Thursday 20 June 2019

Liz Kearney: 'Breast may be best but work is the worst'

 

'A major study published earlier this year found that mothers who have two children and a full-time job have significantly elevated stress levels.' Stock picture
'A major study published earlier this year found that mothers who have two children and a full-time job have significantly elevated stress levels.' Stock picture
Liz Kearney

Liz Kearney

I can't be the only one who read about the Dáil's directive to allow new mums to breastfeed within the chamber with a massive eye-roll. I can't see how feeding your baby while at work symbolises any sort of major breakthrough for women.

The theory is that it's all part of making politics more female-friendly, so that one day more than 22pc of our public representatives will be women. Maybe it'll work. It doesn't really matter, because there's a far bigger, far more depressing picture to worry about.

The reality is - and look away now if you are thinking of starting a family and fondly imagine that you will manage combining your career with rearing them and still remain sane - working parents are in for a lifetime of sacrifice, compromise and chaos.

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

It's not about the freedom to feed your baby, although that might momentarily seem like a pressing concern in this age of outspoken indignation about your right to do anything you want, anywhere you want, any time you want.

Far more relevant is finding five minutes in any given day when you can focus on your kids, without wanting to scream that you've dinner to make, deadlines to meet, and you really, really need them to all just go to bed so that everyone can get some kip before the whole cycle starts again at the crack of dawn tomorrow.

The great myth of choice - as if any of us really has the option to stay home and mind the kids when the average house price in Dublin is €370,000 and the average industrial wage is just €39,000 - has led us down this road, and now we are so far along it that there seems to be no way back.

And make no mistake, the road is very rocky indeed. Numerous studies have told us what we already know: that the stress caused by trying to juggle the near-impossible is making us ill.

A major study published earlier this year as part of the UK's Household Longitudinal Study found that mothers who have two children and a full-time job have significantly elevated stress levels. Their bio-markers of chronic stress were a full 40pc higher than normal.

Do we need any more warning signs? Those kind of stress levels, taken over a long period, are linked to poor health and a compromised immune system, and that's just the physical toll. What about the depression and anxiety that are near-inevitable bedfellows for chronically stressed women?

And if that's the reality for the parents, what about our kids?

We're very quick to blame mobile phones and social media when it comes to the anxiety epidemic that is sweeping our teenagers.

But having farmed them out to an assortment of underpaid creche workers and childminders for huge chunks of their infant years, then shuttled them between after-school and summer camps for the remainder of their childhood, maybe the truth is closer to home.

When working schedules have to be met, children fall into the category of a logistical problem that needs to be solved. It's not beyond the realms of possibility to suppose that our kids, who are ever so smart, might just pick up on this.

Let's call a spade a spade: modern life is all too frequently rubbish, and for working parents trying to keep everything in the air, it's doubly so. Back in 2010, a now-famous picture emerged of the Italian MEP Licia Ronzulli voting in the European Parliament, her sleeping newborn daughter strapped to her chest in a sling.

Pre-kids me looked at that and saw liberation. Post-kids me looks at that picture and sees a tragedy.

When no moment in a child's life is so precious that it can't be shoe-horned into a day at the office, parenthood is in deep, deep trouble.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss