A shocking comment was made in a conversation I had a while back while discussing the ills our society faces. ‘Working mothers are the problem,’ my acquaintance said in a tone that suggested it was a fact. I know what you are wondering. Did my slap across his face leave a mark? Well, here’s the problem, ‘him’ was actually a ‘her’ and to add insult to injury, a career mother at that. While at the time I disagreed with the comment, because it had come from the mouth of said person I couldn’t help but mull over it on many occasions after that and to my own shock and horror I have come to realise there is an element of truth in it. Allow me to explain.
Women have been fighting for their basic human rights for a very long time. Those of us born in the current era find it difficult, absurd even to think that not so long ago women couldn’t vote, own property and occupy posts which didn’t require an apron around their waists, or a ruler or a thermometer in their hands. Women, and many men may I add, have fought for decision makers to think otherwise and in the process have sacrificed so much, even their own lives.
We have come a long, long way – there is no denying that. Today, no man or woman in their right mind would open their mouth to say women belong in the home or on a hospital ward or in a classroom. You’ll not only be seen a sexist but someone who needs to find a time travel machine and head back to 1927. Politicians revel in this with gender issues always coming up in speeches, because rightly so, it has been an achievement well worth noting. Companies also love the reputation they get when their CEOs and the heads of their departments are addressed as Ms or Mrs because they too are seen as supporting the cause, which in effect, they are. It all seems great doesn’t it? But here’s the problem, and for the purpose of this blog, I am only talking about career women with families. How far do we stretch our consideration for the employee who is raising a kid at home? And by ‘we’ I am talking about politicians who decide on a country’s infrastructure, employers who set the rules at work, spouses and families who are meant to provide support and yes, each individual in the community, be it women, men, parents and non-parents.
A basic math equation will tell you that if a + b = c, and you are to reduce the value of a, then automatically the value of c will also reduce. For argument’s sake, let’s take a as the contribution of a mother in her family, b as everyone’s contribution and c as a healthy family. When the mother has to factor in work responsibilities, the value of her input in her family decreases. This is to be expected. For c to remain as it is, b needs to shape up. And here is the question, does b really shape up?
I could illustrate this with a ton of examples, but I will just pick 2 and make the point. Before I go on though, I would like to stress that my arguments are generalisations and in no way a dig at fathers, families, companies and law-makers, many of whom do everything they can to ensure that their families, their employees’ families and all other families are supported.
Case 1. Many men take great pride in their partner’s professional successes. I am not talking just about women who have earned titles or offices with a view, but also the mind-blowing efficient secretary, the waitress everyone loves, the nurse known to go beyond duty and so on. But how many of them turn their pride into actions by taking on some of the partner’s roles in the home with their kids? Many don’t and still expect to come home to a clean house, cooked meals and happy children. In effect, going back to a+b=c, they expect a to just double. That, my friends, does not just happen. Something has to give and more often than not, it’s the attention we give to our kids that’s first on the list.
Case 2. I will be opening a can of worms if I was to say that expectations of working mothers in the work place should not be the same as everyone else’s. I get it. Where will the line be drawn? But there is no denying it, a woman who leaves behind a sick kid at home with an 80 year old great grandmother is unlikely to be 100% productive. A woman who leaves her baby at someone’s house because she couldn’t find a good day care or simply couldn’t afford one is unlikely to be 100% productive. A woman who watches the clock for 3:59 because if she leaves a minute later she’ll miss the bus that will ensure she gets to some place exactly at 4:30 because that’s when whoever is looking after her kids will have them at the door is unlikely to be 100% productive. A woman who brings work home every day because of unrealistic deadlines will also not be 100% productive as a mother. A woman who is expected to answer the phone call from her employee at 7:30p.m is also unlikely to be 100% productive as a mother. There is no question that some level of consideration needs to be given when the ‘human being’ in question needs to be temporarily treated as a mother rather than an employee.
Both these cases remind me that we have a long way to go before our actions adequately support our words. While we get stuck in thinking we are all progressive thinkers when it comes to the ‘mummy in a suit’, children are growing up and experiencing the world without their mothers, either she is physically not there or she is lost in the seas of troubles that are well hidden behind glossy corporate images. Families need happy and healthy mothers in order to thrive and have a chance at overcoming the ills we face. Laws which protect women against sexual harassment in the work-place, clock-in time which accommodates the mother who has to take the bus after dropping her kids off at school, promoting and organising social activities in the workplace where the whole family participates (and not just December Children’s Christmas parties), better public transport which allows the mother to get home to her kids at a decent hour, after-school programmes to keep kids away from the streets, and a thousand other things can go a long way in ensuring women are better equipped to serve both roles better.
Just in case, the intent of this blog is not clear, I am 100% behind the career woman. I have been one and may shortly be one again. The world needs us not just because of what we can contribute to it, but how we contribute. If the rise of women in the corporate world had been for just a show, it would have dwindled decades ago. But corporate veterans know better. Women simply are an essential ingredient in the mix. I’m just saying it’s way past time we acknowledge that the ‘mummy’ side of things goes beyond a photo in a frame on the desk. Our children need our time and our love and for us to be fully committed to them in those few hours we can give them, we need to be content and to feel safe in the knowledge that our families, colleagues and policy makers understand.