Saturday, 9 April 2016
Can we really have it all?
I am in the very fortunate position that I have worked part-time (mornings only) since the birth of my first child. It has helped somewhat with the mammy guilt, enabled me to remove my school aged children from the childcare conundrum and has created a situation, for my school going children anyway, that I am home when they are home. Through the use of parental leave and family friendly policies in my place of employment, I have managed to cover most school holidays (obviously at my own expense) with a few days left for sick days, hospital appointments and school shows. My leave is as precious as gold dust. I never take a day off just because I fancy it – I never know what could crop up and I might need it.
I am regularly told that I have the ideal situation. I have to be honest, as grateful as I am to have the time with my children in the afternoons, I am left exhausted by the demands. I am here for the morning chaos as I try to get my older kids to school. I feel dreadful leaving my younger children at a time when they should have the advantage of more of my attention while their older siblings are at school and I walk out of a house that looks like a tornado has gone through it and will be waiting for me to tackle when I get back from work. I face the heavy morning traffic everyday, do my job and then leave at lunch time (without having lunch obviously). I go straight to collect my younger children and from there on to the school to pick up my junior infant. I am immediately in full time mammy mode. The smallies are delighted to see me, there’s a mountain of breakfast dishes and the older kids come home, forgetting I’ve been to work at all, with their homework and after school activities to be fit in.
A UK school principal recently caused uproar when she suggested that we shouldn’t be leading our girls to believe that they can have it all. This came on foot of a senior UK gynaecologist reiterating the importance of women understanding their biology and fertility. Nature waits for no career! In an age where women’s rights have progressed, there’s no denying we still have a way to go and this particular issue is a difficult one to navigate. Trying to build or progress a career without the distraction or commitment of children means postponing a family to a time when things might prove more challenging.
My daughter is now old enough to be giving serious consideration to the career she would like in the future. The path she wants to follow is pretty specific and naturally I hope it will be the right one for her. I also, as a mother and her mother, knowing how difficult it is to juggle everything, find myself wondering how family friendly it will be. Throughout school and college I had an ideal in my head as to how my life would be. When the little people came along, my priorities changed – as did my perspective.
I don’t want to admit that there might be a glass ceiling for my daughter but I don’t think I believe you can have it all. I think somebody is paying the price. I’m not sure how much things really have moved on for women now that they’re largely expected to do all the things their mothers did for their families and hold down a job on top of this. The demands on working parents emotionally and physically are huge. The guilt leaving your children can be enormous, the commitment to your employment challenged. The work of a stay at home parent however, is hugely undervalued in spite of being one of the most relentless, exhausting jobs there is. Sadly, enough importance is still not given to the role of a carer in spite of the workload and sacrifices involved.
I don’t want my daughter, as she considers her future life, to believe that there is anything she can’t achieve that her brothers can. She is however, bound by her biology and may have to make some difficult and different choices to them. I don’t know what the answer is, or if the principal’s suggestion really is as outrageous as it first appeared, but it certainly gives food for thought. All I do know is, that from my point of view, when my maternity leave comes to an end, the chaos here will become that bit more chaotic…..