Tuesday 25 October 2016

The sisterhood don't like the truth - women can't have it all

Let's face it, children suffer when ambitious mothers chase success in their careers, writes Niamh Horan

Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30

Niamh Horan: 'It doesn't take much to rile the perpetually outraged' Photo: Gerry Mooney
Niamh Horan: 'It doesn't take much to rile the perpetually outraged' Photo: Gerry Mooney

Life is all about choices. We have only a short time here so the most important question is how to make the most of it. There is only one trip on this merry-go-round so the sagacious advice is to find what you love, and then do it.

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People who know the joy of self-actualisation live life on their own terms. They don't feel the weight of social expectations and stereotypes.

It's particularly valuable for women coming into their 30s as the pressure to marry and have children piles on.

Personally, it's not that I am against the idea of marriage, it's more that it is largely irrelevant to me. I've learned enough about life to know it isn't necessarily conducive to happiness.

So I'm trying to do things on my own terms and in my own way.

On Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge on RTE television on Wednesday night, I highlighted the fact that having a child in Ireland in 2016 has little appeal. To raise a family in the middle class and keep your job, someone has to suffer. And usually it's both the mother and child who lose out.

As part of the feminist revolution, women were told we could have it all. It was our right to climb the career ladder and have babies so why wouldn't we grab every opportunity? Because 'having it all' became 'doing it all' and I saw how this played out.

Babies lined up in high chairs before dawn; queues of commuters trailing from the city; fathers and mothers pulled in a tug-of-war between the office and their children.

At night time, dozing kids are collected and strapped into the back of a car before going home for snatched quality time: a quick dinner then a tuck in to bed.

I enunciated that viewpoint in straightforward terms on Brendan's show. I thought it was self-evident, but apparently I sent Twitter into meltdown.

But then it doesn't take much to rile the perpetually outraged.

I stand by my view.

In a recent letter to a problem page in an Irish newspaper one mother even confessed to waking her sleeping child just so they could spend time together.

I understand that many couples are slaves to bills and mortgages and making ends meet and feel at a loss. They wanted the white wedding, the family portraits, the fairytale, and now find themselves - during the best years of their lives - as slaves to a capitalist culture that doesn't accommodate family.

We need a revolution in how we approach work. We should be using technology more to promote flexitime and remote working which would then enable mothers and fathers to be closer to their children.

But until then, why are people continuing to buy into a tyrannical lifestyle that is 'all retch and no vomit' and at whose expense?

The problem is - when it comes to gender inequality and work - we tend to focus on money and the pay gap. When we should also be looking at well-being.

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers published a ground-breaking study on the paradox of decline in female happiness.

They found that - although women in the western world are wealthier, healthier and better educated than 30 years ago, and more likely to work outside the home, earning salaries comparable to men - they experience greater levels of unhappiness.

Maybe that's why some of those around us are playing the system.

Many of us know a woman who has had her offspring back to back, taken maternity leave then returned to work only to announce she is taking a career break. So it's little wonder employers are on guard when hiring a woman of child-bearing age.

Even if it is illegal to ask a woman's five-year plan in an interview, you can be damn sure they're thinking it. And it is affecting those who genuinely want to apply themselves to their careers and are competing for jobs against men of the same age.

Under an article about the issue published on independent.ie, one female commentator who works in human resources, also pointed out that in her experience "a lot of jobs are tied up" due to 'system riders'.

And they're feeling the unfairness of it all in the crèches too.

As one crèche worker explained: "I've spent more time with children than their own parents have. These children are always lacking something... And it's really very sad. I've been the one to hear the child's first word, see their first steps, be with them for all the milestones - and their parents are missing out hugely. There are no winners. The children suffer the most."

On the show, journalist and mother Alison O'Connor hit back when I uttered those home truths. She asked what would happen if all women closed their legs?

I had to chuckle.

As if women going on temporary reproductive strike would pose a threat to the world's seven billion population: there is no threat to the human race. And among them are 40 million orphans.

Part of having a child is tied up in legacy and ego - and even wanting to have someone to look after you in old age.

But that's another argument for another day.

Right now all I am proposing is that, rather than turn to single childless women and ask 'why aren't you having children' perhaps it would be more pertinent to ask 'what would happen if more Irish men and women took greater responsibility in their decision to procreate?'.

If they stopped to consider the sacrifices they would have to make - a move outside of the capital, part-time work, less children in their brood - to provide a child with a good life rather than throwing another soul into the furnace of capitalism perhaps then, and only then, we would see a kinder, gentler more compassionate parenting culture in Ireland today.

Sunday Independent

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