I was raised thinking that anything is possible.
Women don’t have to stay at home and raise the kids and can go out and forge a career. I felt proud of my own mother that she was working full-time, wanted to be financially independent and not rely on my father for ‘housekeeping’ money. But there was that part of me that craved to have my mum waiting for me at home when I got in from school to prevent the need for me having the responsibility of a key. I didn’t want to be wondering who would be picking me up from school, if indeed there was going to be someone. All I wanted was to see my mum’s face at the school gate.
Years have passed with women battling against sexist, stereotyped views so that they can be an equal to their opposite sex. Why can’t women carry out the same jobs as men, earn the same amount of money as men in addition to juggling being a mum? Other women provide us with inspirational quotes to try and empower us to be everything to everyone. Government incentives to try and encourage women back to work. Employers offering flexible working schemes so that you can go to work earlier or later so you can combine school pick ups and drop offs with your paid role. And the day isn’t over then, because you need to support the children with homework, cook dinner, clean and generally shove the broom up your arse and sweep the floor, assuming you haven’t met the perfect man who is doing it all with you.
And if you don’t succeed in all of the above, your fellow women are likely to judge you as a failure because you are not successfully spinning all of the plates. There is an undeniable amount of pressure on working mothers to fulfil this role that has been developed over the past twenty or so years. Curiously enough this role has been created by women themselves, where they believe that they have to be everything to everyone.
But I have seen a new group of men and women who are trying to subtly make an entrance. Parents who choose to work less hours so they can spend more time with the family. Parents who choose to not work at all because they want to spend time with their family and become a domestic god/goddess with their extra available time. Or even more fantastically, parents who don’t feel the need to be baking, cleaning, shopping or gardening to justify their lack of employment.
I’m strong believer in that you cannot be effective with so many tasks to juggle and that something has to give. I also believe that every man or woman has a right to choose whether they want to have a career or whether they want to be a great parent, but to combine the two is stressful and certain concessions will have to be made, even with the most supportive partner in the world.
I have been that judgy woman who questions why my women friends are not working more hours and why they don’t want to fill their time with something more productive. Why can we not accept that some women choose this way of life, not forced into it and have the finances to be able to do it?
My parents generation were lucky, in that only one person needed to work. The woman could choose whether she wanted to stay at home and be a ‘kept woman’ or buck the trend and go out and find herself a job.
If you are that career parent who has chosen to work full time and not forced into it through a financial necessity to work, I applaud you. But please do not complain when you miss key events, as that is usually inevitable if you select this option.
I believe we all have a right to make our choices, whatever they may be. Some people are backed into a corner and have decisions taken out of their hands but let’s not fall into the trap and believe that we have to be something we don’t actually want to be, purely because that is what society expects.
Are you now wondering which category I fall into? I work full-time, through necessity and managing that together with a child with autism is often draining to say the least. I love the release that work gives me, in that I am not ‘just a mum’ but then I also love the time that I spend with my son and wish I didn’t have to rearrange my working day when he has an appointment and I need to be there for him. I separated from my husband shortly before my son was diagnosed with autism and whilst we both work full-time the responsibility lies with me to get him to and from school, appointments and extra-curricular activities.
Fortunately, I have a flexible working arrangement with my employer which makes it slightly easier but that has not always been the case. Although still working for the same employer, I made a decision three years ago to change my role so that I could manage my hours more effectively.
I made this decision after trying to spin plates for over a year, putting pressure on myself to be a ‘Supermum’. I didn’t want to admit failure as I saw it and thought I could manage a divorce, unsociable working hours and a child with autism. I couldn’t and it took me a long time to finally admit this and ask for help.
My advice is this: don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t feel you need to be something that society (and social media) expects. I know now when to hold my hand up and say I’m not coping. That doesn’t make me a failure.
It makes me human.