Tales from the Wood: Ladies First

It wasn’t a hard fought battle, nor was there much of a scuffle, no need to employ a get out of her way push. My daughter triumphantly climbed atop the school wall before her brother by yelling stridently and with indomitable conviction “Ladies first.” The full force of her voice was enough to deter any other child, boy or girl from overtaking her. With her arms outstretched like soaring eagle’s wings and her chubby chin held high, she walked on. At nearly three years old has my daughter got it sussed already? Not only had she worked out that she is a lady but more remarkably that she had found no need for anyone to bid her politely first. She only needed herself.

Poised on the starting blocks in this big race called life, my daughter’s confident comment had placed her in the middle lane. But I can’t help but worry what hurdles my little girl will have to face as she sprints forward. She won’t always be first, however loud she shouts it, she may not even be second and sometimes she may not even get to compete.

Earlier that day, at a music group and half way through incy wincy spider, the grandparents next to me struck up a conversation. The usual pleasantries and chitter chatter ensued, the swapping of which nursery and what school and whilst our kids were engrossed and gesticulating gaily, they suddenly made a confession to me. They whispered their dark untold secret, the retired pair had been called up and reenlisted for childcare duties, and their allotted one day a week, was really rather hard work. Of course they enjoyed it, how lucky they were to bond with their grandchild and watch him grow but it was a long tiring day. I felt guilty for wondering how this full time working mum finds the time to mother her own child when she splits the childcare of her son three ways. If you extricate financial reward what else motivates women to make these decisions. Some mums will divulge it’s harder to stay at home full time than it is to work and that working reignites a sense of self beyond being a mummy.

It begs the question, is there enough time in the day to be both a full time mother and have a full time career? And why do we try so very hard to have it all. Why do we stretch ourselves like taut elastic bands ready to snap, perpetually pinging from one role to the next. There is no denying and no matter how hard we protest, as women we are designed to have children; should we fulfil our womb’s wishes then as mothers our children will always be connected to us via an invisible umbilical cord. And yet we put our gloves on and continue to fight in the ring with society to prove that we can do it all.

And it is not only the men that we are sparring with; it’s more often other women. A man may not have too much say anymore in whether you work or bring up baby. However, it’s the undercurrent from other women that forces us to question these decisions. It’s the mother who seemingly manages to do it all, work full time whilst nurturing her multiple brood that turns to the stay at home mum and belittles her with the question, “What do you do all day?”

We all feel this fatuous pressure. A friend recently quit her new job, the work load and hours proved too much, meaning that the time with her child was compromised, rather than subsist with this compromise she resigned. She admitted that being unable to commit to both made her feel like a failure. But is it not the opposite of failure when you are able to break away from the restrictions of social pressure, following instead what is right for you? She is no less worthy because she does not have a paid job, than the woman who has the paid job and pays for childcare.

As women and as mothers, we are all doing the best we can; we need to stop measuring ourselves against each other and berating ourselves if we can’t always do everything. We need to remove the plug momentarily from the pressure cooker and accept that whilst we must still strive for equality, we do already excel, we’ve just been so busy being busy that we don’t even notice.

Half way across the wall my daughter wobbled, she reached out her hand and asked me to hold it. She wasn’t pleading with me to walk it for her; she was looking to me for balance. Maybe she has got it figured out, after all. Ladies first, but we also need to seek balance.

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