The nature of work this Mother's Day

Don’t forget it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow – and if you believe the advertising, you still have a chance to redeem yourself by buying nail polish, perfume, slippers or even a handy kitchen appliance to make her day.

Yep the power of advertising tells us what makes a good Mother’s Day, all tied up in a giant pink bow, because all mums like pink and beauty products and traditional female roles…

It is ridiculous that in 2016 it’s still what we face in our flyers, magazines and online adverts – a continued reinforcement of stereotypes about mothers, when the reality is so different.

To state the obvious, mothers are individuals – the process of giving birth involves a lot of crazy things, but it doesn’t your brain being replaced with a pre-programmed standard version off the shelf from a chain store entitled Mothers Are Us. 

That’s not to say mothers, myself included, don’t deserve a sleep-in or some hand-picked flowers or some time to themselves – those are the sorts of things top of my list.

I still remember when I was pregnant with my first child, my workmates saying things like “it’s the hardest job in the world”.  I thought “bollocks” – how can going through the beautiful (ha!) experience of creating new life be tougher than some really full-on jobs out there? 

I guess I’ve learnt a bit more over the past nearly seven years – yes, sure being a mum is deeply satisfying on a level that’s hard to imagine, but are the good parts really that different to being a fabulous aunty or godmother, honorary or otherwise?

The hard bits, for me at least, are the monotony of folding never-ending piles of washing, over-exposure to faecal matter, and the predictability of your children waking early – on the weekend!  The challenges are staying calm in the face of extreme meltdowns, or not over-reacting when, yet again, your child cannot find their shoes when you’re already running late for school, and just the noise – the noise when they’re happy and the noise when they’re not.

But to be honest, and risking Murphy’s Law writing these words down, my boys are lovely and growing into considerate and caring little people who bring me joy every day (especially when they’re asleep!).

One working mum I admire is former Green Party MP Holly Walker.  She has written recently about her experience of being a mum and an MP and her realisation it wasn’t the right combination for her, particularly after her partner became unwell.  The hours and lack of flexibility when Parliament was sitting made it impossible for her to do both roles justice.

While there are inevitably gender issues involved for working mums, Holly’s experience prompts for me a wider issue around the nature of work.  How do people balance their responsibilities outside work when in a demanding role?  How can you connect with your children, care for your older parents, contribute to your community, or look out for your neighbours, if you’re exhausted from working more than 40 hours a week?  What gives if you, or one of your children, get sick?  What if you’re a single parent or have limited support?

Have we created an approach to jobs that means the only people who can get ahead in senior roles are those who give up any time for themselves, who give up contributing beyond their paid work, and who rely on a partner (almost always a wife) to carry them?  Or do they just give up having children?

Life should be about achieving a balance across all the things that mean something to you – not waiting for a day once a year when you’re officially encouraged to put your feet up.