I discovered an interesting website today, while I was meandering around the web. Sam is too poorly to go to school so I have been at home the last couple of days, doing the washing, measuring out Calpol and generally pottering around on tinertnet. Here it is: http://selfishmother.com/ I found it because I have just finished my first ever post on the dilemmas of modern motherhood and it got me thinking about an aspect that I shoved to the back of my mind and put on a to-do list some time ago: guilt.
I don’t think, as women in the early 21st Century, that we are the first generation to ever have found ourselves confronted with this crushing burden. Ever since Motherhood was held up to be the be-all and end-all to female existence have we struggled under its weight. My friends Alison, Sarah-Jane of http://sarahjanestratford.blogspot.co.uk/ and I might debate when this happened, but some time after the Second World War is the general consensus.
But what is true is that each new generation of mothers needs to find her own way of dealing with it. One of the things that makes it so difficult is that, to a certain extent, I think that we, the women of my generation, have been sold a lie. Our mothers burned their bras in order to give us the freedom to expect an education, a career, a man who gave us the space to be who we are. So we did. We went to university. We qualified in career areas that are dominated by men and made successes of it. We got married to the men of our dreams (allow me a bit of dramatic license, please!) and bought our own houses. We went on to have our babies as we were entering our thirties, thinking that the battle against angst had been won, and suddenly everything was not quite as it seemed.
Take going back to work straight away after the baby is born, for instance. I consider myself hugely privileged to have been able to make a choice about this. So many mothers don’t have any choice at all. If they don’t go out to work, tea won’t be on the table, as it were. If you do make this choice, however, you become some sort of selfish pariah. Fancy having a baby and not wanting to spend every waking hour in its company!
If, like me, you choose to stay at home, how come you went to university, then? What was the point of wasting all that money on an education when all you are doing is staying at home, cleaning up mess and producing even more babies? Come to that, shouldn’t there be a limit on how many babies women ought to have? The state has to fund them all through school, you know. And what about child-free? How very dare you! Don’t you know that inside every woman there lurks the desire to reproduce? It’s in your genes, you know. There is no escape.
And when you get to the point in your mothering life when if you don’t go back to work some time soon you will go ever so slightly bonkers, you find that you can’t exactly pick up where you left off. For a start, what do you do with the children when you are at work? My children are at school now, and that long summer holiday was one of the main reasons why I went back to the career, such as it was, that I started before I had them. Primary school teacher. Many women see teaching as the answer to their working-mother prayers, but find, on entry, that all is not as 9-3 as they thought.
Some of us took a break, slipped back in to a workplace they left a couple of years before, and found, thanks to daddy’s job, that progression beyond a certain part-time point just isn’t possible. My friend Jo once told me, ‘There is only room for one big career,’ and I agree. For I have found that there is more to running a household than looking after the children and doing the school run, however dominating this part of motherhood is. Somewhere in there, someone needs to get the groceries, wait in for the boiler man, take the car to the MOT and arrange dental appointments. And that’s before anyone tidied the house, did the laundry and cooked the Sunday dinner.
For us, with the added complication of the darling boy, we have a large number of extra medical appointments to attend. Sam doesn’t have the greatest of resistance to coughs and colds (as evidenced my presence here, at home, when I should be at work); he had two bouts of pneumonia before he was two. I can’t begin to think how I would have managed a full-on job like teaching in his early days.
But whatever you do you can bet your bottom dollar that it won’t be right. They watch too much telly. They play on the computer too much. They don’t go out enough. They hang around on street corners too much. We feed them all the wrong things. Breast? Wrong. Bottle? Wrong. We don’t care enough about their education. We care too much about their education. Only the other day I read an editorial in some newspaper or another where the writer was decrying a couple of mothers he overheard talking on a train (probably in London) about their children. They were too interested, he said. It wasn’t healthy.
You’d have thought that for me, having another baby was my business, but no. The world and his wife had an opinion on my options. Was I going to get it tested? How was I getting it tested? What was I doing with the results? I cried buckets and wondered if I was the only thing standing between this new baby, whoever it was, and annihilation. OK, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but that’s pregnancy hormones for you. It was impossible for me, at that time, to appreciate that Sam’s birth had a cataclysmic effect on more than just me and his daddy.
I suppose the thing that I didn’t understand is that motherhood is essentially a public act. I started to notice it the first time a stranger touched my pregnant bump. That was weird. From my body being mine and mine alone, suddenly it was public property. It was nice when people asked me how far along I was, or held shop doors open for me as I waddled about, puffing and panting, and I’m all for gentlemen giving up their seats for the lady with the swollen ankles, but touching the bump? That was a step too far.