Days after I gave birth, my in-laws were already asking what my plans were in regards to going back to work. Post-natal hormones were surging through my body, I was exhausted from three-hourly feeds and the stitches in my nether-regions made my eyes water every time I stood up. And yet they were asking, via my husband, what I planned to do 6-12 months down the line.
A friend went to the doctors after having her baby. Instead of advising her on how to remedy the issue she was there to discuss, he lectured her on going back to work “too soon”. Yes. You read that correctly. He actually asked her who her “real baby” was, her business or her daughter. She has her own, successful business so of course, she went back to work as soon as she felt ready. I admire her; she’s got that work/life balance thing nailed. Her GP felt differently and thought he had the right to tell her. Why?
A new world of sexism.
It comes as no surprise to most women that pregnancy brings pain. As your internal organs shift to allow space for a growing person, joints and muscles separate and tissue tears. This is all before we have to squeeze a child through our vagina, or we face a surgeon’s knife to bring our baby into the world. What we don’t expect though, is the widespread attitude that, as a woman with a baby, we should conform to certain stereotypes.
Motherhood opens a new chapter of sexism for many of us. We face a whole new stack of assumptions that, as women and mothers, we should ascribe to traditional gender roles. If a woman chooses to have a baby, she must shoulder the responsibilities of motherhood, we’re told. We should make sacrifices, grieve for our old life, wave goodbye to career, hobbies and social lives. Just as being pregnant leads random strangers to believe they have the right to grope your belly, motherhood makes people think it’s appropriate to lecture you about your life choices.
To those people, I say, if I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it. Also, fuck off.
Roughly 70% of mothers work. It’s an economic necessity. Those who don’t largely stay at home because of the prohibitive cost of childcare. Single mothers are less likely to work than those with partners (again, expensive childcare is often the deciding factor).
Our jobs are commonly seen as secondary though; our primary job is as a parent. If our child is sick, it’s the mother who has to cancel work. Mums have to juggle their hours to be present at school assemblies, parent’s nights or to collect children on snow days. As result, less than a third of working mothers work full time, the rest work part-time or in a job-share.
In spite of working, the majority of women do the bulk of the housework too. Women are still expected to cook, clean, do laundry, change beds and tidy rooms. Meanwhile, men maintain the car and look after the garden.
The gender stereotypes of fatherhood are equally as tiring. Men are still expected to be breadwinners. The pressure to be a “superdad” means men work longer hours than before and push themselves to spend more time with their kids. It’s a vicious cycle. Perhaps they could give up work, raise the children and let their partner go to work? Apparently not. Time out of work for domestic matters has more lasting consequences for men than it does for women.
Do it your own way.
So, what can we do? Besides smashing the patriarchy, of course.
Well, first of all, do what works for you. Don’t let the self-proclaimed Guardians of Childhood tell you how to raise your child, or how to balance parenthood, work and housework. If your current situation isn’t working for you, tell someone about it. If you feel like you’re missing out on home-life, talk to your manager about flexible working. If you’re sick of always being the one to clean the kitchen, give your partner a pair of rubber gloves and tell them you need help.
Being a mother is overwhelming, but it’s flippin’ wonderful too. Cherish the time you spend with your wee ones and ignore the haters.
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