Monday 5 September 2016

Working: a luxury mothers cannot afford.

I’ve struggled with being honest lately. I’ve chosen not to write. I can’t seem to write without being honest, see, it’s just not me. Over the past year I’ve felt the need to develop some sort of weird split personality now that I work for myself. It’s often hard to come across as a highly professional career woman when you write about snot and poo in the same sentence. With every blog post I ask myself, how will my clients respond if they see this? Will they view me as unprofessional if I reveal I am a… wait for it… a mother?

Having a career and being a parent is no easy thing to juggle. On the whole I think it’s harder for women, but then, how can I know what it’s like to be a working father? I am not one. And no doubt there are lots of single fathers who perhaps have it the hardest of us all. But if I speak of the difficulties of being specifically a mother, I am often told I should keep quiet. I grew up being told that feminists were all man haters and shaved their heads. Or was that vegans? Anyway, women who spoke up about equality were seen as a little bit arsy. It’s as though people think I want to put men down as opposed to giving women a leg up, simply by speaking truthfully about overcoming the difficulties I face. It’s as though I do not value the men I work with (and it’s entirely because I do value working with them that I write stuff like this). It’s not poetic licence to make me sound all diplomatic by saying I am an equal fan of the male gender. It’s a no brainer. I married one of them. I gave birth to two. If anything I prefer working with people who are different to me; who think a little differently and challenge my work in new ways.

To be honest (here I go with that honesty thing) I wrote myself off the moment I found out I was pregnant with my first child. To you that sentence should probably say ‘I wrote my career off’, but to me they are one and the same. It’s not that I didn’t want a family, just that I was passionate about lots of other things besides. People informed me that my career was done – that I was all about the kids now. I was literally told to throw my diary in the bin. You can’t have it all, you know? They would tell me, and god knows they are right. They are right because my house is untidy and I don’t get much sleep, but they’re wrong about the passion I have always had for my career. And when I say career that sounds like a shallow word to a lot of people – like it’s all just about making money and spending time away from my kids. But it’s not like that, it’s an expression of who I am: a vocation. When people tell me to stop doing it I feel like they’re telling me not to eat. 

I’ve realised how quick some people are to assume that because, say, I’m at home with my poorly child, I’m actually a stay at home mum and my career is somehow a hobby. I often ask myself, if I were a father would it be assumed that I were a stay at home dad or less professional in any way? But women who speak out about everyday sexism are just accused of being divas, aren’t they? And I’m really not, you know? I really just want there to be no issues. I really want to whole-heartedly invest into my work and my kids without anyone or anything making it harder for me. And that’s certainly not that I’m afraid of difficulties or hard graft, but that I could do without more of those things than my male counterparts. I could do without having to fight for equal pay on top of everything else I have to do. I could do without having to work harder to prove my professionalism, simply for having children. For a time I felt the need to retreat; to just crack on with my work and not kick up a fuss – to just accept everyday sexism is something I would have to live with. And with all things there is perspective to take into account. Like, how many vulnerable women are forced into slave labour and work that is exploitative? But that shouldn’t stop us speaking up about the things that are important to us or seeking change that includes these women (and men) too.

I recently went on holiday. With my friends. People asked me: "Does your husband mind?" and "Who’s looking after the kids?" I told them what an amazing man I married who can – yes – actually clean up shit. No kidding. He doesn’t sit there like a robot with the tv remote. He doesn't think, crap, how do I use a spoon? Or, how do I communicate with these strange beings with chubby cheeks? And little do these people realise by asking such questions they have degraded both sexes in one fell swoop.

So, yeh, I went on holiday with my friends and had the most amazing time. But after a year of working for myself it suddenly hit me how incredibly hard I have been working. It’s funny that, isn’t it? That it takes you to stop for you to realise how crazy your life is? I feel rested yet exhausted. Confronted yet enlightened. Fulfilled yet needing change. I feel like giving up yet persevering all at the same time.

But how can anything change? And how can I even complain? What, you’ve just had a week with your mates in the sun? What, your husband let you do that? Lucky bugger. Yes I am. So what of those that aren’t so lucky? Who will stick up for them? Who will give them a break? How can things change? 

And no, I don't just mean for me. Because every working mother I meet is exhausted: doing too much. Most of whom are barely braking even; there’s no financial gain to them working. What does that tell you? They need to work. They need to have careers for their sanity, their passion, their personalities, their desire to learn, their self esteem, their relationships. People ask me "are you doing too much?" Yeh, I say, I’ll give up the kids (as I do with the sarcasm that makes most people laugh nervously – wait, is she serious?) But that question – me doing too much – isn’t really about that, is it? What they’re really saying, no matter how well intentioned, is do you think you should pack in your job? Just focus on the kids now. And I in no way want to insinuate that my career is more important to me than my children, but just that it is important. Is that okay? It’s important the same way my husband’s career is important to him. It’s important to me the same way The Queen’s job is important to her, or the lady at Tesco who needs her three shifts a week in order to have a break from family life. It’s important to me the same way it’s important to the majority of male career men. And sure, I talk about snot and poo, but behind all that is this massive passion to create and to learn and to invest into the world around me. And not only that but the desire to kick ass at what I do. To be competitive. To be a good businesswoman. To make money. To do those things I was told girls couldn't do.

Is that okay?

Recently a friend told me of all the passions she had and her drive for learning new skills, only to end with a huge sigh at the realisation that there was no possibility of investing in her career. Who will look after the kids? How could they afford childcare? I wanted to help her, to give her a leg up. But how could I when I’m still only on the ground floor myself? Of course there are those that want to give up their careers to look after children, but shouldn’t this be down to individual couple’s preferences as opposed to circumstance? The vicious circle is that mothers are, on the whole, the ones who stay at home because they typically earn less. It doesn't make sense for them to work. And here we have a problem because it leaves even the most equal of relationships still unbalanced. My husband is the one who encouraged me to pursue my own work and has made considerable sacrifices in order for me to do so, but I’m still the one who does the school runs and sick days. The fancy dress costumes and homework. The bath times and bed times. It’s not financially viable for him to cut his hours any further until I’m consistently earning more than him. That’s not a sympathy vote in any way, I'm grateful I have a career I love, but I would love for future generations of mothers to have an easier life should they choose to work.

"How do you do it?" I get asked that question a lot, probably along with all working mothers. And I hope in years to come more fathers will be asked that question too as opposed to whether they are hands on dads or whether they are babysitting whenever they are simply parenting their children.

"How do you do it?"

I do it because I work late into the night.

I do it because I don’t often take breaks.

I do it because I often skip meals.

I do it because I don’t always get around to tidying up.

It's not advisable, is it? People don’t see that side, do they? They assume that you’re somehow a superhuman. But those are the hows and not the whys. If you were to ask me why I do it, I would say:

I do it because I’m passionate about my work and it makes me feel alive.

I do it because I want to give something back to the world around me – to add colour, ideas and thought. I want to make people laugh, or shed a tear - either way to make them react through a connection to my work.

I do it because I want my boys to grow up with a work ethic, that’s not solely from their father but their mother too. I want to teach them to invest into their passions and live life to the full. I want them to treat women equally.

I do it because I want to be an encourager to future generations of creatives. I want to be honest about my journey and make life easier for those one step behind.

I do it because I want to learn about business and leadership. I want to have confidence to sell my services well and make money. 

Is that okay?

The hows are all based on circumstance, and the whys are not. And maybe my boys’ generation will be the one to make the changes for the circumstances women often find themselves in. Maybe they’ll grow up to be the first CEOs who give part-time workers (majority mothers) the option of investing in their skills and career progression. Maybe they will be the ones who are able to work part-time to help raise their children, should they choose to or be able to have them. But regardless, I will keep on working hard and pushing a few more glass ceilings like the women before – those whom I am forever indebted to. Here’s to the next generation of mothers and here’s to their choice to work should they want to. Here’s to the amazing fathers who work alongside us. And here’s to my amazing husband, who has given me the chance to pursue a career I love, one that other women may not be so privileged to do.

women of steel
During both World Wars, thousands of women were conscripted to work in the factories and steel mills to keep them running whilst the men were away fighting. The women took on these roles on a lot less pay, which were often dangerous and physically demanding, alongside looking after their families. 

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