Are our families being damaged by the non-stop commuting lives we lead? Or are children with two employed parents doing OK after all? The media gives us conflicting answers to this – often on a daily basis. Most recently, there’s are reports of a study that showing that children in families where two parents work are no worse off than children who have one parent at home – that it’s the quality of the time spent together than matters, and not the quantity.
It reminded me of another article I read last year on a similar vein: “Working mothers urged to drop guilt as study finds kids do fine” See full article here
This is the kind of thing I desperately want to believe of course, being a constantly guilt-ridden working mother. So my suggestibility radar was pretty high before I even started to read.
It says that while previous studies showed that children born to working mothers in the 1970s and 1980s under-performed marginally at school compared to their classmates whose mothers didn’t work outside the home, children born from the mid-90s on show no such difference.
The change seems to be down to better maternity leave and childcare conditions.
This cheered me greatly when I re-read it this week – one less thing to feel anxious about. The kids are alright in school!
The joy was short-lived. A few minutes later, still browsing on the topic, I found another article, this time from Victoria White, writing in the Examiner some time ago about Radical Homemakers and the Women’s Liberation movement .
Just as corporate capitalism brilliantly exploited the American housewife in the 1950s by teaching her to achieve “happiness through things”… so corporate capitalism has exploited feminism.
It still wants us to achieve happiness through things, but it wants us to work for those things. It sure as hell doesn’t want any of us to stay home with kids …. But most of all it does not want us to make do with less so we can have more time. What good is time? How can you make money out of it? Time with your kids?
This column really got me thinking. Is there a chance that studies like the one in the first article above are all part of a conspiracy to keep women in the workforce, earning and spending, consuming and discarding and consuming?
I was less worried about the conspiracy itself, and more concerned about my bubble bursting; my short-lived happiness was over. My children would be bottom of the class after all. I should be at home with them. The guilt was back.
The Victoria White article is compelling and thought-provoking. She asks why we drive to work every day in cars for which we have loans, sitting in traffic to get to a job in order to pay for the car and the huge mortgage on the house that is sitting empty at home while we’re at work. “The house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it.”
It certainly gives pause for thought.
She talks about an ideal where people spend less and instead work to produce what they need at home where possible.
Create, grow, cook, produce – not quite self-sufficiency but with a focus on working at home to provide for ourselves and to share or swap with neighbours, and to earn money to buy some things but not everything we need.
I thought about it all day. It sounded like an ideal society, and I was conflicted – positive thoughts about how lovely it could be, negative thoughts about how very far away from that ideal we are.
But then I thought some more. I tried to picture my husband and I in this brave new world:
- We are not very good at growing anything or gardening in general so we’d be relying on other neighbours to do that part.
- I do cook (somewhat) unprocessed, homemade food as far as possible, but it has been done with a child on the hip or wrapped around my legs for most of the last decade, so something that I previously enjoyed has sadly become a chore.
- My husband is much, much better at DIY than I am, but this is no great compliment.
- I’m not crafty – actually I’m terrible with crafts and avoid them as best I can.
- I can just about sew on a button but that’s the extent of my sewing talent.
- I did recently re-learn to knit in order to teach the kids, but we can only do plain, no purl yet.
So overall, as radical homemakers, we would not fare well.
We would still need to buy pretty much everything, and wouldn’t have much to share with the neighbours unless they just needed buttons sewn on. But I’m guessing our neighbours will manage that themselves.
The point about driving to work in the car not yet paid for, working to pay for the empty house is very well made. But usually life is more complex. Certainly, if someone is going to work every day to a detested job, it is very worthwhile to put thought into finding alternatives – to look for ways to change career or reduce working hours. To find a creative outlet and produce more at home.
I go to work in a ten-year old car, to a job I enjoy. I don’t leave an empty house – it’s filled with three kids and their super childminder. It’s a place I love coming home to each evening and spending four days a week in when I’m not in the office (and I know I’m lucky)
I would love more time with my kids – if it had been financially possible to pay the mortgage on one salary, and if it had been feasible step away from my job for a few years, I’d love to have had more time with them before they started school. But we have a boom-time mortgage, and I work in a private sector job that doesn’t facilitate career-breaks.
So instead I invest my time and energy into finding a balance, not letting work encroach on family time, and enjoying every minute with my kids – making a game out of bedtime and bathtime, getting out to parks and playgrounds at every opportunity, giving each second of weekend time to them.
Cuddling them, kissing them, smiling at them, listening to them, loving them in a way that ensures they know they are loved. And leaving them in no doubt that they are the most important part of my life, even if I can’t spend all my time with them.
That’s all I can do for now.
So what conclusion after considering these three articles?
I think that we all need to find something that we can be at peace with. So trust your instincts.
If you are unhappy with your situation, try to change it.
And if you think your kids are OK – they probably are.
On a similar topic, but a year and half after this post, I wrote an article for the Examiner about women who love their jobs, and women who don’t feel any less guilty even when one parent is at home. So the message is the same – if you like your job, stick with it, and don’t let pointless guilt eat you up: Why working mothers should ditch the pointless guilt
Here’s one I wrote for Her Family, about Samantha Ettus’ book The Pie Life, which suggests that all women should continue working outside the home after they have children: All mothers should work outside the home, says this author
And this is a blog post about dealing with change – and trying to work out if it’s time to go: Changing Culture and Sliding Doors