Is working full time compatible with raising school aged children? This was the question I posed, somewhat rhetorically, on Twitter a few nights ago. The deluge of responses I received were pretty unequivocal : Without bucket loads of support it was either impossible or very, very difficult.
I have a seven year old school-goer and an almost four year old, who will start school next year, and is currently in full-time childcare. Myself and my husband both work full-time, nine to five jobs. We both have bosses who are supportive and flexible, but we are still expected to be in the office 8 hours a day, five days a week.
I posed the question after another day of feeling like I was running on the spot, or more accurately, running full tilt into a brick wall. I’m not giving enough to my children. Specifically to my son; I’m not giving him the support, emotional and practical, that he requires. Whether it’s a falsely placed sense of guilt, whether it’s the result of being socially conditioned to think mothers should be at home; regardless of any of these things, it is how I feel.
It is how I feel.
Once upon a time, someone advised me that the juggling parents do gets harder once the kids get to school. When they’re babies, this wise oracle pronounced, they just need ‘someone’ to look after them. As they get older, they really need that someone to be you.
As my son goes into his fourth school year, I have certainly found this to be true. Guilt is an emotion I try my best not to succomb to, but I seem to be spending more time than ever trying to suppress the nagging voice in my head that I’m not being a good enough mother. I know when my daughter is in creche, she has everything she needs there for the duration of my working day. She is fed, played with, entertained, educated. She is loved. All of her classmates generally arrive and leave at the same time. In contrast , with the school aged child, I feel guilt that I am not at the school gate in the mornings or the afternoons as he attends wrap around care. I can’t do homework with him. I can’t organise play dates. There’s little time for extra-curricular activities. And all this is before wading through all the school related administration, which feels like a full time job in itself. This week’s tasks included ‘bring in signs of nature’, sign this form, buy a birthday card, pay for this class, make a volcano….
Reader, we did not make the volcano and the signs of nature were a hastily picked up conker and a fallen leaf from the side of the road.
By coincidence, a report in the Irish Daily Mail the next day claimed that 63% of mothers would stay at home rather than go out to work, if funds were not an issue.
I love the idea of funds not being an issue. As if we can just ignore the little matter of money making the world go round, and the fact that our capitalist society has made it virtually impossible to run a home and/or raise a family on one income.
I suppose with a feminist hat on I should be outraged at this report. Isn’t this what our fore-mothers fought for? Our choice to ‘have it all’? Except for most of us, choice doesn’t come into it at all, and having it all is an objective that would require an extra five hours in a day, at least.
I want to have it all. I want a career, time with my kids and time for me and my hobbies and interests. The problem is two out of three of those things are full-time jobs.Second wave feminists were looking for equality with men, hence the arrival of the having it all myth. Kids, career, personal life. The trouble is that isn’t equality, because the men they were so keen to emulate, may have had kids, but they also had someone at home looking after those kids. The men may have had it all, but they weren’t doing it all.
And there’s the thing. You cannot do it all. No matter how much you might want to. Not full time. Full time job, full time kids, part-time you. It doesn’t fit.
It’s not to do with biology. It’s not because you’re a woman and you are the nurturer. It’s plain maths. There aren’t enough hours in the day.
Many commentators mentioned the fact that you don’t see fathers having this debate. This is true, and it is part of the problem, but do you know what? I don’t care. At this moment, I don’t care. This is about me, as a mother, wanting to spend more time with my children. I shouldn’t feel like I’m failing the feminist cause by saying that.
If you were reading this looking for an answer I’m sorry to tell you I don’t have one. Even worse, I don’t think there is an answer. Not one that solves all the problems and ties them up in a bow with money left over anyway. And so, we plough on, wondering how long we can keep this up, wondering when the perfect solution will present itself, as we watch them grow up and away.