It’s not easy to acknowledge our limitations when it comes to juggling motherhood with a career, but that’s what we must do if we’re to keep whats child rearing sanity, writes Michelle Stacpoole. The reaction to a recent article in The Telegraph titled “Can a working mother be as good at her job after maternity leave? UK journalist Antonia Hoyle seems to have enraged working mums, feminists, career women and some men the world over. Many who believe they pick up the slack of working mums saw it as just another mummy whinge.
To others, it was like waving a red flag at a bull. For goodness sake people, get over yourselves and be honest. Working mothers cannot perform anywhere near their previous best and they are foolish and gullible if they think they can. Hoyle writes openly about the double-guilt cycle that faces working mothers today, feeling bad because they work, and bad employees because they have a family. Hoyle admits that she is not as good a journalist as she was pre-children and that her ability lags behind her ambition.
She backs up her candid personal experiences with research studies and psychologists findings about the pressure facing today’s working mothers. I grew up believing I could have it all. The women of Gen X were the modern equivalent of the Celtic Warrior Princess Boudicca, fearlessly leading our troops with one hand whilst suckling a child at our breast with the other. We strove to be successful, influential and ball busting, spurred on in part by our ambition to supersede the homely and inward approach of our mother’s era. As Hoyle points out, “I, like other working mothers of my generation was set up to fail. The idea that we could ‘have it all’ was a misleading fallacy.
Fallacy or not, there are not many of us that are on top of our game. Trying to get out the door with small children can be like running the New York marathon hobbled to a goat. By the time we get to work, we are dishevelled, fatigued and emotionally unavailable. When we’ve already given 90 per cent of our time and energy at home, there is not much left in the tank for our “real” job. Reality is, if we want it all, we’ve got to get straight back into it. There is always going to be a twenty-something with perky boobs and her own hashtag whose childless status makes her a much more viable employment option. Legally, we can’t be discriminated against, but let’s face it, who’s more employable?
The expectations we put on motherhood when our offspring are barely eggs in utero sets us up for failure. If we believe the literature we read when we’re expecting, at the end of the labour experience we will have an all encompassing episode of maternal outpouring that will fill the room with rainbows and butterflies. Instead we are sore, stitched and have an overwhelming desire to sleep. The bonding comes, of course, but because it may not be instantaneous we feel like we have failed. Hoyle talks of “sobbing tears of self loathing”, not only for what she perceives as being a negligent mother, but for also failing at her career. On one hand there are childhood milestones we will miss.
On the other, career progression and work commitments we won’t be able to meet. This can foster a sense of resentment, pushing an already fragile balance to breaking point. There are some days when we have pushed ourselves too far, and dealing with the end-of-day routine is less favourable to stabbing ourselves in the eye with a fork. On occasion when we have picked up tired, hungry kids, we may get drive thru. In that moment, we’ve contributed to the childhood obesity epidemic. And because we were too exhausted to deal with the tantrum-throwing we relented and got the dessert option as well.
Now we potentially have fat kids with behavioural issues. Of course, we could always take inspiration from the plethora of stay-at-home mum sites who offer the latest advice on how to cook gourmet meals from scratch whilst cleaning out your dishwasher – and then Pinterest it – but that takes a moderate level of organisation. Most days I struggle to coordinate my pants suits. There comes a point in time when we have to suck it up, pull up our big girl pants and admit defeat. In an environment when our desire to have it all mirrors our need to be in control, acknowledging our shortcomings is confronting and unnerving.