As I sit here furiously typing away at my laptop, I am immensely frustrated by a recent conversation between my partner and I. Lets’ spare you the wearisome nuances that were batted back and forth across an invisible line of generational difference (he is 16 years my senior) but suffice to say the message coming back at me was clear; it is MY job to look after the children.
Sound familiar?! From many a late night on the wine and far too lengthy group WhatsApp chats, I know it to be the case for all of my friends as well. For we are the “having it all” generation.
Rather arrogantly, I presume this having it all, millennial generation that I belong to, is stuck in a place where ‘having it all’ actually means, doing, being, thinking and washing it all. For everyone. Undoubtedly and rather ironically, this therefore suggests that at the end of the day instead of sitting down with our smug, ‘look at me I’m having it all’ face and a nice G&T, we are actually just flopping into bed, chronically exhausted, wearing Primarni pj’s and bolstering a to-do list for the following day.
Is this the ‘having it all’ I was spoon-fed on?! Because it “don’t taste good” as my toddler would
shout say. And this leads me to think about the uncomfortable question; what on earth am I going to tell my own daughter?!
Turn the clock back briefly if you will, to my own childhood. My mothers campaign messaging was simple; “earn your own money”. It was the wishes of her generation that their daughters would be well educated, work hard, create and nurture a career that would bring them financial independence and never EVER rely on a man for money.
This was absolutely the message that I was raised on and indeed, the mantra I wanted to live my life by. I grew up with lofty ambitions to study medicine and then by the time I realised I was actually totally shit at maths, to study Law. I was going to be a Lawyer and my mother was ten thousand percent behind my ambitions.
And then I fell pregnant. It was in my final year at college, at just eighteen years old, at which point the messaging, already a part of my DNA, did a sharp u-turn.
Suddenly, not relying on a man turned into relying on one. Expectations of having a “fulfilling career” morphed hideously and unexpectedly into a series of raised eyebrows with “but your baby needs you” type insinuations.
The message of mandatory ‘financial independence’ and career was, I thought, one which ended with a descisive and obstinate full stop. Turns out there was actually an asterisk applied to my ovaries and the small print at the bottom of the reproductive page read “until you have children and then stop what you’re doing immediately to be the sole source of nuture, comfort and emotional support from this moment on”.
You get the picture.
Everything that I thought I knew about adult life was turned on it’s head at this point. The straightforward feminist mantra’s that were wholeheartedly ingrained in my psyche got lost in a 1950s echo chamber of domesticity, confusion, hormones and yes you’ve guessed it, the mum guilt.
Which brings me back to the present day – here I am, a woman in her thirties with two children, living in a limbo land where I pretend to work part time and pretend to parent part time but mostly just wonder what the fuck is going on, whilst studiously ignoring my growing overdraft.
Life has become a picket line made up of my own guilt, each side equally furious at the other; one ardently baying for a career, which I love and the opposing side squirting breast milk and demanding to stay home and nurture my babies the way I want to. The only thing that could make the whole scenario more confusing would be a giant, balloon like baby holding a mobile phone. But at least we could then find some humour in the situation.
My current internal protest is not so amusing and has led me to wondering, what on earth am I going to tell my own daughter when she is old enough to have children herself? Never mind that, much more pressingly, what messaging am I supposed to feed her impressionable young mind now about work, ambition, motherhood and probably overdrafts (although we may wait a few years for that chat).
Far from berating my own mother and her generation for feeding us these conflicting and confusing messages of equal parts nature vs anti-misogynistic fight back, I am in deepest sympathy with her. She has taught her daughters from her own life experiences and I, no doubt will be doing the same thing.
But before I can decide on a course of action or indeed my own parental campaign messaging, I need to decide what on earth is this mum guilt that drives us to question almost everything once we’ve reproduced? I am completely torn on the subject and I cannot work out whether it is in fact there to serve a greater purpose, so that no matter what we do or how we choose to parent, it will will sit there above all else, intrinsically linked to our ovaries, reminding us of our natural and biological duties.
Or, is it in fact, a hangover from thousands of years of suppression of women, millennia’s of “knowing our place” and generations where we learn to go to our mothers for comfort because Daddy’s out at work? Has a generation of women learnt to pray to the church of mum guilt because of our own childhood experience?
Behind my feminist soap box, right now there’s a reedy little voice popping up to ask “and what about your son”? You see, I’ve never thought about the messaging I’m sending to him. In my head it is a straightforward and clear cut path; good education – following his dreams – finding his happy – pursuing a career and no doubt fathering his own brood one day but absolutely, always working. I am utterly ashamed to say that I would be disappointed if he were to choose to forgo his career to stay home and raise his children.
And isn’t that quite a shocking statement?
Nonetheless, I would feel he was wasting his potential, no matter what politically correct book I’m supposed to be reading from in 2018. Which, leads me to wonder whether I am obliged to say and think the same thing for my daughter. In all other aspects, I am maddeningly stubborn about making sure that they have the same opportunities throughout childhood to grow, to play, to learn and indeed to earn as they head off into the world. So don’t I have a duty to follow through this messaging when my daughter one day asks me what the fuck she is supposed to do, nine months after having her first baby, baby blues and hormones still flowing freely and a law degree under her belt?
How can I say to my daughter that raising and nurturing her children, is the most valid and validating career path she could ever choose (and I’d mean it) yet to my son it would just be a waste of his potential?!
Surely this is the same conversation that has just infuriated me enough to start writing this piece in the first place? My other half insinuating that his career and potential is greater than mine and therefore my place was with the children is what led me to write this post and yet here I am full circle admitting that I feel deep down the same way.
I’m legitimately horrified by this realisation. Have I just answered my own question? Is Mother Nature more powerful than modern nature and therefore there is no getting away from it? Or have I merely highlighted the ongoing conflict that millennial women continue to battle with? Perhaps, as my mother was for me, I am just worried for my daughter, that she will have to pretend to ‘have it all’ just like I am doing. This path of having and doing everything is a stressful and difficult one to follow and I, perhaps naively believe that her life should be smoother than mine.
I really don’t know. But either way what on earth am I going to tell my daughter?