Today’s women know they don’t need to put a brave face on the hard work of motherhood in the way that previous generations did, writes Shelina Janmohamed
Today’s mums are a different breed
Mothers never win. If we go out to work, we’re neglecting our children, and inviting doom on family and society. If we stay at home, we’re not contributing to society, wasting our talents and slowly atrophying our brains.
Behind the heady mix of guilt at never being good enough at being mother and the priceless feeling of raising small people are piles of laundry, meals to be prepared and served and a trail of toys. This is modern motherhood.
Mothers who express the challenges of being a mum today, especially if they are working, are often accused of suffering from the failure to “have it all”. The Twentieth century women’s idealism that we can be superwomen has - supposedly - left us bereft.
Today’s mums are over that. We don’t expect to have it all, so put away your outdated criticisms. We understand that motherhood brings incalculable joy, and is the most important job. That doesn’t mean we can’t point out that it’s very hard work, and by the way we still also do most of the world’s housework. Looking after children, especially infants, is draining. Sleepless nights, little adult company and a never-ending circle of chores can make it hard to keep our fingers clinging on to the cliff edge of sanity.
Today’s women know that we don’t need to put a brave face on the hard work of motherhood in the way that generations before us did, a cause of depression in many women. We know that being a parent is an awesome status, but being a mother does not have to be our only or primary defining label.
Yet when women have children, motherhood is still only offered to them in two flavours: the stay-at-home mum and the working mum.
I’m neither of these and both at once: a work-at-home mum, part of a growing phenomenon but only rarely discussed.
I chose this path because I love the work I do. It makes up who I am, and gives me a sense of fulfilment. I feel it contributes positively to the communities of which I’m part. I’m also conscious that in years to come once the children are at school I’d like to work, and that means I need to “keep my hand in”. I’m very fortunate to have a flexible and understanding employer. And of course, the money helps too. But I’m happy to take on the enormous challenge because I want to spend time with my child in her early years. Cuddles from mummy are on tap, fun is squeezed fulsomely in between meals and mayhem. We navigate the tears, tantrums and trials of toddlerhood hand in hand.
It sounds idyllic, but the reality of working in the same place as your children is tough. While friends complained of the pain of non-intellectual stimulation looking after their infants, I was trying to feed the baby then work during naps. While others felt the confusing guilt of leaving their children in day care while simultaneously enjoying a few hours of me-time at the office and the chance for an uninterrupted cup of coffee, I was eking out every minute to meet my deadlines. I’m not a saint. I want to do this. I’m not alone in trying to construct motherhood differently from the two rigid caricatures offered to women, neither of which reflect reality.
Limiting motherhood to two mutually exclusive choices is a form of oppression against women. We need to talk about motherhood in a different way, one that continues to honour the importance of mothers, but doesn’t forget we are women too.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk