Something wrong in the wiring.

a pendant design of interlaced hearts

A pendant allegedly displaying "The Celtic Knot Of Motherhood"

Yet another media article about how women are really ‘hardwired’ to care for children while their husbands bring in the dosh. Presumably once again anyone not cis/het and planning on having children doesn’t matter.

There must have been a glitch in my wiring then, somehow I got the ‘male’ wiring and I am obviously an affront to nature or at least to motherhood. I don’t want to be a ‘house-wife’ and I think that is a pretty awful term with a nasty stereotype “what did you do all day?” attached and doesn’t reflect the reality of unpaid work whether you have children or not. ‘Working mother’ is a tautology, because it doesn’t matter whether you are paid or unpaid you are still working. Bloody hard I might add.

But apparently mothers all secretly yearn to give up our paid jobs and stay at home stencilling the nursery, or have a second or third child just so we can go on maternity leave again and achieve nirvana or something. I really hope this bit was misquoted because it really reads like the only reason that people have more than one child is so they can leave work. Do you really need a baby to give you a reason to leave a job you don’t like?

“I was dying to give up work after Number One, but nobody else did, so I felt obliged to stay in my job,” says my friend Elaine, 38, who has two children aged six and two. “There’s an unwritten rule that Number Two means you get to go part-time or give up altogether if your husband earns enough.

If you want to make absolutely certain, you brace yourself and have a third, which means you definitely don’t go back to work but it’s murderously hard when they’re all little.

I had a second child because we really wanted a second child and were lucky enough to be able to have one. Afterwards I went back to work because I wanted to and we had really good daycare options. It was nice to have a choice. Apparently there is an unwritten rule that after your second child you go ‘part-time’. I think I must have missed that memo. What about parents with only one child?

Then there is the obligatory “the first six years are so important” stuff. Well it’s too late for my eldest, NigelJr is already stuffed. I’ve got just over 12 months to throw in my job and get on with parenting SarahJane “properly” and try to undo years of neglect and daycare (where is the sarcasm font when you need one). Does this mean that I can’t send her to school until she actually turns six? Or can I send her next year when she is five turning six? But seriously, I do think that the first six years of a child’s life are important. It is when lots of things are happening in their brain and nutrition, safety, and wellbeing and a host of other things are all very important but it doesn’t mean that only one person (i.e. their mother) is capable of giving them those things. In fact I have pinned my parenting upon this and so far have two well adjusted children who enjoy school and daycare, have friends, are healthy, and happy. Of course I have no idea or way of knowing what they could have been if I had selflessly devoted myself to them for the first six years of their lives. They may have been exactly the same or somehow even better. But I would not have been and they are fine despite this ‘neglect’.

Parenting is an extremely important job. Whether you do it as a Stay-at-home-Mum/Dad or a Paid-employment-Mum/Dad. I don’t think that either is superior to the other. It very much depends on the parent and child/children concerned and personal circumstances which is best.

So, a journalist finds that she actually loves spending time with her children and yearns to be home with them. Go and do it. More power to you. But don’t blame feminism for your choices. Choices I might point out that feminism allowed you to make – keeping your job once you were married, getting credit cards, bank accounts, mortgages in your own name. Being able to climb the corporate ladder, whether you now choose to polish the glass ceiling rather than smash it. Whatever. Just don’t tell me, and other mums like me, that I’m wrong, wrong, wrong because I like having a job. Don’t assume that everyone who is a PEM is there because they want to be. Don’t judge other Mums who work because they have to, maybe they would like to go part-time or give up work but they can’t. Don’t assume that everyone who is a SAHM is there because they want to stencil the nursery or escape the daily grind of paid employment. Maybe they think the nursery can go to hell because they are too busy with their kids and their volunteer work. Maybe they don’t have the spoons to use on stencilling. Don’t assume that they don’t want to spend as much time with their children as they can. Don’t assume everyone has a husband who lavishes them with money so that they have the choice of not working. Don’t assume that parenting is and was always a bunch of roses. Most of all don’t sit there in your position of privilege and cast judgement upon us all because we are not all like you.

Then there is this:

But does that mean I envy iPhone widows whose high-net-worth husbands are so immersed in derivatives or mergers they rarely see daylight and forget their children’s names?

Yes, but only occasionally, I swear. Before you judge, let me say I know for a fact I’m not alone in feeling that I’ve done the whole career thing and now I’d like to try the whole flapjacks and hand-stencilling the nursery thing.

So go and do it already. Feminism is not stopping you. But I have to say that I’ve been there and got the t-shirt and for me it sucked. Well, I haven’t actually experienced the high net-worth trader stuff (but we are comfortably off), or the i-phone (because I’m not into gadgets and wouldn’t have a clue how to use one) but the ‘work widow’ stuff definitely. It was lonely, the constant questions of when will Daddy be home, tears at bedtime because Daddy wasn’t home, me in tears because sometimes it felt like having a really messy flatmate who also expected sex but never picked up after themselves. In fairness to myNigel it was because he was in a very high-stress job, he commuted an hour a day each way driving so he got home tired, he got up tired and worked long hours so doing the washing up was low on his priority list especially as he was trying to jam in a few minutes of time with the kids and with me before he fell asleep again. Mentally, physically and emotionally it was extremely difficult for both of us and quite bewildering for the kids at times. Now he has a less stressful job, we both work so there is no expectation that one of us has all the time to worry about housework, and we muddle along quite well because parenting is something we are doing together. And I can’t quite help but wonder if her reluctance to just go and do it is because deep down she does realise that it isn’t an easy option, that it is not all stencilling the nursery and cooking pancakes. I just wonder why she feels the need to claim that every woman feels this way and why it is all the fault of feminism?

ETA: Another article, but with a different, much more positive slant. Much to my surprise this one is from The Australian.

Categories: culture wars, gender & feminism, parenting, work and family

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3 replies

  1. I live in the strange, fuzzy world of self employment. There is very little divide between work and home life (except when work is in another country, and even then it’s really only definitively child-free, rather than 100% work). I answer emails, put the washing on, fix the broken toy, fix the broken service for a client, wipe a bottom, answer the phone, do the invoices, read blogs, redesign the laundry… you get the idea, all at once and in any random order. I share this world with my husband, which means it’s really very fuzzy. When clients ring at 5:30pm, I’m thinking “What’s wrong with you? We’re in the middle of cooking dinner with ratty kids everywhere – don’t you realise that?”. And then some of my suppliers (and even clients) do realise it, and don’t ring at that time, or at least not unless it’s really necessary, and then they apologise.
    If more people spent at least a little time living like this, I think a lot of the nonsense about who does what and what kind of work is best for whom would become redundant. When it’s all thrown in together, everyone just does what they need to do. I’m not sure I could go to either kind of life offered in the article, but I’m not laying claim to superiority – it works for us, at the moment, with small kids. It might not work for others. Why is it that when people find a way they like to live, they need the rest of the world to validate their choice by joining in? It doesn’t even make sense, the logical consequence of us all having the same best lifestyle is total societal breakdown. *shakes head*

  2. Wow! Third paragraph in the ‘pick a choice’ options: ‘actually volunteer to have conjugal relations’. OH how I hate this shit! The whole ‘MEN like sex, women put out out of spousal ‘duty’, out of obligation, or (my special favourite) to be grudgingly *dished out* on receipt of large loads of cash or expensive gifts (less grudgingly depending on the size of the cash cow).
    Such an ugly ugly combination of ‘observations’ all adding up to men are fully acting agents with desires and ambition and women being emotionally stunted, shrewd and calculating, victims, manipulative, sexless, dependent on men and ‘all the same’.
    I bet within twelve months there’ll be another similar article banging on about how women who had brilliant careers had a child and after a glass of red are tearfully admitting they wish they could be fully supported in equal child rearing since they’d rather get back to the workplace and are craving adult attention.
    Remarkably the conclusion is never that women are in a stuffed up position, that we’re told we can ‘have it all’ and that means ‘do it all’, that the problem isn’t CAREERS but a complete lack of support for women being fully human and supported in whatever balance they strike, no no it must be some biological imperative to breed, some long denied wish to ‘play house’. It drives me nuts!
    I want chickens! But I don’t know WHO THE FUCK this tea-towel designer is and ‘crockery’ doesn’t figure high in my daydreams about chickens. Strangely enough I like eggs and chooks make me giggle.
    When I talk to my partner about the future, it’s about running our own firm so that we can both work part time and have time to read, make music, cook and nap, it’s NOT a daydream of ‘I hope you work yourself into an early grave so my tea-towels are designer brands’!
    And the whole ‘If you want a baby it’s *really* because you want to stay home, not say because you and your partner would like to procreate and take part in educating a child and watching them grow and change etc…and of course we’re all heterosexual, monogamous and married…anyone else wanting children just *doesn’t count*. Going to have a grumpy walk.

  3. That SMH article made my head hurt. This post and the comments attached made me feel a little bit better. Thank you. 🙂
    Also, gigantic co-sign on this comment from FP: Remarkably the conclusion is never that women are in a stuffed up position, that we’re told we can ‘have it all’ and that means ‘do it all’, that the problem isn’t CAREERS but a complete lack of support for women being fully human and supported in whatever balance they strike, no no it must be some biological imperative to breed, some long denied wish to ‘play house’. It drives me nuts!

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