Friday, May 18, 2012

friday forte: Mother's Day

Jason - such a little plane
Jason - such a little plane

It seemed quietly appropriate that as I sipped my Mother's Day morning coffee swaddled on the bench on the deck, basking in the morning sun, I finished reading The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. Through reading her book, I've learned about what the women's movement accomplished before feminism became a dirty word, and also the source of my own niggling dissatisfaction. Ironically, if I hadn't become a mother nine years ago, a lot of what Friedan wrote would have completely passed me by and yes, I'd be one of those unencumbered women wondering what the childful were complaining yakking on about this time (and why did it always have to be about poo/useless husbands/sleep?)!

No - you don't know how it is if you don't have a child. Sorry but it's true. No matter how many of your friends possess a nuclear family, it still doesn't give you that deep-under-the-skin 'a-ha' recognition of what it really is all about. And you only realise what an absolute prig you once were (unsolicited expert parenting advice anyone?), when you have responsibility for that child.

So I celebrated Mother's Day feeling great joy, but a good deal of angst, self-exploration and self-doubt, discrimination and injustice came along for the ride. What should be a joyous rite of passage for women has indeed been tarnished by the ongoing failure of society to support parents.

In the final two chapters, The Forfeited Self and A New Life Plan for Women, I recognised a lot of what Friedan wrote, even though her words were written for an age before I was even born. Her description of busy-work, the tasks a woman invents to keep her occupied and validate her stay-at-home existence, is something I've gradually become aware of in my own ten-plus years out of employment. Although with volunteering and self-education I'm now a software, social media whizz kid and know a lot about my community, so far it hasn't really added up to anything apart from stopping me watching afternoon tv.*

Even now, in the 21st Century, being a stay-at-home parent is a demoralising occupation if unsupported, without external stimulation, and seemingly without end. Much as I love being the mother to my son, no matter how much I adore him, and no matter how much mr ebb shares the load (which he does, quite wonderfully) staying at home to parent and run a house is not a fulfilling career for anybody, regardless of gender. Times have changed and the pressures on today's parents to get it right, work in isolation without feedback (unless it's negative) and somehow be satisfied, are immense.

The answer is, of course, external stimulation, to get out into the working world again but, as the CBC recently reported along with so many inequalities, a woman's responsibility for childcare seriously impedes her progress toward meaningful employment. There simply aren't enough opportunities for mums to get back in the running career-wise because there isn't anyone available to look after her children. Before taking on any out-of-the-home employment or higher education, her first thought is "who will look after my kids?" And this is what brings her world crashing down - there is often no way out, or the jobs available are little better than the mundane, monotonous, tedious chores she would be rushing back to do with her meagre pay packet in hand. Dreams are crushed; hope dies; occupation: housewife.

* I should acknowledge here that I don't consider my volunteer work wasted; a lot of it has gone into my resumé and my portfolio. I used it as a way to explore my new life and once I knew what I wanted to do I focused my volunteerism into areas which would benefit me in the future. I just haven't quite reached that future yet ...
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