I wouldn’t say that I set out a plan to live a life quite like this one, but here I am. I was brought up with a strong female influence, to go out and be who I was, irrespective of my gender. But over the last few years I have found myself living the old-fashioned ‘gender appropriate’ role of Mother and home maker. For me, the reasons behind this are sound and not gender related. My husband earned far more than me when I got pregnant. Hastily adding that it is not because he is a man, he is better educated, good at this job and in his own words, ‘had a few lucky breaks.’ I on the other hand am less educated, less focused on the whole work thing, plus I had more than one unlucky break that set back my career to a level that I felt was successful but, was not exactly bringing in the big bucks.
So, AB (after babies), it fell to me to be the one responsible for the children during work hours. It is 100% my responsibility, with favours being called in on certain days and use being made of his rather generous holiday allocation. I have found that the secret is not to try to pin him down to a weekly / daily commitment, but to sneak in the occasional, becoming more frequent, favour. But in the children’s eyes it is Mum, the woman, doing the school runs, sorting out their lives, cooking, cleaning and all that fun stuff that goes with having children. In fact, on the days that he does pick up from school, you would think that a minor celebrity had arrived in the playground!
After baby no.1, I found it difficult to go back to work as I was so focussed on bringing along baby no.2. This happened fairly promptly and there was a part-time job covering the pregnancy, with childcare for 1 child not being quite so depressingly expensive as childcare for 2. Then baby no.2 arrived and that threw up so many complications – childcare costs doubled, Grandparents backed off at the prospect of 2 rather than just 1, post-natal depression, mad business ideas to work around the children, etc. My husband had to take on the main, sometimes sole, wage earner and all that brings with it; long hours, travel, stress, etc. My mad business ideas brought in dribs and drabs of money, but nothing that could justify calling me a working parent. I fell deeper into the old-fashioned female stereotype, until it became apparent that whatever role I took on, it would need me to take responsibility for the children and the home, as well as the job.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not 1952 in our house; he does his bit; he is doing the bath routine as I type, as tonight was an earlier one than usual for him. But would he remember to make their packed lunches, sort their uniforms, know what homework was due when? Sadly no. Me, on the other hand am typing this, cooking dinner, making packed lunches and putting the rabbits back in their cage, not sure about the hygiene of all this at the same time though. Now I’m wondering if anyone has fed the fish. Darling Daughter no.1 has just arrived to tell me that I may heat her milk now; lucky me.
This is the sort of routine that my 2 daughters see every day; what they don’t notice is the work strewn across the table that I have done while they were out at school and, will return to after they go to bed. They also don’t seem to understand that I work while they are at school in those rare and precious jobs that allow me to work school hours only. What they see is the woman staying at home and keeping house.
Now to the tricky part, how do I teach them to be who they want to be and not fall into a stereotype?
- I bang on and on about my work at every opportunity, it’s pretty much white noise to them now, but maybe one day they will take it in. The dream is to write for a living, but for now, I will do whatever I can find to keep some money coming in.
- That brings me to 2; dreams and aspirations, in our house we bring them on in bucket loads, who cares that they change daily? They can have what they want in life and it’s my job to help them get it.
- Gender appropriate clothing – we are late to the game with gender neutral, it’s too late, the word is out that they are officially girls. I never wanted pink princesses or dolls in the house, but what do we have? Pink everywhere and scary looking dolls poking out of every drawer, not to mention the herd of unicorns that is now filling our house. They choose what to wear; I am entering the, “You are not going out in that!” phase. It would seem that 8 is the new 12; cropped tops and hot pants are in – now I am sounding very old and like my Mum here, but I thought we were covering up in these UV damaging days, apparently not! I will always encourage their unique taste in fashion and long may it last, but I would like a bit more coverage when possible. Their tastes are currently girly, but that may change. I would like it if they designed their own style, as that is something they showed interest in previously. I will encourage their individuality every day. (This is not actually one of mine, but they would love this:)
- Gender Appropriate Careers – there are no men’s jobs and women’s jobs in our house, there are careers and jobs to enjoy. This is ironic as I am talking about the old-fashioned woman’s role of mother and home maker and sounding like I am putting it down. I truly am not, as I love where I am right now, but I have lived a different life and I want them to know there are so many options out there.
- Making the dreams a reality – at the moment, they are still quite young so dreams and focus change daily, if not hourly. What I now recognise as missing from me, is focus and drive (along with a massive lack of confidence, see point 6). I am a terrible role model for sticking with things, so this has to change as they become more impressionable. I need to prove to them that sticking with things, working hard, being driven and focused is all that they need to succeed. Along with a healthy pinch of luck.
- Praise and encouragement – I am crap at fake praise, they just know when I really like something and when I am just going through the motions, but is that a bad thing? Life is hard work and they need to know that getting what we want is not always easy. I am also a strong believer in making mistakes to learn from. Praise them for effort, urge them on, pick them up when they fall and boost them up high at every opportunity. There are too many people in the world who are quick to put others down, I need to bring up resilient and confident women, who will not let others bring them down.
- No Excuses – being a woman is neither a hindrance, nor an excuse. We don’t need excuses, we need solutions. Whatever the problem is, the aim is that they will be able to solve it, sometimes with our help, but frequently without.
- Self-Image – we live in a society that is incredibly body image obsessed. We are driven to look a certain way to attract the opposite, or the same-sex, impress our peers, or to just look perfect for ourselves. But is looking perfect what life is all about, do we waste too much time on it? Image is not just about how we look, it is about perception of who we are. I know that I feel guilty for being at the school gates, as much as I feel guilty when I am not. I sometimes feel that I have failed womankind by not being a mother and having a career at the same time; I worry that people see me as that failure. I often chip in that I have been at work, when we are waiting for the school door to open, just so that other Mums don’t judge me. It is me who is judging though, not them! But why feel that guilt for doing the wrong job, wearing the wrong thing, daring to get old? It’s just a waste of effort that should be going into fulfilling the dream and living this all too short life.
- Careers / Life Choices – I will in no way force opinions on them, they will make their own choices, but I want them to know that the choices are out there. No pressure, but if you want to be an astronaut, then be one, if you want to have a house full of children, then do it. But most of all know the choices and the options, then decide.
- Last but not least is something that as a parent I am going to find hard to encourage but I have to do it; they need to take risks, try new things, experience it and live it. Life is not about taking the safe option, sometimes we need to stand on the ledge to see the world below. I doubt they will see silly old Mum as a risk taker as I pack their lunches and iron their clothes, but girls, “Never judge a book by it’s cover, open it up and have a read.”