Friday, 4 December 2009

Mum vs mum

Deborah Hill Cone has been going through the process of becoming a solo mum lately, and last week she wrote about motherhood along these lines:
...Girl two: "My daddy helps people. He's a lawyer." "What does your mummy do?" "My mummy makes the dinner."

Is Devonport the suburb that feminism forgot? I have been wondering about that since my marriage split up. I seem to be the only solo parent in this suburb of shiny, happy people. Certainly I'm the only one who lets her kids draw on the walls with impunity and considers Banana Up & Go a vegetable. I have always felt simpatico with Devonport but now I am not in a pristine nuclear family I feel a bit of a freak. I didn't realise separation still had such a stigma...
New blogger (but not new writer) and fellow Devonportian Cath responds, including:
...I know I will return to work at some point. I like it. But I’ve learned a bit from this year about having one parent around the home. It’s good. And I don’t think people who choose this as a full time occupation should be sneezed at, DHC. Many people make huge sacrifices to keep one partner, male or female, in the home. Weighing up working in an interesting job with the regular drudgery of making dinner is hardly fair. It isn’t about picture perfect families, or perfect 1950s marriages with 1950s division of labour, it’s about people making choices that work for them...
Both are well worth a read and a mull. For the record I agree with Cath.*

I tend to think the Mommy Wars are something of a myth, encouraged by a media that prefers to paint in black and white than those pesky shades of grey. In everyday life most mothers in Camp A also know mums in Camp B, and get along ok much of the time. When we dislike each other I venture to suggest that it's not because one person is in a full-time job and the other is not, but actually it's because we don't like each other as individuals, and probably wouldn't if our lives were identical. Just because we are mothers doesn't mean we've signed up to love and befriend all other mothers for everymore.

Women dip in and out of paid work as their family and (I hope) personal needs require. Regardless of whether we are engaged full time at home or otherwise, in many homes the adult females pick up most of the unpaid domestic work. The latter is changing (fingers crossed) and the old ideas about women belonging primarily in the home are becoming more fluid too, in more and more places and families across the world.

If I'm being brutally honest I can recall vividly times during pregnancy and motherhood when I felt trapped. Not by Wriggly himself, but by the societal expectations around women who become mums and step-mums, and by the workload of mothering.

For me my paid work is something that usually helps me to be free; it challenges me and extends me in different ways to motherhood. I feel privileged to be able to do both - my day job and my night job, if you will.

I tried staying home for a while, and after a time it didn't suit me well. I don't think it would suit me now either, and luckily I have some choices around that because of my circumstances, in particular the willingness of my partner to command most of the private sphere for a while. But being at home full time may be me again some time, I just don't know. Maybe next time I'm home I'll wonder what mad trance I was in that I ever though working full time was what I wanted to do. Who knows?

In the meantime I do consider my stay home sisters and sometimes look forward to the possibility of being amongst them in the future. That work has its stresses and strains too, and not just dirty nappies either. And it is work. It's all work. In a society that indicates the value of something by its monetary cost it's easy to dismiss the unpaid as without value, to render it invisible. But it's neither; in fact the private sphere work largely carried out by women and girls allows the public sphere work to happen. Without a full belly and a good night's sleep and clean clothes how well would any of us in paid work function in our employment? And without homes and families and friends to come back to at the end of the day and to enjoy our weekends and holidays with, what is the point?

We work together, the paid and the unpaid. I hope I never forget that.

* But then I would say that, given we discussed this obliquely not that long ago at lunch!


halfwaydownthestairs said...

Nice work Julie. Particularly like what you say about the private sphere allowing the public sphere to happen. Indeed.


The ex-expat said...

Just because we are mothers doesn't mean we've signed up to love and befriend all other mothers for everymore.
I think that's a really important point. I and countless people I've watched do similar things when we first touch down in Korea - try and make friends with every white person we meet because they speak our lingo. Eventually you learn to be a bit more selective once you meet people that you just don't get on with.

Brenda said...

i interpreted DHC dismay to be at every single family being dad at work, mum at home -- not a criticism of the idea of one parent staying home.

Oliver said...

Just a wee bit if background into my take on this matter:

My Dad worked fulltime and Mum stayed at home until her youngest child (me) was 13 and went to boarding school at which point she took up part time work.

Both my brothers and my sister work and support their wives/husband and children.

I have never understood why people feel the need to weigh into other families about how they choose to arrange matters. Surely it is a choice to be made by each inddividual family based on what works best for them.

My wife and I plan to have children late next year and have yet to decide on the "official long-term arrangement".

Equally though I have to admit that I always have an immediate visceral reaction to stay at home dads. A small part of me always reactively thinks "what a loser". It's an immediate gut reaction that I mentally believe to be wrong. I'm always interested in the lag between when I mentally decide something and when my gut reactions catch up.

(PS I vote blue, always have and have yet to see anything to change my mind)

Julie said...

Thanks for the feedback, glad I struck a chord with a few people.

Oliver, it's funny how sometimes we take a lot longer to change with our gut than with our head. We're living in this society where we've been brought up with certain norms and it's pretty hard to overcome them! Eg despite being a staunch feminist I still worry about my appearance frequently. I know I shouldn't, and I'm working on it, but until then...