As we speak, yet another one of those awful “I’ve been nominated as a great mother! Here are 5 other people who I think are great mothers!” chain letters is making its way around social media. This blog is about how I managed to piss off most of my friends, and what I realised about myself, them, and society from it.
On this blog I’ve spoken about professional matters, personal reflections on personal matters, and life choices that have affected my professional life in one way or another. This blog is going to take me dangerously into the realm of exposing my personal life on social media, but I hope to convince you that there is a professional aspect to this too.
Recently you saw me take the active decision to change careers. You may have gathered the entirely correct impression that it took me over a year to do that, i.e. I was at home, jobless, for over a year. I felt worthless. I felt like I needed a job in order to be a valid human being. I couldn’t be happy with the contributions I was making at home, and in my relationship. I needed to do more. For me. For them. For society.
More than once it occurred to me that I could validate myself and my jobless existence by having a baby. Not that I wanted one, but it was a solution. Let me stop you before you get angry. I do not believe that women who have chosen to be stay at home mums are not valid humans. Got it?
No really, if that’s what you want to do, and it makes you happy, go for it. I AM NOT JUDGING. I AM HAPPY FOR YOU. I LOVE YOUR KID(S). IT MAKES ME HAPPY TO SEE YOU AND THEM HAPPY. SHOW ME PICTURES.
What I am judging is that pressure. The pressure from society to have a baby. Maybe you don’t feel it because your biological clock kicked in before your mother / siblings / friends / colleagues / strangers / celebrities did. But my clock never kicked in. And I’m pretty sure I don’t want it to.
I’ve voiced these opinions before and been told “But you’d be a great mother!” So I should be one? “You just don’t have your living situation right yet.” I’m picturing crafting in my 2nd bedroom, not babies. “You’ll change your mind.” HOW ARE YOU READING MY MIND?!
I know other people who have been told they are being selfish. Am I being selfish? Absolutely! I like my life the way it is. Me Me Me. Despite this, nobody told me I was being selfish at the age of 16 when I had to make the very personal and invasive decision not to become a mother.
Maybe making this decision at a very impressionable age has clouded my judgement over whether I, or anyone should be having kids, but I don’t think anyone can deny that the pressure is still there. And when I see an endless stream of text and pictures from people proudly announcing that they have succeeded at The Motherhood Challenge, all I read is
YOU’RE A LOSER.
So I reacted. I put up a smarmy picture about how proud and happy I was to be childfree (and enjoying many holidays), and immediately went on to suggest that these sort of activities might be offensive and upsetting to some. I say suggested… I attacked. And was attacked. By mothers. Many, many mothers. Boy, did I piss off the mothers.
As the tirade continued, I became horrified at the extent to which I had offended some people until I dissented and apologised. Someone asked why I was so angry.
I’m angry because society is telling me that I can’t be a success unless I have a baby, and I don’t want one!
Is that what society was telling me?
When I stepped back from the whole situation and looked at the reactions I had provoked, I realised that the best and most positive reactions had come from people who supported me for being openly childfree (or maybe they want me to take more holidays, I’m not sure). The next best reactions I had were from friends (both mothers and non-mothers) who openly stated that motherhood was a challenge, and not one to be taken lightly.
And they were totally right. Mothers have it tough. Societey actually sends out some pretty mixed messages about motherhood. While the whole world is telling you that it is inevitable / imperative that you have a baby, we also exist in a culture that continues to make it incredibly tough to succeed after you have one.
Professionally, your maternity leave is *at best* an inconvenience to a company, and *at worst* a sackable offense. In academia, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a baby must be in want of OUT, because motherhood is career suicide. Not that this notion is restricted to academia, we even have a phrase which makes light of the fact that women (particularly women with babies) are statistically unlikely to achieve higher level positions in their companies. If you can succeed in both a career and motherhood, you are deemed to be ‘having it all!’ rather than just having a life.
Personally, you become alienated from most of the people who you used to hang out with, and likely spend a lot of time despairing at your screaming toddler wondering if you are even doing a good job.
No wonder you guys will take any excuse to give each other (and yourselves) a pat on the back for doing the best job you can.
So maybe I shouldn’t begrudge you these newsfeed-consuming social media epidemics when they happen. But equally, we have to look at other areas where we can call ourselves successes and celebrate them too. Maybe you’re on the path (with or without a baby) to have a successful career, or even just hold down a job. Maybe you’ve run a marathon, or even 5K, or even made it out of the house without crying. Maybe you’re announcing that you’re defying social norms by not having children. These events will never get the same viral reaction as The Motherhood Challenge, but they are no less valid successes, and, on the whole, people will celebrate you for it.