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The Motherlode

Last week a newspaper article poked me in the direction of a documentary about women’s rights. I recognized the name of a former student so I set the timer for the show. Women from Ottawa, Windsor and Washington described how difficult it was to be a mother first and a professional person second, often citing that they have not risen professionally because of having to attend to their children’s needs. They lamented that roles for women had not really changed since the 70’s and queried why. Here’s how The Motherload produced and directed by Cornelia Principe began in a voice over:

Dads were supposed to carry more of the load. Motherhood was not supposed to become so idealized. Employers were supposed to be more flexible. Women were supposed to climb higher up the ladder, but feel less guilty. Society was supposed to live up to the promises our mothers made. From single moms to CEOs – a generation of burnt-out, disillusioned moms are waking up and smelling the coffee. Forget having it all – today’s working moms are doing it all.

Although I cannot disagree with the idea that women are still primarily the ones who must leave their jobs if junior gets sick, my years as a woman and an observer of gender equality lead me to alternative considerations.

First, I do observe many more men are staying home and taking MAT leave- AND actually having the opportunity to do so, pushing carriages, playing with the kids in parks and being mother. My own son will interrupt his workday if a child needs to be seen by a doctor. As well, he does the runs to hockey, some drama and other activities for the kids. I think this arrangement is now pretty typical- likely for middle class or upper middle class families, fathers not patting the kid on the head and only sitting down at dinner to enquire how little Johnnie’s day was. I believe couples are balancing responsibilities better than in the past.

When my children were young, my husband walked the kids to school, was there for pick ups early evenings, and even when our first would not stop her screaming, he sat up with her all night. When I returned to school for a doctorate, he manipulated his schedule to ensure that he was able to manage supper at St. Huberts chicken deli, the family in the window, a squabbling group who vented their post- school frustrations openly and loudly at the table. However, I see my son and his ilk doing as much or more these days.

Yet this generation as shown in The Motherload wants it all. They seem unable to accept that there are consequences for choices, and if you decide on bringing three children into the world, that are three times as many mouths to feed, bodies to navigate, personalities and needs to fulfill, and someone must do it. The mothers in the film descry, “ …but why is it me?” Just because you want three doesn’t mean you abrogate your responsibility and yell that the system is not working.

Should more workplaces have daycares? Absolutely.

Should there be more care options for families with kids? Again, yes. However, children are not little clocks to be wound up, set on the shelf and stay there uncomplaining. Little humans have needs to be satisfied and like it or not, it is usually mommy for whom they yell for first. Accept that, and comprehend what that means.

No person in society is provided with everything they want or need: the perfect job with the perfect hours and the perfect pay. Truth be told, the system does not work completely. And I sympathize with Cathy, the single mother from Windsor in The Motherload. She was a nurse’s aid who lost her job and now maintains two jobs, as a receptionist and a driver and support of children with special needs. From the segments I saw ( and I admit turning it off about ½ way through), I could empathize with her dilemma- not because she was the mother, but because her life is confounded by her work situation that does not support her properly, financially, intellectually or socially. That her life has been made more difficult by the fact that she is a single parent without the kinds of benefits that would make life easier. Yet Cathy’s attitude differed from the lawyer’s in Ottawa, not suggesting she had entitlement, but perhaps sadly, a rather a dogged acceptance to get on with life and try and make things work.

Who should not cry out for a system to help us, all genders, through the constraints and dilemmas on a daily basis?

In some ways, there have been changes that speak to the needs of parents, not only women, but the poor, immigrants, for example. I believe that part of the reason for all day kindergarten is to provide the poor with professional competent daycare for their children. And in spite of the costs being high, at least we know a safe and supportive environment for these kids may render them better educated, healthier and happier humans than if they were dumped at Aunt Sally’s daycare until mommy gets home from work.

In this way, better educated kids take the burden off welfare lists. And yes, I know of the studies that trump all day kindergarten because the gains supposedly even out after grade 3, all day programs or not. Ah, but we can do what we wish with statistics to prove any point. I query, “Has the benefit of the stimulation factor, positive attitude, camaraderie, collaborative experiences, lifelong learning also been taken into consideration?” I imagine Charlie Pascal nodding his head in agreement!

Ontario’s Early Learning Study 3 in 2011 stipulates that “…by broadening education’s mandate to include younger children, we can bridge the gap between parental leave and formal schooling. By including the option of extended-day activities for families who request it, Canada can have its long-demanded early learning and care program..[which]includes better parental leave, income support and family- friendly work environments( McCain, Mustard and McQuaig, Introduction, Chapter 2; Also see Chapter 1, Closing the gap between rich and poor.)

McCain, Mustard and McQuaig put forth this scenario, albeit using the “dad-parent”, to demonstrate the reality of today’s childcare situation,

Michael arrives at the centre with 2-year-old Cleo. As they enter the playroom Cleo turns to her father, clings to his leg and begins to cry. Michael picks her up, strokes her back and talks softly to soothe her. As Cleo’s crying slows down, Janette, the early childhood educator, approaches and talks quietly to Michael. Their conversation begins to interest Cleo as Janette tells Michael how much Cleo enjoys the playhouse. When Cleo stops crying, Janette suggests she show her dad how she makes cookies in the play oven. After a short demonstration Cleo is ready for her day and kisses Michael goodbye. (Early Learning Study 3, 2011 Chapter 3,p. 50)

Chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” trumpets how not to give in to your female fears, accept compliments, and climb that “jungle gym” to success. She need not worry; she can delegate to others. And that is not to say, she does not worry about her children.

Ironically Susan Faludi sees Sandberg’s tome as making women “marketable consumer objects” ( See Faludi, Susan. “Facebook Feminism, Like It or Not”. The Baffler. Baffler Foundation, Inc.) just adding to their worries of depersonalization and feelings of un-worth. Ironically Faludi reports Tina Brown’s Lean In moment: getting her parents to move from England to “the apartment across the corridor from us on East 57th Street in New York,” so her mother could take care of the children while Brown took the helm at The New Yorker.

Read Faludi as she describes the rise of the women’s movement from Lowell Massachusetts in 1834 if you want an understanding of what I think my former student and The Motherlode really want to attack. These are the collective issues that women face daily, and my former student’s life does not stand in as an example of how tough it is, although nurse Cathy’s might.

I am not saying women should not have babies because it will prevent them from rising on the corporate ladder. I’m saying that biology has perhaps saddled you with an extra burden, and that is, if you succumb to maternity, accept you must learn to juggle and hopefully with your partner or partners, or best yet in a job that will provide you with a sustainable routine and reasonable income.

It has to do with priorities and context. Would the “mill girls” agree? I’m not sure.

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2 thoughts on “The Motherlode

  1. It’s a challenge for sure, especially living in the USA. Was I “lucky” to be a professor and therefore split my time at home with Rhett whilst maintaining a full time teaching and administrative load? People in the community told me I was “blessed” to have that option. I saw it as a different juggling act where I was short changing both Rhett and my job (in addition to the three extra jobs I picked up while hubby wasn’t working). How does one stay fully accountable to faculty, workload, grading and committee meetings when you return to work 6 weeks postpartum? If I wanted my full salary then I had no choice so it was babysitters and juggling and long days and nights.

    A lot of attitudes are regional. Where we live, many mothers are expected to and do stay home with their babies, and produce many of them regardless of family finances. Six little ones share a room. A lot of mothers get married early and have five or six children (and counting) and are my age (33) with preteens, complaining that they never lived their own dreams. They complain on Facebook about the burden of parenting now that the babies aren’t sweet and cute but willful and opinionated small humans. Socialization played a big role. At the same time, I’m looked at as a true oddity for working full time and having only one young child. The recent decision to put Rhett in daycare has been controversial yet it’s clear to me that even though I have a good schedule this growing child needs more stimulation than what I can provide.

    What’s my point here…I don’t know. I suppose I wish I had had the option of taking a full year of Canadian mat leave as opposed to carefully planning when to have my next child in order to take advantage of the short term disability that allows me 6 weeks at full pay, 6 weeks at half. As one Canuck mom (part of a dual-earning household) on mat leave griped to me, “oh it’s awful, it isn’t even enough to buy bagels!” I happen to know that what this woman was making on mat leave was a good deal more than what I made as a senior social worker at a a University medical center. Could be worse, lady.

  2. I guess the bottom line is that parenting/mothering, takes a lot of time and emotional energy, and just *how* much comes as a shock to all of us! No matter what the job situation, it never seems like enough. So we just need to love them the best we can, and try to make the best of the situation we’re in.

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