Monday, 11 January 2010

Career women: still (arguably) bad mothers

Last week, it was reported that an advert stating "career women make bad mothers" had been pulled following complaints from working mothers. While not exactly cracking open the champagne (hey, I'm breastfeeding), I still found this rather good news. So imagine my surprise when, earlier today, I saw said statement still emblazened on a billboard close to my eldest child's nursery.

Now, although I don't suppose it's in my "bad mother" remit, I'm currently teaching my eldest to read, so I felt particularly uneasy about being confronted with this. Thankfully, though, I don't think he was quite up to understanding terms like "career women", so we have a bit more time before he can indulge in some classic musings on how mummy is ruining his life (nice to know that when he gets there, he'll not be alone in his conclusions... ).

Of course, I'm being sarcastic. While I may not be the world's greatest mother, one thing I know I'm definitely not is a career woman. I'm not successful enough, I don't earn enough, I don't have big enough shoulder pads or red enough lipstick. Essentially, I don't live in the eighties and / or have the type of salary that is considered unseemly unless one is in possession of a penis. I'm not a threat. I'd be merely a "job woman", if such a term existed, except no one ever bothers to label the countless mothers whose paid work is absolutely expected, taken for granted, never resented. Work without which we'd be scroungers (if single) or parasites (if attached). Work which, so long as it pays below the national average, will have no negative impact on our parenting whatsoever. Apparently.

I'm not saying that there aren't other ways in which we "job women" can fail. As I type this, my toddler sleeps on the couch, tantrumed out, while my baby dozes my lap, inches from the computer keyboard. I ought to be making dinner, they ought to be having dinner, but I'm just relieved they're both peaceful for a while. I bribed my way through the afternoon with TV and chocolate. One of those days, a series of mundane compromises, just enough to keep the constant, low-level feelings of inadequacy going. But still, I don't believe I'm a bad mother, or rather, I find the phrase so personal, so loaded, so utterly vague yet utterly hateful, that I don't see the value in contemplating it.

Parenthood makes one hugely, underservedly powerful, and this is especially true of motherhood, at least as it is currently constructed. Parents have the capacity to completely ruin lives, and most of us know it, too. To play with this fact simply to score points is unforgivable, regardless of whether the motivation is pure antifeminism or a self-serving desire to "provoke public reaction" (roughly on a par with the classic "it's ironic" defence for sexism). It is very easy to make parents feel rubbish even when they're not. This doesn't make them even better parents. It makes them human beings who start to lack confidence in perhaps the most important areas of their lives, the area where they need it most.

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