Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Yes, we women can! if we want to!

I was talking about children yesterday over lunch: women’s decisions to have babies, how many to have, how to organise child care, help available from the state, attitudes to child-rearing, and so on and so on. The person I was speaking to only ever wanted one child and paid to be sterilised as soon as possible after her son was born. She hates hearing people talk of a child, especially an unexpected, unplanned child, as an “accident” and so she took steps to be totally in control of her fertility. Wow! Just a bit extreme! But she was not giving in to any media pressure to conform to someone else’s idea of how her life should be organised. And besides, she is probably right to say that no child should be regarded as an “accident”. What a label to carry round with you for life!

Somebody or other was writing in the Guardian about babies, well, more specifically about the baby of Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. Here’s a short extract:-

 “Fear not, new mothers. Having a baby need not be a barrier to a career. When New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, gave birth last week and the world got drunk on what this, ergo, means for all women, Wide Awoke was delivered this “empowering” memo over and over again. You, too, can expel a tiny dependant from your body and be back up and running a country in six weeks. Inspiring, no?” 

Here’s a link to the whole article if you want to read it.

I once worked with someone who must have been a bit like Jacinda Ardern. She was vice-principal of the college where I worked. A very ambitious, driven young woman she was set to be principal of some college somewhere by the time she was fifty. And then, in her early to mid forties, when everyone had thought she was just career-minded, she had a baby. Maybe she needed to prove that she could do both - career and motherhood. She ran the college pastoral team on a philosophy of “tough love”, so I imagine that her child would be brought up the same way. Never mind six weeks maternity leave, she was back running meetings within six days! Frightening stuff!

Another former colleague of mine, a much younger one, cried every day for two weeks when she returned to college after maternity leave. And her little Grace was a year old by then. I heard recently that she has just been made assistant principal of the college where we worked, proving in a different way that it is possible to do career and motherhood.

Will the New Zealand Prime Minister cry during government meetings? Or will she determinedly keep her hormones under control?

Six weeks seems to me an inordinately short time to take for maternity leave, even if you have a stay-at-home partner to be responsible for the child. Jacinda must be a strong woman. A friend of mine did it forty years ago out of sheer financial necessity. Her partner did not earn enough for her to stay at home longer and back to her teaching job she went. And off the tiny child went to nursery. They seem to have survived it but at the time I know my friend suffered emotionally.

No woman should be forced to make that choice. It brings to mind a visit I once made with some students to a former cotton mill, where there was a special hatch in the wall through which breast-feeding mothers were able to feed their offspring, brought to them at feeding time by a childminder who looked after umpteen tiny babies.

And while I am ranting about babies and maternity leave and such, isn’t it time the cost of childcare in the UK was reduced?

Yes, women can do everything but it needs to be made a little bit easier and there needs to be less media pressure to be perfect all the time.

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