My mum first became a mother in the early 1960s. She was 20 when she got married, and a month over 21 when my eldest brother arrived. By her 24th birthday she had three sons, all under three.
Having a washing machine at home was a rarity in the 1960′s, and disposable nappies were even rarer. Imagine having three children in towelling nappies, and having to hand wash everything?
I am very glad I am not a 1960s mother. I am very happy ‘modern conveniences’ like washing machines are ubiquitous; and there is the option of disposable nappies, and the option of formula feeding, and options and opportunities everywhere.
Modern motherhood (and modern parenthood) is so far removed from five decades ago, it really is like comparing chalk and cheese. I can’t imagine how women (and it was almost exclusively women) in the 1960s juggled childcare and housework, let alone adding paid work into the mix.
I was a decade older than my mother had been when I had my first child, and had a degree and a career (of sorts) behind me. I was made redundant when I was three months pregnant with our first child, and I applied for work after she was born. I therefore became the default primary carer.
I ‘returned to work’ when my baby was five months old and, as I didn’t breastfeed, this was easy. I had three days a week paid work, leaving four days to concentrate on motherhood, and pretended that it was just perfect that I had the benefits of both work and home. How jolly!
How untrue! Working part-time (or full-time) and being a full-time parent (because if you’re a parent, you are a full-time parent, especially when you’re the primary carer) doesn’t give you the benefits of both; it gives you the downsides of both. Multiplied.
The cracks in my pretence were creeping in before our second daughter decided to join the family but after I returned to work the second time, it was increasingly obvious that being torn between work and parenting was tearing me apart and I had to give one of them up.
I was so mentally scrambled by then that I gave equal weight to giving up the children versus giving up paid work.
Parenthood is not a job on the side, it is all pervasive. When children are very small, mothers and parents need more support, not to be pushed to learn circus skills without training.
I failed with the circus skills, does that mean I’m not a ‘modern’ mother? Is the juggling of the non-working (and how untrue that term is) parent any less than that of the parent in paid work? Modern life is full of distractions, and we all seem to be trying to keep up with one ideal or another that doesn’t really exist.
I don’t know whether modern motherhood is harder than fifty years ago, I certainly don’t want to contemplate the manual work home life entailed then, but the expectation that we can do it all: full-time parenting and keeping a spotless home coupled with full-time paid work and keeping up socially, seems to me to be a juggling act that practically no one can actually achieve.
This is my entry to the Mum Network Trusted Blogger Club Autumn Blog Carnival