A bit of a rant honestly, by Cayt Mirra
Photo by Dakota Corbin on Unsplash
In an online mothers’ group, a woman asked (anonymously) for advice. She was trying to choose between staying in a part time job so that she could spend more time with her children or taking a full time job, which she admitted would be more mentally rewarding. The responses were almost unanimous in encouraging her to stay part time. ‘They’re only young once’ etc.
And look, it’s quite possible that this woman wanted exactly this type of validation – a tribe of women to support her decision to prioritise her family, a belief that it’s perfectly fine to forego a career. And it is. If this is what she wants, great. But what if it wasn’t? What if she actually wants to take the full time job, and what she really wanted was someone to tell her that it’s perfectly okay, as a mother, to want something for yourself. That it’s very reasonable to want to build a career, and that her children will be perfectly fine. Because it is, and they will be.
I could discuss the injustice of this dilemma, as it is one that is not faced by men in the same way, but this has been discussed before. The reality is that there is a different kind of societal pressure faced by women – one that makes them feel bad if they do and bad if they don’t. As soon as we have children, we are set up to fail.
So I speak now, not to the women who want to stay home and who have decided to put family time first. I speak to the women, like me, who want to go to work every day: this is fine. For some (like me) you might even find that you are much more present and that you have more quality time with your kids when you are not with them all day.
I worry that we have created a culture where parenthood – or specifically, motherhood – has been framed as a noble calling, something hard and important and brave. It is all of these things. But this is still true of working mothers. I feel a tension between my desire to support women who wish to stay home, and my desire to support women who wish to be at work. Because how do you argue that women should be supported to stay home with their children because it’s important, and also argue that women should be supported to go back to work because staying home isn’t important? I think the answer is this: women can make these decisions for ourselves. The constant debate about what we ‘should’ be doing is infantilising and assumes that we are not grown-ass women who can make decisions about our lives. These decisions should be supported and recognised in policy, and we should work towards a society where all women actually can make these choices (I’m aware here that staying home is something many women cannot afford to do and that going to work is not always logistically possible for many single parents, and that all of these choices are made within the context of a patriarchal society and not in a vacuum).
I also believe that we have created martyrs out of mothers to the extent that we are expected to take pride in our ability to always put ourselves last, and to cherish a trip to the supermarket as ‘me time’. What a load of crap. It’s okay to go out and do stuff for yourself – stuff that you actually want to do. It’s fine to dedicate your time to creative or academic pursuits, or seeing friends, or fitness, or whatever else you enjoy. And it’s fine to put your own needs before the needs of your children. And not just because it allows you to be a ‘better mum’ or because it sets a good example to your children; it’s okay to put yourself first because you are a person who is worthy of prioritisation.
I’ve been asked before how I manage to do so many things as well as having kids. The answer isn’t a simple one because it’s tied up in a great deal of privilege and support that I have from the people around me. But a part of my answer is simply that I decided that I wanted to do those things, and I was allowed to do them, and so I did.