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mum's the word

So, I'm reading a kind of typical "three different women in a small town who become friends" sort of book by a best-selling author for work, and one of the characters is a "career woman" who, 20 pages in, realises that of course she really wants to stay at home with her kids because she's missing seeing them grow up. This is not the first time I've encountered this situation in so-called women's fiction, and it's starting to piss me off. Yes, lots of women do want to stay at home with their kids. And no, I don't have kids, and maybe when I do I'll want to look after them full time. But I was brought up by a working mother, and I'm getting increasingly angry with female authors - who make money working at something they love, and who aren't actually stay-at-home mothers themselves (I refuse to call them "full-time mothers"; my mother was a full-time mother, she just happened to go out to work every day) - trying to make working mothers feel guilty like this. They never show a working mother who's, say, a teacher, or working in a job with flexible hours. No, it's always someone who's got some extreme "high powered" job. It's always all or nothing.

My mother went out to work every day. Yes, she was back at half past three, but she still had to say goodbye to her kids in the morning (something these authors always present as being hideously cruel. Now, I don't doubt that it's pretty horrible to leave your possibly crying kids, but as someone who was once on the kid side of the equation, I really didn't suffer from it, so while it may feel awful to leave your kids in the morning, it really isn't cruel). We still spent our days with a series of childminders (well, two really, of whom we were very fond, but whom we certainly didn't mistake for our parents, as these books suggest we might have). My mother still didn't spend all day with us. She may even have missed our first words and steps. I don't know. But I do know that my sisters and I all have a good relationship with her, that we're a family who really gets on together and likes each other as well as loves each other, and I know that if I was affected in any way by my mother going out to work, it was in a positive one. Perhaps if she'd been coming home at half seven every night (like the mother in this book) it would have been different. But then, I don't think anyone should be working that late, whether they're parents (of either gender) or otherwise.

I dunno. I just find these books for women which basically imply that my mother was a selfish bitch who missed out on her kids' lives, and that every woman who isn't totally content with staying at home is somehow defective, pretty fucking offensive.


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 19th, 2005 07:36 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I find it pretty fucking offensive, too. What infuriates me the most about it is that women are made to feel bad because they're not fucking OVERJOYED at having no adult human contact for however many years, and they're supposed to JUST FUCKING LOVE sacrificing because they're women, and if they don't, well, what kind of woman are you, really?

At least half of my mom's drama comes/has come from the bitter resentment she always felt, being a stay-at-home mom with no role in life outside of "preacher's wife" or "mother". Patriarchy rules, yo!

Oh MAN did I ever benefit from all those extra hours with a crazy lady.
Jan. 19th, 2005 07:52 pm (UTC)
Oh MAN did I ever benefit from all those extra hours with a crazy lady.

Ahahaha... you must have been at my house. My mum was stuck in the house for *five years* with me, no siblings, and she used the time to instruct my character in *every single thing* I ever did. Now she's running a school kitchen and she's about a million times less angry than then.
Jan. 19th, 2005 08:00 pm (UTC)
Aieee! Yeah, it's scary stuff. Glad to hear she's less angry now... but it makes for fiiiine comedy, doesn't it?
Jan. 19th, 2005 08:23 pm (UTC)
But I do know that my sisters and I all have a good relationship with her, that we're a family who really gets on together and likes each other as well as loves each other, and I know that if I was affected in any way by my mother going out to work, it was in a positive one.

Exactly. Do people not realize that seeing a parent doing work they enjoy also has a positive effect?
Jan. 19th, 2005 11:00 pm (UTC)
Why is it that well-educated white women who work are cruel and neglectful mothers, but mothers on public assistance who stay home with their children are lazy useless sluts? Eh, they need to get their stereotypes straight.
Jan. 20th, 2005 10:04 am (UTC)
Amen, amen!
Jan. 20th, 2005 12:13 am (UTC)
I also think it's offensive not only because it seems to be the only option open to a fictional character who happens to be a mother, but also because it's a literary cliché - can't these authors think of something else for a mother with kids to do?

And for that matter, can't there be stay-at-home fathers? I can't remember ever seeing one of them in a book. Although ironically, my uncle, a succesful auther was a full time stay-at-home dad!
Jan. 20th, 2005 12:15 am (UTC)
PS - my mother was a full time nurse for about three quarters of my childhood, taking some time off when myself and my foster siblings needed attention due to lengthy illness (me) or when we were very small.
Jan. 20th, 2005 01:02 am (UTC)
I plan on working part time once I earn my degree because I think it would be a waste if I didn't apply it and because we could use the added income and I could use the stimulation of adult company and challenges. I don't want to work too many hours, because I would like to be able to devote a good amount of my time and energy to Maddie. But I think that my having a career and interests of my own will end up being beneficial for her in the long run--I think I can serve as a positive role model-- I'd hate to think that she could end up indoctrinated into the mindset of "daddys go to work and mommys stay home" and that childcare is the be all and end all of a woman's life. Yes, she is the most important part of my life and nothing will ever change that. But I would also like her to eventually see me as a fully realized human being who lives up to her potential and to see that she too can do the same some day.

And I'll probably spend the bulk of my life feeling guilty about even contemplating not being with her every minute of the day thanks to stupid books like that one.

Jan. 20th, 2005 07:57 am (UTC)
Big fat word. My mum worked shifts, we had some child-minders and sometimes spent time after school with my mum's friends, yet my sisters and I were never confused about who our parents were and we weren't traumatised by the experience.

It's really not that big a deal - mums either stay at home or go back to work, depending on finances and personality, without much fuss either way. It's such a lazy substitute for a real character and plot line.
Jan. 20th, 2005 09:36 am (UTC)
At the same time, the depressing fact of the matter is that most full-time jobs (combined with commuting) these days DO result in people not getting home until at least 6.30. When we're in production (one week a month) I regularly don't get home until 9 o'clock. I don't know how I'd do it if I had a family - most of us here don't.

My mother worked too, but back in the 1980s, that meant that she could still be home by 3.30 or 4 most days, despite running a busy school.

I think couples should do whatever feels most comfortable for their particular situation - lots of women would love to stay at home full-time if they could afford it (lots of men too!) - the sad reality is that most people don't get a huge amount of satisfaction from their jobs. What we should really be looking at is the crazy crazy direction the working week is heading in. We should all be having long lunches and finishing at 5 o'clock! Maybe I'm just in the wrong 'career' but at the moment all I have to look forward to is longer hours (some of the editors come in at weekends to make up time, as well as staying late most days) for slightly more pay.

Working for a 'multi-million euro enterprise' (according to a recent magazine article, and straight from the mouth of our MD) RULES! Especially when you're on a pathetic wage.

(By the way, the other solution - and I know it's not a solution for poor Anna who, ironically, is reading such books to write reviews for a magazine where none of the women would have a hope of giving up their work to mind their children - is not to read such appalling excuses for entertainment.)
Jan. 20th, 2005 09:54 am (UTC)
Word. I am, however, shocked to find how many seemingly intelligent Irish people share that opinion on working mothers. niallm pointed out to me that although the majority of Irish mothers work outside the home, most of them can still rely on their own mothers for childcare. Which is lovely for them, if their mothers are delighted to provide that care (unpaid!), but still places mothers who have to rely on external childcare in a marginalised minority. It seems to be a Secret Shame.

Anyone looked at the price of a mortgage in Dublin recently? Anyone able to imagine how you would be able to afford to pay for the extra space for a baby without two working parents? And even apart from that, my mother stayed at home until my little sister started school, and was practically weeping with joy when she finally started working again after that. (In, by the way, the same job in which she got full-time status last term. Twenty-five years later. But that's another story.)The worst times of my childhood were those when she was out of work and savagely depressed at being trapped at home. So, yes, there.
Jan. 20th, 2005 10:37 am (UTC)
Anyone looked at the price of a mortgage in Dublin recently?


One of the (numerous) reasons why Brian and I have not yet inflicted a leedylet upon the world is because we can't afford a house.
Jan. 20th, 2005 10:46 am (UTC)
The clicking sound you can probably hear from wherever you are is that of ALL MY BUTTONS BEING PUSHED. Also perhaps me grinding my teeth.

That kind of thing really just fills me with rage, and I've not just encountered it in books. I remember a real-life friend, somebody I considered to be a smart, sussed person, asking me how my mother felt about "somebody else raising her children". I nearly punched her.

One of the many things I admire about our mum is that she actually tried being a stay at home mum, realized that she hated it, and went back to work - I remember her telling me that she stayed home for a year after I was born and decided that it really, really wasn't for her. Of course, I don't know what this says about me as a baby (NEXT ON SALLY JESSIE: "I was so horrible that I drove my mother back into the workforce!")....

I don't know what arrangement we'll come to when I eventually spawn, but I'm already fairly sure that I would go TEH_BONKERS at home long-term with only infant company, and I personally would feel very, very uncomfortable not earning some sort of wage (all my jokes about wanting Brian to make me a kept woman and pay for my gin supply regardless). And whatever we end up doing, I'm very pleased to have had my mother as an example of sane working mammydom.
Jan. 20th, 2005 11:34 am (UTC)
I think I know the book you're talking about and it really pissed me off too, just reading the review and the back cover. You're right to be angered by it, it's just going with this stereotype that women can't be fulfilled in life if they're not perfect at everything they do. Kill them in your review, please!
Jan. 20th, 2005 11:46 am (UTC)

My mum worked full time from when I was three months old. Every second of that time she was my mum and I knew my sister and I were her priority - but that she was a person with a career and a life too, and that I as a girl could and should expect the same when I grew up. And no fucker ever thought to call my dad a part-time father even when he didn't come home three nights a week.

Anyway, it's abundantly clear to me that at some point I should really go back to work. I'm (mostly) loving being with Naomi all the time right now, but already I know that there are plenty of other things I want to be doing, and I want to be doing them before she's ready for primary school.
Jan. 21st, 2005 02:31 am (UTC)
I'm beginning to think that I'm not paranoid after all, and the "barefoot and pregnant" movement has moved into the literary world. The wommin folks gettin more ed-you-cated, we'll just have to get 'em through their books."

Just once I'd like to see a blurb about a man who feels guilty for leaving his kids at home. And since that'll never happen, (because why would anybody object to having different things to do in their life as opposed to one goal of catering to another person)I hope you write a really scathing review.
Jan. 22nd, 2005 03:30 pm (UTC)
Oh, for fuck's sake.

Why isn't there a book about a woman who realises that, although she enjoys her high-powered job, she would like to see more of her child - and succeeds in changing her working arrangements in order to do this? It's always presented as this huge Either/Or scenario, which is bollox.

And the "someone else raising your child" canard makes me want to throw things. Most children throughout history have been raised by numerous adults and older children. This notion of having one parent's exclusive attention is very new. And pretty restrictive, in my view.

As you know, I've just gone back to work, and I'm overjoyed to be there. Really - much happier than I expected. Adult conversation, the ability to concentrate on the same thing for a reasonable chunk of time, opportunities to use my brane. (Also, not being spewed upon all day, and having to deal with considerably less leaking shit!) Yes, I miss my baba, and it was bloody hard leaving him at the crèche the first few times, but I'm absolutely certain that going back to work was the right thing for me to do.

Which is handy, because this is Dublin, and we have a mortgage to feed.

On the other hand, it scares me that crèche fees are such that if we had more than one pre-school-age child, we very possibly could not afford for two of us to work full-time.

My ideal setup would be childcare at work, so that I could go and visit Oisín during my breaks. That's obviously not going to happen any time soon - even in my relatively very family-friendly workplace. But it'll happen even less soon if every woman who finds herself dissatisfied with the interaction of motherhood and work simply Discovers Her True Calling and retreats into the domestic sphere Where She Belongs.

Argh. Blast that book, Anna!
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )


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