Yes, I got my degree from the University of the Bleeding Obvious. But you know what? We don’t talk about this enough.
When we talk about mums who also have jobs, it’s framed in a way that leaves little room for the reality of the experience. Conversations circle around equal opportunity, encouraging women to lean in, to hold onto their financial independence or career aspirations. There are tips on how to manage work and family life – from cooking up a storm on a Sunday to being prepared the night before school/ work and daycare.
There’s also the fear of insulting mums who don’t have paid jobs. The 'Mummy Wars' have made everything sound like a judgement. If you say that having a job and kids is tough, you'll be met with a chorus of criticism that it’s harder for mums who stay at home.
All of these conversations mean we never stop and acknowledge that working nine to five and having children is difficult. It means we don’t address how we got to a place where everyone is working more, but children still need to be cared for and nurtured.
It leaves many women feeling like they are failing. Failing at work, family and relationships.
Interviewing 'super mums' led author Christine Armstrong to a startling truth
Author Christine Armstrong recognised that something was up when her own attempts at working and raising a family failed miserably. A freelance writer, she started interviewing high-powered career women who also had families, attempting to find the answer to making it all work.
What she discovered was that many women weren’t telling the truth. After the interview stopped, these mums would admit to inflexible work hours, unsupportive partners and a feeling that it was all falling apart.
The ‘secret’ behind these successful women was what prompted Christine to write The Mother Of All Jobs: How to have children, a career and stay sane(ish).
Why mums who work are generally more stressed than dads
What about dads in the workforce? Aren’t they also under pressure when it comes to raising a family and having a job?
Christine says, “The data shows that women are more stressed than men at this period in their lives, and this comes down to our stereotypes about motherhood. The Tiger Who Came To Tea is a famous book from the 60s, when Mum is at home with the daughter Sophie, baking buns and feeding the tiger, and Dad is at work having great ideas. All of our ideas about motherhood are still baked into that era.”
Modern women find themselves trying to do everything at once. They are fronting up to their full-time job – with all the deadlines, tasks and management that involves, while still getting to the school gate on time, making dentist appointments and creating a hat for the Easter parade.
Listen to the full interview with Christine Armstrong on Feed Play Love:
The problem with 'professional' parenting
Working women also aren’t great at transitioning from the office to the different pace of life at home.
Christine describes this as 'professional parent stress'. It’s when you can’t switch off the drive to be productive and make deadlines. Being five minutes late to a swimming class can feel like a disaster. If the baby is asleep, instead of having a rest, we clean out the cupboards.
“We get into this task mindset and it's really difficult to break out of that, to give ourselves the space to go, 'Hey I'm at home, I'm not going to check in with work, even though that's what my professional brain is telling me I should be doing'. We're just going to be, and that's a very different state to what we're used to if we've worked for 10 or 15 years before we've had kids.”
Time-poor mums need their friendships
Women who work and raise children have less time. Less time to catch up with other parents at the school gate. Less time to meet someone for a coffee. Time is finite, and it becomes divided between work and family.
But Christine argues that friendships are vitally important to all mums - they’re our village, and they help us (and our children) thrive.
"We need it [friendship], because otherwise you come home on a Friday night with 20,000 unsaid words. There's a lot of stuff you can't say at work about what's going on in your head. And your partner is not a punching bag. You need a place to put some of that angst and to bond with someone going through a similar experience.”
We need structural and social change if it’s going to get any easier
Society has to change the way we view the roles of mothers and fathers. Mums need to stop putting so much pressure on themselves to do everything.
Beyond that, Christine says the answer lies in the hours in a working day.
“We have to be able to make time for people to have a life. I don't even think this is just about parenting. This is about people being able to work, and then go home and do something else. And parents are like the canary in the mine, where it's most obviously not working. It’s obviously hugely stressful that we've added on this crazy working day on top of an office day.”
At the end of the day we’re all going to muddle through it in our own way, and make mistakes.
Sometimes we will choose the path that will work for our colleagues, but suck for our kids. Sometimes the path will impact our work and not our children.
“It is about making very tough choices about the boundaries around work, and what hours you can afford to work or not work, and how you can try and box that into a way that does mean that you can have some family time.”
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