One of the main perks of being a working parent is the cherished opportunity to talk to other adults about things other than teething and infant sleeping patterns. I call this “water cooler conversation.”
This morning’s water cooler conversation, so called because it took place next to an actual water cooler-albeit one that is not currently operational-was a massive feminist rant about a song I had never heard sung by a band I had never heard of, being a parent whose repertoire of popular music now consists solely of the theme tunes to children’s television programmes and the occasional enthusiastic rendition of Wind The Bobbin Up (Piglet can totally do the actions. I am SO PROUD).
“Ooh!” I cried happily as I filled up my enormous maximum strength coffee cup, “this sounds like an interesting conversation!”
Before long I was spouting what I considered to be the Manifesto of the Feminist Revolution in my Head. This feminist manifesto is basically an extended whinge about why everyone except me seems to be a stay at home mum these days and whatever happened to the sisterhood. Weren’t we supposed to be tearing down the fabric of the patriarchy or something? What happened to us all?
My much younger and child free colleagues looked at me, baffled and also quietly hinting that everyone else might now hate me and my controversial ideas, and I slunk off, realising that I was just projecting my own insecurities onto everything and everyone else, rather like the other day at work, when someone complimented me on my hair and my response was to launch into a tirade about how I have totally turned into a mum, what with my short hair and my sensible trousers, and my younger and child free colleague looked baffled and was probably wondering what she had said to provoke such an outburst. It was less a case of me not keeping up with the youth of today, and more a case of them not keeping up with me and my mum-complex.
The thing is, I suffer from a serious case of mum-envy. I love my job, but-as jobs generally do-it takes up a lot of my time, and sometimes all I seem to see around me are all the other mums working part time, or not working at all. Then there are my mother’s tales of the conversations that go on in my absence at toddler groups; the conversations that she feels excluded from as grandparent and carer, and not parent. The conversations I am excluded from as I am at work, with other people’s children and not my own, and I think about the mummy friends I had in London, the long lunches over tales of breastfeeding and weaning woes. The same conversations going on all around me all the time, but which I am not part of. And sometimes it gets the better of me, and I resent it.
I resent the stay at home mums and their adoption of conventional gender roles. I resent the way they cook their husband’s dinner and talk about the importance of being a good wife as though feminism never happened and we’re still at the Netherfield Ball swooning over Mr Darcy and his ten thousand a year; and I resent the way they just accept that it has to be them who stays home and forfeits their career and education while their husbands keep on climbing the career ladder and widen the gender pay gap.
And then I stop, and I push the thoughts back out of my head. I acknowledge that it’s jealousy getting the better of me. Jealousy that I never met the love of my life like they did. Jealousy that I will never know what it’s like to have a child with someone that you love. Jealousy that I don’t get a choice about whether or not to work.
And then I realise that their choices may also be limited by factors beyond their control. I remember that life isn’t all it seems. I don’t know these women, and I don’t know their stories. I may imagine that everyone else is living life in a rose-tinted bubble, but then I remember the endless days of maternity leave, pushing a pram around in circles trying to get the baby to nap. Of weeks where I didn’t speak to anyone except the barista in Costa Coffee. Of the knowledge that I only enjoyed maternity leave because it was never going to last forever, and thus had to be enjoyed to its fullest, even if the pinnacle of enjoyment was only changing out of my pyjamas once a week.
And what if having a husband brings its own pressures? What if, in addition to feeding and clothing a little one and keeping them alive, I also had to maintain a relationship? I can honestly say I have never felt happier since I stopped looking for a relationship, let alone trying to maintain one. Would having a husband really be such a bed of roses?
So maybe the stay at home mums don’t have it easy. Maybe they have it harder. Maybe they spend all their time wishing they were me, swanning off to work all day, drinking coffee in relative peace and wearing something other than pyjamas. Life is never black and white, but always shades of grey. We all make our choices, and we all wonder if they are the best ones.
Perhaps I just need to stop worrying, stop envying, and enjoy the life I have. After all, the grass is always greener, but is it really any happier?
This post first appeared on the website Meet Other Mums
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