Monday 14 October 2019

Fiona Ness: 'My advice to working mums?... Get on with the life that - don't forget - you yourself chose'

Notebook

'Motherhood is already a stressful task. It surprises me that so many mothers are shocked and angry at the fact this becomes more stressful when they take it on along with another job' (stock photo)
'Motherhood is already a stressful task. It surprises me that so many mothers are shocked and angry at the fact this becomes more stressful when they take it on along with another job' (stock photo)
Fiona Ness

Fiona Ness

To be fair, the person who left the newspaper clipping on my desk thought they were helping. 'It's a scandal that working mothers are 40pc more stressed than other people', the headline ran.

The clipping detailed the findings of a new study, by the Universities of Manchester and Essex, which has reported that chronic stress is 40pc higher among women who have two children and are working in full-time jobs, in comparison to women who have no children and working full-time.

It said this stress was the manifestation "of how undervalued, unsupported and unfashionable the work of mothering continues to be".

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Easy column fodder, you would have thought, and in one sense it is.

Incensed working mothers took to their keyboards to say the level of stress is, indeed, a scandal. They blamed the structural inequality, the patriarchy.

Working women who are not mothers said it was a scandal that working women who are now have a monopoly on stress. Listen up, they said - it is just as important to their mental health that they leave work on time for their yoga class (om!), as it is for working mums to make the crèche by 6pm (groan!).

The working fathers - no doubt also stressed and unhealthy and feeling absent from their children's lives - knew better than to get involved, and kept schtum.

Undervalued, unsupported and unfashionable? Who made motherhood all of these things, if not us women ourselves?

The female role as primary carer had been 'fashionable' for millennia. In Ireland, we even sought to enshrine it in the Constitution - a move now seen as infantilising and regressive.

Latterly, we decided we'd been sold a pup and wriggled free from the straitjacket of motherhood, only to find ourselves catapulted into one made-to-measure for the working mother. We got what we wanted, but we lost what we had. Society just can't keep up.

Quoting from the 2018 book 'The Mother Of All Jobs', one commentator noted: "Our societal structures... remain largely designed for the era of 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea', when Mummy was at home cleaning up, doing the shopping and giving Sophie her bath."

But Sophie's nice, well-provided-for, stay-at-home mum was a rarefied blip in the history of womanhood, and even she wasn't happy.

How do I know? Just look at what Sophie's mummy is actually doing in the story: the house is a mess, the cupboards are bare, she resents daddy's escape to work so much that she hasn't bothered her arse putting on his tea, she has neglected Sophie's personal hygiene and is bringing her out for junk food, dressed in her nightie.

And which one of us actually believes it was the tiger who drank all of daddy's beer?

No. Sophie's mummy was unhappy even at a time when motherhood was being valued. She is not personally fulfilled being the only one in the relationship who is cooking and cleaning and child-rearing.

She wants to be out brokering deals, leaving Sophie to be reared by a wild animal, and if more stress comes with it, so be it.

Motherhood is already a stressful task. It surprises me that so many mothers are shocked and angry at the fact this becomes more stressful when they take it on along with another job.

My advice to working mums? Forget flexible working or challenging the patriarchy (and leaving your job entirely could turn you into Sophie's mum). Just get a good childminder, a cleaner and have your mam move around the corner. Then simply accept that you'll still be 40pc more stressed than anybody else and get on with the life that - don't forget - you yourself chose. Oh and sell your yoga mat, you won't be needing it any more.

Irish Independent

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