My youngest son who has a two year old son of his own admitted to me recently that although he loves spending time with his little boy, he feels a guilty sense of relief when he goes to work surrounded by his (adult) colleagues and the tools of his trade. ‘Join the club,’ I said. We’ve all been there. My daughter in law works part time and I’ve seen her hover over her child before she leaves for work. But ask her to discuss work related activities and her face lights up.
To work or not to work when your children are little is a topical issue that hasn’t been resolved yet. I think that it’s because there isn’t a one answer fits all solution to it. But those mothers of babies and toddlers who prefer the salt mines to parenting will tell you that although paid work isn’t as rewarding it is a fair bit more restful. A moment of peace is all a mother asks for, and a place to hide from the piping voices that demand your attention. I can tell you first hand that locking myself in the toilet with a copy of Cleo magazine isn’t necessarily a guarantee of privacy. My children would stand outside the door pounding with their little fists and pleading for admission.
Wanting time out isn’t an admission of failure just an acknowledgement of human frailty. Parenting is far more exhausting than we mums and dads anticipate BC (before child). Realising that we have committed every moment of our existence to our children for the next few decades comes as a shock. Our lives BC have suddenly and without notice become a thing of the past. We’ve all heard the stories, of course, but no amount of literature prepares us for the reality of the constant chattering. Oh, that chattering. Children will ask questions and won’t accept a grunt or a non-committal answer. While it is our job to answer questions, teach values and set parameters, we would do it with a greater will if we were only allowed a little bit of ‘me’ time.
Hordes of mothers found their way into the workforce in the 1970’s. Supermums, they called us. Thankfully we were the first and last generation of supermums to think we had to do it all. My generation made their own babysitting arrangements; some hauled their own mothers back into service, others hired minders. I had live in help. It was my job to be home in time to feed my children milk and Tic Toc biscuits. My school teacher husband took his turn at child rearing during the term breaks. If I felt bad about it at all, it was that not everyone was married to a school teacher.
Hooray! I found myself free to spend time in the adult world. My first visit was to the hairdresser. I asked for a short, short haircut to prepare me for my double role of mother and working stiff. A sympathetic hairdresser leaned me back against the basin and washed my hair while her assistant asked if I would like some coffee. I almost broke down on the spot and wept at the thought of someone doing something for me for a change.
I was readying myself for the adult world. I did away with the shabby, round the house garb and bought a wardrobe more in keeping with the professional world. I was looking forward to conversations that didn’t include repeating the daily mantra of don’t hit, don’t touch, do share.’ Even adult friends with children weren’t able to boost my delicate state of mind; these women were in the same situation as I was and all they wanted to do was to tell me about it. Misery might love company but I didn’t want a bar of it. I wanted to be in the thick of office politics and to discuss adult issues; I didn’t want to listen to what other people’s children did or didn’t do or to referee childish accusations of ‘he started it.’
I remember how tiring it was to come home and prepare the evening meal but still, I thought it was great. I gladly took off that work hat and exchanged it for my mummy apron. The trick was not to sit down because I knew I would never have been able to get up again. I took that morning’s washing off the line, handed out after school snacks then got started on the pre-prepared veggies. Even the chattering was welcome as an insight into my children’s daily routine. I loved it. The physical aspects of combining work with child rearing can’t be discounted, but for this mum at least, the drawbacks that parenting without a mental break presents is equally if not more important. I got to come home refreshed and ready to deal with my second job with gusto and kindly feelings towards my children, myself and the whole wonderful world.