Since I was last regularly updating my blog, I began working full-time again. Or semi full-time, anyway. I am fortunate enough to have a husband with a business for whom I can work, and dictate my hours. I drop the kids at school just after 8am and pick them up at 3:30pm. I work the hours in between and the only difference they see is that the house still looks like a bomb has hit it at 4 o’clock every afternoon.
Yes, there are days when the breakfast dishes get done just in time for dinner.
Working outside the home, and still running the home is not easy. Home never seems quite up to scratch. Work never seems quite up to scratch. (Or is that just me?)
We eat more takeaways. (Thank Goodness for Healthy Grill)
The laundry pile is a never-ending work in progress.
The showers don’t get the scrubbin’ love that they’re used to.
I always feel spread thin.
Quite often I have to start work late or finish early to taxi kids to various things. We have orthodontist appointments (Deflector and Actor) we have weekly psychologist appointments (CC-that’s another story for another time) and we have the usual not-necessarily-regular-things-that-just-happen appointments. Like high school uniform fittings that can only be done in the middle of the day.
Someone has to manage that stuff.
In our family, that someone is me.
Last week I left work early one day for a meeting at school, and arrived late one morning for an appointment. Yesterday I had to take the whole day off work, to take two kids to two different appointments.
Today I get into work to find a message from the CFO ‘please call me’ it says. A colleague helpfully reminds me, with raised eyebrows and dripping sarcasm, that ‘he thought I worked every day now’
‘Ha! Who knows when Rach will be at work!’ they joke.
In an office full of men whose only job is their paid one, they cannot possibly understand how we working Mums feel about trying to divide ourselves in two. They might find it funny, but it just reminds me that the world expects me to do better.
Or, even more regrettable, the possibility that they suspect I, or mothers in general, are not even trying to do better.
Last year we employed another Mum who does exactly the same thing as I; she works school hours. She will, like me, occasionally take a day off to ferry a school excursion or start late to attend an appointment. Sometimes she will need to bring a sick kid into the office, lunch box and bean bag in tow. Sometimes she might make a mad-dash in her lunch break to buy a last minute birthday gift or drop off the dry-cleaning. She is actually, as I type this, at home nursing a child with a broken leg.
Another colleague noted her absence today with ‘What, still no Linda…?’
Really? Is that necessary?
Last Monday morning when our internet was temporarily down, another colleague greets me with
“The internet’s back.” pause “Oh wait…” he snorts derisively “…what am I saying! – Not that YOU would have even noticed yet. But it has been down since yesterday. “
This because I get to work at 9am after school drop off, instead of 8:30 like all the men. I also noted the self righteous reference to his working on a Sunday.
There is an undercurrent of ‘the women are unreliable and undependable’ in our working environments. I am sure that this is reflected in many a workplace. To be fair, my husband would never support this ideology. He takes pride in his business and enjoys the fact that he gives people the flexibility to work and run their family life in a supportive environment. He welcomes an extra kid here or there over the school holidays and allows them to play in the boardroom or he might thrill them with an impromptu science experiment in the lab. There are probably a lot of bosses that are open and supportive and flexible like him, too. But the fact remains, the vast majority of parents who are making these compromises are women, and the resulting societal undercurrent of incompetence is real.
It seems inevitable that if someone’s career is going to take the hit, it will be Mums rather than Dads.
I have to wonder why that is?
In my case I realise why it is me. I never really had aspirations for a career. I was happy to be, and have already written about my decision to be ‘Just a Mum’. My husband, on the other hand, always knew that he would run his own business. I always knew that my job was to support him in whatever way I could. If that means that I have to dash away to collect a sick kid so that he can still attend his sales meeting, I’m ok with that. If that means that I am judged as ‘unreliable’, it’s unfortunate, yes, but for the greater good I can be ok with that too. Supporting my husband and helping him forge his own career path is what makes me happiest.
But what about those women who do have careers? Who aspire to motherhood and management?
I fear that the world is not ready to accept that Mothers are capable and often very committed employees.
It seems to me that once a woman has given birth, or even earlier perhaps, when she is pregnant, she is perceived as less committed, less competent. In order to be seen as the ‘ideal employee’ we either have to forgo having children altogether, or be able to maintain the work habits of men and other childless women. That’s 40+ hours a week, working without interruption until retirement, and focusing the majority of our time and resources on our job. This, despite the fact that women generally do take on the lion’s share of the family and child rearing responsibilities.
It is no wonder we feel spread thin.
It has a name actually. It’s called The Motherhood Penalty, and I am sure many of my fellow working Mums will not be surprised to hear that it is a very real thing. (Google it. There are studies)
I certainly don’t have any answers. I don’t even know what sort of real world action could be done. Short of shaming Dad’s into sharing the work week kid hustle, but that seems counterintuitive.
There will always be women taking extended maternity leave, downgrading to part-time jobs, taking a sick day to nurse an ill child, leaving early to make an appearance at the athletics carnival and regrettably turning down business travel opportunities, just to keep the family life equilibrium.
No one is suggesting that our children are not worth these sacrifices. Of course they are worth it. No mother would tell you otherwise. But what a shame, that so many talented and intelligent women are unable to realise their full career potential.
Working outside the home, and still running the home is not easy. Home is never given 100%. Work is never given 100%.
But you can bet she’s still giving 100% of herself. You can bet she is giving 100% effort, and I dare to claim that she is just as productive in her shortened hasty work day as her male and childless counterparts.
Working Mums have a host of good quality traits that can benefit business. They are often more flexible and adaptable. They are time efficient. They can prioritise and multitask. Mums really are good at getting stuff done.
In fact, Microsoft conducted a study that concluded Motherhood improves essential workplace skills.
I have no doubt.
While I might not have a clue where to start turning this tide, perhaps I do have one suggestion to make after all.
Can we please, kindly do without the condescending judgement of shortened work days and lack of overtime? The sneers at hasty knock-offs and parental leave days. The tasteless jokes and righteous commentary. They really only serve to perpetuate self-doubt and guilt.
We could start with changing the culture in our own working environments. One workplace at time.
Rather than implying your colleague has been missing-in-action, ask about the wellbeing of her sick child.
Rather than persecuting her for not working overtime on Sunday, enquire about her son’s soccer game that you know she attended instead.
If we can take action in our own workplaces, putting a stop to the condescension of working mothers and valuing their input without discrimination and prejudice, it just might be the first step to acceptance.
Acceptance of Mothers as capable and valuable employees.
It might lead to a common recognition and understanding that we truly are a valuable resource; we can be strong leaders, and we should be respected as essential contributors; even without the ability to work 80 hours a week.
I’m really interested to hear your stories like this. Everyone feel free to comment, not just Mums. Please share your thoughts.