Recently I read two parenting books with a difference, which I downloaded because of a growing dissatisfaction with the way I see my role as a mother and as a woman. Up til now I’ve read the usual stuff – Baby Whisperer, Gina Ford, Pinky McKay, Elizabeth Pantley, Dr Sears and even Tizzie Hall, and I had mixed feelings about all these authors. Some, like McKay and Sears, insist that parenting means meeting your child’s needs all the time, even if it means getting up multiple times a night when they are a year old. Others take a slightly more moderate stance, paying lip service to self care for mothers, and introducing some form of teaching babies to sleep, as well as routines.
Two babies later, I’m thoroughly sick of parenting books. In fact I’m a bit over parenting blogs, websites and forums overall. The constant tension between a mother’s need to be available for her children all the time, and the call for “more me time! Go for a massage! Monthly drinks with the girls!” together with the constant denigration of the man’s role, disgust at fathers not being as perfect parents as mothers are, increasingly sat more uncomfortably with me. The modern Western woman seems torn – between the ideal of the perfect mother (she bakes cakes, cooks only organic food, takes her babies to endless classes, breastfeeds her babies til they go to kindy, enjoys organising her house, makes interesting and artistic collages of food at every meal to tempt her picky toddler, engages in daily arts and crafts with her children, endures not having a daily shower or brushing her hair so her babies don’t cry, takes her kids to the playground and does not play with her iPhone, is too tired to have sex with her partner, and all this for the occasional yoga class as “me time”) and the reality of not meeting up to this ideal. The mother guilt seems to be something we all take for granted. It happens to all women, we say. And we smile, as though we are special creatures. It makes us good mothers, good people, we secretly think.
And I won’t even start on the tension between the need to stay at home and the need to work.
I’ve been mulling over these thoughts in my head, these conflicting ideals, these glimpses into what our society thinks motherhood is all about. The reason is I had a decision to make. I am currently a part-time PhD student (two days a week) and GP (one day a week). Up til now this balance has suited me perfectly. Three days a week being a professional woman, and two weekdays with the kids.
However, two days a week on a PhD is pretty difficult. For one thing, it takes twice as long to finish. It’s often difficult to remember where you left off the last time (I was writing little notes to myself like :
Started cleaning Demographics survey (v3)
Downloaded v1 and v2 and paper
went through the variables
Merge with randomised.
Create a demographics clean do-file
Append 4 datasets.
Then five days later, staring at the same notes and wondering what the heck I meant!
There is also the little tiny thing of the scholarship. It might sound romantic, but scholarships, while prestigious, pay very little – a fraction of what I could earn professionally. And to add to that, part-time scholarships are taxed, while full-time are tax-free.
And those two days at home with the kids were making me a bit more grumpy than they used to.
So, after a lot of thought, I realised it was not a question of whether to convert to a full-time PhD, but when. And I made the decision with no regrets. So now I’m looking forward, to two years of being a full-time working mum. I’ve negotiated two days a month at home with the kids, with the help of my darling husband (bless him). So on those two days, I can bake, make playdough, go on playdates, take the kids to the park, watch Sesame St in my PJs. The rest of the week we’re out the door before Jimmy Giggle presents the Giggle Gallery. Feb 3 2014 is the day.
The two books I read, and a short synopsis (with more detailed discussions to come), are:
“French Children Don’t Throw Food” – an American journalist chronicles her children’s upbringing in France, and compares this to how the French bring up their children. The French philosophy towards childrearing is a polar opposite to the Anglo way (USA, UK and Australia) – French mamans don’t suffer from mother guilt, don’t believe that their children should be the centre of their universes, teach their babies to sleep through the night at an early age, prioritise their relationships with their partners, expect to return to their pre-pregnancy figures a few months after delivery (and do). Children in France are well-behaved, polite, not over-scheduled, and they don’t throw food. And the majority of French mothers go back to work.
“The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women” – a sociologist explores the way today’s generation of women have rejected earlier gains in equal rights for women, and how that undermines the modern woman’s true potential and happiness. I am still reading this fiery book.
These books have opened my eyes to the stark truths – that we in the West have dug our own graves by aspiring to be perfect mothers and then feeling terribly depressed, dejected and confused at how we fall short of the mark. We all talk about “lowering expectations” and “being good enough” but the prevailing sentiment in the media and popular culture points towards the shrine of motherhood, the martyrdom we all labour under.
Most of all, it’s suggested to me that there might be a different way, or ways. Nothing I have read so far has assisted me in successfully balancing work and family.
I hope you’ll come with me on a journey. I’m looking into different ways of seeing myself as a mother. I’m looking into what other cultures do – not that I want to adopt another culture, but perhaps I could learn something from what works. I’m hoping to become a better mother, a better person, a better wife and a better professional woman. I’m hoping that I can reconcile these different parts of myself in a more seamless way, and certainly with much less of the guilt and much more of the joy that I think being a mother and a woman should bring. My journey starts with ten days off and then straight into full-time work and study. Many books have been criticised for not offering practical solutions. I am hoping that I can change this, and create a better way. Come with me
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