I read an article online today – well it was a letter that a woman sent to the editor of the Irish Independent. She didn’t give her name, but spoke of how miserable she was working outside the home when all she wanted was to be with her children. She explained her working was necessity rather than choice, so that she could pay for essentials - not luxuries or holidays. She stated “there is nothing natural about peeling little arms from your neck every morning as you drop them to the childminder”.
As I read through, I found myself nodding along in agreement at some parts, wondering if feminism had sold us a pup. We tell our daughters that the sky is the limit – that they can be anything they want to be. But I’m not so sure that we’re truly honest with them about the real cost of “having it all”.
My grandad had some pretty old-fashioned and outdated views on a woman’s role in society. I was the first in our family to go to university and he had a copy of my graduation photo hanging on his wall. “That’s our Jennifer being canonised”, he’d say to everyone who came into the house (whether they enquired or not), much to our amusement. Yet proud as he was of his eldest granddaughter’s achievement, even if it wasn't quite saintly, he couldn’t help but wonder why my mother bothered.“Sure they’ll just get married and have babies, there’s no point in girls being educated”, he said, much to my mum’s disgust. Thankfully she held very different views and so on we went believing the world was our oyster and that we could achieve anything we set our minds to.
In due course, those babies my grandad predicted began to arrive. With every fibre of my being I was in love, exhausted, overwhelmed, ecstatic and busy – so very busy. I still am. All the responsibilities of family life and work life must be juggled and it’s so hard. Every time I slip up and miss something I feel I mightn’t have if my mind was fully on the “mammy job”, every time a younger child asks “why can’t I stay with you today” and every time I find myself run ragged and exhausted to the point I can barely remember my name, I wonder if “having it all” is truly worth it or even desirable.
And then I remember the choice is gone. I don’t work because I’m a strong, independent woman who chooses to work – I work because there are bills to be paid and mortgage payments to be met. Whether I enjoy my job or not is of little consequence – there is no choice but to have a job.
The saddest part for me in reading the article today was not actually that the woman who wrote it felt as she did, but the lack of empathy and understanding that was evident in the comments. “She’s not the only one, she made her bed she has to lie in it, were the general sentiments.
Maybe feminism has indeed blindsided us. More is expected from women than ever before. But we are strong – even stronger when we build each other up rather than tear each other down. And that includes recognising that choosing or wanting to stay at home with our children is as valid an aspiration or dream as any.