Monday, 20 October 2014

The Enigma of "Having it all"

I think in all of the hustle and bustle of modern life, and the dreadful political correctness that has infiltrated our lives, something has been missed. 

Reality seems to have been forgotten in an attempt to make sure we don't offend anyone, for fear of being accused sexist or old fashioned or out of touch with the times. 

Little girls are now not only being told that they can do anything (which should continue) but that they can do everything. And there lies the problem. 

You cannot have it all. There are only so many hours in the day and unless Hermione Granger cares to share her time turner, we can't double up on those hours and make them more productive. 

We seem to have lost the balance. When my mum was at school her career options were presented as:

  • Teacher
  • Nurse
That's it. Two options for a bright and intelligent woman who could have done anything at all that she wanted. 

The reason that those two options were the only ones really presented was both down to gender stereotypes at the time, but also because the women were the ones raising their children. 

They were the ones who were sacrificing their careers in order to stay at home with their children, or reduce their hours. It was the mothers who would leave work to go and pick up their sick children from school, both because it was seen to be their "job" and because it was very likely that her husband earned more than she did given the inequality in pay between the genders. 

And yet, as we have tried to make that right, we've somehow managed to make it wrong again. We've swung the balance too far and it's now teetering on a knife edge, so close to falling off altogether. 

 Now women are expected to have a career, or at the very least a job. They are expected to be mothers and wives and daughters and friends and colleagues all at the same time. 

That's only fair, right? After all, men have been doing it all for years, haven't they? They have been fathers and husbands and sons and friends and colleagues too. 

Well, yes and no. Because unfortunately childhood does not fit into a convenient little package, and it cannot fit into an adult world with only a few minor changes. 

Women still have to carry and give birth to a baby. There is no escaping those extremely long nine months, not to mention the recovery period afterwards. Men have still not worked out how to conceive and carry a child, so that responsibility cannot be shared. 

It is still, more often than not, the woman who takes maternity leave during the early months of their child's life. The woman whose career gets put on hold until she is ready to return to work, or more often, when the funds run out and she has to go back to work to make sure the mortgage gets paid.

Just because discrimination is illegal in the UK, doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Many employers won't hire women of "child bearing age" because it's likely that they are going to be taking some time out on maternity leave on at least one occasion. Just because they can't say it outright doesn't mean that they aren't thinking about it, or that it doesn't happen. 

Then if your child gets sick, who is it who leaves work to go and pick up their child from school or nursery or the childminder. Statistically it is usually the mother. Another blow against her career credentials, dropping her work at a moments notice and rushing off to pick up a child who has just vomited all over the classroom. 

But someone has to. Someone has to assume the role of "primary caregiver". I hate that label, but there isn't a better one. Someone has to put their career on the back burner so that they can jump if their child needs them. A child won't just get on with their day when they are sick. They don't want to go to school with the flu (and neither should you, but that's another debate), they want to curl up on the sofa with one of their parents. And it's probably going to be mummy. 

In our rush to encourage women that they can become doctors, CEO's, astrophysicists and any number of jobs that, fifty years ago, would have solely been the domain of men, we've forgotten about a woman's choice. 

Stay At Home Mum is not exactly presented as a career choice by careers officers. Motherhood now seems to be something we are expected to do alongside a career, not as a career.  

And because of that mentality, so many women do not have a choice. They already have bills that require two salaries, because the expectation is that women work. So they can't make the choice to stay at home with their children, because they cannot afford it. 

I'm not for a moment suggesting that all women secretly harbour a desire to be a stay at home mum, but many do. Having to juggle so many responsibilities is exhausting. 

Just as exhausting is trying to figure out exactly what you really want. I am lucky enough to be a stay at home mum, which had I been left to my own devices, I would not have been able to make that choice. 

Before we moved to the Middle East, we were looking at houses. Houses that would exhaust both of our mortgage allowances. My mum cautioned me and said that I might not want to return to work once I had children, and so not to rely too heavily on my salary when looking at houses. 

I ignored her. I was convinced that I would want to return to work. I loved my job and I didn't want to give it up. Had life not worked out the way it did, I would have been regretting ignoring her advice now. 

Because I want to be at home with my children. I want to take them to school every morning and pick them up every afternoon. I want to be the mother who makes them sit at the dining room table and do their homework every night. 

Being at home with my kids has required a huge adjustment period. It's not an easy choice by an stretch of the imagination. I've had to really concentrate on what I want and what I'm letting go of. It's not an easy road but it's the right one for me and my family. 

Moving to the Middle East with my husband's job meant I had no job. So the home we rent is rented on his salary. We live on his salary. We have never had two salaries since I fell pregnant with my two year old. So we don't need it or miss it. I'm still thankful for what life has given us, as it's given us real choice. 

Now there is nothing wrong with wanting to go back to work. Nothing wrong with wanting something for yourself. We all need to carve out our own niche in this life. If you are given the choices, you will make the choices that make you the best mother you can be. Whether that be a working mum or a stay at home mum, or a mixture of the two. 

I just feel that sometimes equality has pushed things a little bit too far, leaving mothers with little to no choice over how much time they get to spend with their children. 

How do you find your balance? 

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