An ode to the working mother

Photo by  Marcelo Silva  on  Unsplash

Photo by Marcelo Silva on Unsplash

This last year taught me plenty.

Before I fell pregnant, like most, I strongly believed that a woman could do anything. As Beyoncé once put it, “Who run the world? Girls.”

Generally speaking, in the western world I like to think that when it comes to equality, we’ve progressed massively. A woman is independent and strong. Strong enough in fact, “to raise your children and get back to business” (right, last Beyoncé quote, I promise).

I still feel that way. Only now, as a mother, I have an additional - somewhat controversial - thought to add to my girl power feelings.

For those of us women who are lucky to do it, I believing birthing and raising a child is one of the most empowering things you can go through.

I mean this thing attaches itself to your body and, using nothing but your body, you nurture and grow it for months!

You go through the almost a year of an expanding waistline, aches, pains and watching what you eat. Then nine months later after several hours of intense pain and a couple of doses of an epidural (in my case!) that thing leaves you and becomes a non-attached individual in its own right.

You did that. All of that. Just you and your body.

And guess what, that’s only the beginning of the motherhood experience.

It’s an experience I feel is minimised in our culture because a) most women do it, and b) only women do it - not men, and c) we hate the idea of it of what it brings.

It’s not childbirth or the children that we hate, but (generally speaking) we hate the idea of becoming a female breading machine - someone who does nothing but birth and raise children with no real aspirations of her own. She lives, she labours and she dies. The end.

In our independent, equal, Beyoncé loving world, it’s very easy to look at motherhood as some kind of cop out. We have contraception, we have nutritional baby formula and we have Day cares and kindergartens. The truth is, if we don’t want to be a mother 100 per cent of the time, or at all, we no longer have to be.

But when did it stop being okay to just be a mum?

It feels like we celebrate a man for choosing to be a stay-at-home dad, but at the same time we expect a woman to birth a whole human, head back to work, climb the corporate ladder and get home in time to put dinner on the table.

I’m not saying it can’t be done. Girl, if that sounds like you I’m all for it. Go for it. But it's not for all of us.

So why does returning to the workforce suddenly feel like my only option?

Even when you remove the societal idea of working a 168 hour week (40 hour week + looking after your child), from a financial point-of-view, going back to work is not just a smart option, it’s the almost the only option. Long gone are the days when it was viable to live comfortably off one income.

With high house prices and expensive childcare alternatives, somewhere down the line in our search for independence we've lost our right to be the mothers our children need.

The professionals tell us that the parent-child relationship is crucial to emotional, relational and physical development, especially within the first three years of a baby’s life. Yet in New Zealand, it is perfectly normal to return to work before your child’s first birthday.

There has to be another option.

And now that I’m here, as a mother, I’m starting to see it. My Facebook and Instagram feed is alive with cookies, blankets, clothing, frames, toys and anything else you can think of. All homemade by determined mothers.

You name it, we’ll sell it. Emerging is an army of New Zealand mums who refuse to go back to the 9-5 job. They are mums who want to have it both ways, kick-ass boss-ladies who are managing to run businesses out of their own homes.

It’s not perfect, but it’s something.

So I write this yes in frustration, but also in amazement at all the things us women are truly able to accomplish.

I still don't know if I'll be able to make the stay-at-home gig work and unfortunately I am anticipating a return to the workforce within the year.

So with that in mind, this is to all the mothers out there who work all day and come home only to work all night. This is for the mum working from home. This is for the mum who has chosen to stay out of the workforce for her children, despite the extra financial pressure. This for those mothers who could use the extra income but who just can’t seem to find employment. This is for those of you flying solo with very little support.

I take my hat off to you, to all of you! This parenting thing is a hard gig, and you have gone beyond your own capacities to make it work. Never allow yourself to forget that, no matter how tired you get. Keep your head up, take a break whenever you can, remember it is only a season, and keep on killin’ it.


Do you have a mummy business?

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Rachel Chen