couple of weeks ago. I was the crazy lady with a 4 year old, 2 year old and a 4 month old baby who probably put Ceri off having children for life. When she asked me if I would write a piece on the challenges facing the working mother my first thought was ‘where do I begin?’. It’s a huge topic which gives rise to a massive range of emotions and opinions. There’s so much to say and it’s all been said so many times by so many women but here goes for my own personal take on it all.
I have really only spent two years as a working mother – one year after my first child and one year after my second – but I’m about to get a heavy dose of it when I return from my current maternity leave as there will be no more babies! And to be completely honest I’m both dreading it and slightly longing for it. I often wake up in the morning thinking ahead and wondering how I’m going to manage. But…. at the same time, I can’t help looking forward to the return of a form of normality and getting back to being ‘me’ some of the time.
For me, like most in my situation, working and having children is a huge conflict, even though I should point out I have no choice. I have to work to help pay the mortgage and bills. But even so the guilt is enormous. I should be at home with my children. I ought to be bringing them up myself. To be fair, I, like most mothers, can always find something to feel guilty about. They haven’t had enough fruit and veg, the TV has been on too long, I haven’t spent enough one on one time with each of them, I haven't noticed their toes are almost poking out of the ends of their shoes. So it’s no surprise that I feel guilty going out to work five days a week.
But the problem is I really struggle being at home full time with them. Being a one woman entertainer, nurse, chef, teacher, sergeant major…. the list goes on. With three of them, especially one so young, there is never a minute that goes by when someone doesn’t need or want something. It’s exhausting and draining and the hours til bedtime can drag on and on. I feel dreadful admitting to it but the endless washing, cooking, nose wiping and enthusiasm that needs to be shown for a Lego tower…. well, it can be tedious to say the least.
And in another way I’m in the fortunate position of having a job I enjoy going to every day. I wish my commute into central London was shorter, and the hours were slightly easier, but all in all I like what I do and in particular I like the people I work with. I like getting up and going out and using my brain. My company is quite forward thinking on the issue of working mothers which makes life easier. They promote flexible working and get speakers in to talk on topics like ‘ditch the guilt’ aimed at both men and women to show us the latest research on the impact our working has on our children (it’s apparently quite good for them) and give us tips on how to maximise our limited family time.
I often hear stories (from my parents for example) along the lines of ‘so and so has given up work to stay at home with her baby, isn’t that wonderful?’. <Sigh>. Later it transpires that a) she didn’t like her job, b) she couldn’t afford to work because of the exorbitant cost of childcare and c) (I’m guessing) she’s not finding it a bed of roses every day as she puts her toddler’s shoes and coat on for the fifth time after he’s removed them when she JUST WANTS TO GET OUT OF THE HOUSE FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE! It’s very easy to assume most women who stay at home do it for highly altruistic reasons but I’d like to bet that’s not always the case.
I often think life must have been easier in my mother’s generation when it was unusual for a woman to work and just expected that she would stay at home. In a strange way I feel a kind of nostalgia for my own childhood where I was at home with my mum until I started school at the age of four. Life probably wasn’t exciting with no dedicated kids’ TV channels available all day, DVDs, soft play centres, but I remember feeling very secure and happy and don’t recall feeling bored…. probably not something my mother could say.
But things have moved on and it amazes me to see the way women very subtly put each other down and try to portray their situation as the best, whether it’s working full or part time or staying at home. The media are particularly adept at reporting surveys that prove women are damaging their children through the choices they have made or been forced to make. Naming no names you can probably guess which newspaper is particularly guilty of this (along with immigrant bashing and generating hysteria about health issues and property prices). None of it is helpful.
Where is the sense of sisterhood?
We’re all trying to do the best we can, and putting the interests of our children before our own, so why can’t we support each other and be more understanding and kinder?
And that’s what we need to be to ourselves as working mothers as well:
Provided we have opted for decent childcare, our kids will be just fine. We really do need to ditch the guilt and just get on with it. So in the seven months or so I have left of my maternity leave I will do my very best to put all these thoughts to the back of my mind and enjoy being with my three kids before life gets a whole lot harder…. and more fulfilling at the same time.
Ginger Warrior stand in, over and out.
P.S. What are your thoughts on the choices women have to make these days? Did you choose to stay at home even though you secretly wanted to work or have you found the perfect balance for you and your family? Maybe you downsized or made sacrifices to make it all work. Would love to hear your views.