The day my youngest started school was the day I had a haircut. It was a memorable and liberating experience. I was about to don my professional hat and get back into the workforce. I felt that cutting off the crowning glory was a good first step. My hair was far too high-maintenance for a working girl with responsibilities. I had breakfasts to prepare and lunches to make for two little boys and one working mum. If I was organised I could even do a load of washing first thing and pre-prepare the vegetables for dinner.
Did I say liberated? Yes, I did. It was the first time in 8 years that my needs were being seen to. Adults were asking me how I wanted my hair styled; adults were interested in my take on the day’s issues. Did I want a cup of coffee? Yes! That was the best cup of coffee I’d ever had or have had since that day. It was better than the best magnum of champagne which in fact always puts me to sleep.
I was getting back into real life and real life adult conversations where ‘mummy, he won’t share’ didn’t figure into it at all. I didn’t mind the extra work (much) and I didn’t feel guilty about expanding and updating the work description (much). There was a time when mothers rarely went back to work, they stayed home and raised their children. Those who worked in government jobs were expected to resign once they got married. Then the baby boomers flooded the workforce and our whole concept of child rearing changed.
My mother’s generation stayed home and dedicated their lives to their children as had the previous generation and the one before that, ad infinitum. It was expected that the baby boomers would follow suit. But women’s liberation got in the way. We were no .longer happy to be chained barefoot and pregnant to the kitchen sink.
We had a life to lead, we said, that included children rather than making them our sole focus and only reason for living. We had a bunch of experiences that made up our lives and we did not believe that they should stop at a dead-end at motherhood. We were ‘off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz’ who was going to get us out of this gosh awful pickle we had gotten ourselves into.
The thing is, it was all a mess. Everyone had a different take on why they wanted (or needed) to invade the previously male-dominated domain. The cost of living was going up and one breadwinner per family was no longer a viable option for many. Some of us wanted the extra dosh to pay for private schools, uniforms, books and piano lessons. We wanted a second car and a swimming pool and all the extras that made life worth living. Some wanted to get back to where they were before motherhood got in the way of their aspirations. We were the superwomen who worked, cooked and cleaned; we were to paraphrase Helen Reddy, women with a capital W-O-M-A-N and the world heard us roar. And if it hadn’t heard us, then we would by golly make sure that they did.
I had dedicated myself to my children in their formative years, now I wanted some ‘me’ time. They got the three Rs (reading, writing and ‘rithmetic) and an introduction into the wider world and I wanted to fill in that chunk of time when I was left to my own devices with nothing to do with my thumbs but twiddle them. Although I didn’t know it at the time I was experiencing a mini version of what would later be called empty nest syndrome. If I had the occasional guilt pangs, I’d remind myself that I’d be front and centre at the end of their school day, asking them how their day was and offering up milk and biscuits (even if I hadn’t baked them myself). I’d be a more interesting person, a happier mother and a role model. I admit I couldn’t have done it without the help of my husband who looked after them in the school holidays, and my parents who helped out when my children were unwell, but that’s the story of how crèches, day care and pre-school came about, to be saved for another time and day.
By the time I came to the role of mother I had had many other roles and saw myself as the sum of my previous experiences. Those experiences made me a better mother than I would otherwise have been. I was giving myself permission to keep on having experiences that were beyond motherhood but not exclusive of it. I didn’t think I should allow it to stop and stagnate there. I would grow as a human being and my children could only benefit from the experience.
I take both my parenting role and my right to evolve most seriously. The two roles are not mutually exclusive. This is why I find a recent government funded study not only annoying but also lacking credibility. The study reports that mothers who go back to work within six months are happier than those who stay at home and are ‘warmer’ parents because of it. Well of course they are. The nightmare that is called parenting can be described but can’t possibly be imagined beforehand. Parenting is a hard and exhausting gig. Not a single moment of the day belongs to the primary carer (usually the mother) even the nights are taken up. Who wouldn’t want to get out from under that? I did. But I wanted to be an influence in my chiildren’s formative years. I didn’t want leave it to other people. That’s why I don’t trust research and statistics. Researchers these days seem to take a premise then craft their questions accordingly and then choose the people to ask who will give their research gravitas.
I keep asking myself and others why have children if you don’t want to have some sort of input into how they are raised? People get upset when I ask them, so I try not to do it too often. But I can’t help thinking that if that research is anything to go by, my opinions are as out of sync with the rest of the parenting population as my mothere’s were before me. I can’t help thinking that we are already distancing ourselves from our humanity. The time is surely bound to be coming, sooner rather than later, when Aldous Huxley’s baby farms (the story set in 2540) will be seen as the norm.
I haven’t made a comeback, really. This piece just popped into my head and I had to get it down before it disappeared. 🙂