Monday, October 16, 2006

Working Mummy Guilt

Firstborn is starting to complain about my working status. It started as a plaintive, "I wish you could pick me up from school, Mummy," and is currently at the stage of "Why do you have to work Mummy? Lots of other mummies don't go to work and that means they come to all the parent assemblies and sports days and concerts and bake sales."

Hands up, I have missed out on school events (although Alpha hasn't yet managed to attend one of these momentous occasions which is pleasing only in that it makes me feel properly smug in comparison). It's not because I haven't wanted to go along - one of my fondest memories is seeing Firstborn dressed as an angel for her first nursery nativity play - but because business and school seem to have different ideas on what constitutes a decent notice period. Schools think a week or two is sufficient (or in one case, the day before) while my work diary fills up at least two weeks in advance. And sod's law, it always seems that the important school things coincide with important quarterly board meetings and new business pitches; the sort of workplace gubbins that can't be rearranged for anything bar sudden hospitalisation or a plague of locusts.

I do wonder if Firstborn's childhood memories will be marred by the disappointment of being one of the few kids in the class to be scanning the audience for a maternal face, all to no avail. Will she grow up feeling resentful that I spent her childhood swinging a pick-ice at the glass ceiling rather than baking cookies and waiting at the school gates? Or will she one day be pleased that my working helped, in some small way, to pave the way to a more equal future for her and her contemporaries? Will she one day think that maybe I'm kind of cool for not conforming to the model of all those other yummy Kensington mummies; a rigid schedule of lunch, massages and salon, interspersed with rigorous shopping and the bi-annual Harley Street visits? Somehow, I doubt it. I suspect it's just providing great fodder for future therapy sessions, for which I will be footing the bill.

I truly believe in the right to choose for women - be that abortion and/or the work v motherhood conundrum - but let's face it, if we all stayed at home after having children then it would be back to the good ol' 1950's, when men held the economic cards and women gulped down valium as the only way to stay sane. There's got to be a balance, and for me staying at home - and it's not like I haven't tried, I speak from bitter experience here - just doesn't do it for me, however much I love my children (and I do, I truly do).

I guess we all pay for our just-good-enough mommy sins in the long run; no mother, however hard she tries, will ever be perfect. The pedestal our children set us on in their infancy is so high that falling from that gilded Mommy perch is almost inevitable. The God-like status kids endow on us can only tarnish as they get older and realise that it's not true, after all, that their parents have eyes in the back of their head, have control over TV programming or a direct hotline to Father Christmas, along with the realisation that a kiss no longer makes things better, the tooth fairy is a lie, and parents are, sadly, only human.


Anonymous said...
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Piers said...

Miserable choice to have to make, but if you can articulate it all that well, then sounds like Firstborn has a very good chance of avoiding the costly couch.

I wonder whether stay-at-home dads go through similar issues, just in reverse - "Why don't you go to work Daddy?"?

Yummy London Mummy said...

Hi Piers
Thanks for the vote of confidence. Let's hope that Fistborn does avoid the couch, because with the cost of her school uniform and phenomenal Barbie collection, I'm not sure where the pennies would come from for professional shrink services.

A friend of mine works while her husband stays at home to look after the kids (makes sense as he's a musician and she's office based). For their kids, it's totally normal but I do wonder what will happen when their oldest starts school. They have a acute understanding of social norms, those kids, and, at least at the age of 5, are scarily right-wing in their views.