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Mostly for working mums (don't want to start a fight though...)

45 replies

janh · 08/03/2003 19:50

This article is in Guardian Weekend today - by a working mum in New York - titled, roughly, "why am I nice at work and horrible at home?",3605,908591,00.html

It's a brilliant piece, very entertaining, and should resonate with SAHMs too.

I particularly liked the bit where she asked the 3-yr-old if he wanted to put on his pyjamas in the 6-yr-old's "office"!!!

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Jimjams · 08/03/2003 20:06

Not starting a fight!! Honestly. I thought the article was very interesting, but also had a sad resonance. I felt like she didn't really want to be working the way she was but felt that she actually had no choice. I wondered whether she felt like a bystander in her kids lives almost. Dh read it and said it described how he feels- coming home from the office - and having held it all together all day simply being unable to at home.

ks · 08/03/2003 20:21

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PamT · 08/03/2003 20:38

I haven't read the article but I've only been back at work for a week after 6 years as a SAHM and the kids have been a nightmare today, I think I would rather have been at work. We've been car hunting and they have played up no end so I'm hoarse from shouting at them - I bet they're glad when I'm at work too.

star · 08/03/2003 21:01

Yes I read it this afternoon,it was indeed entertaining and well written-it was so well put and done with humour I had to remind myself it had a serious message.I found myself wondering why she had such a short fuse as soon as she got home and I thought perhaps she's just dog tired after working a 10 or more hour day.I found it a shame she couldn't cope with a bit of vaseline on her rug though,she'd be horrified living in my house in which the sofa is covered in food and crayon marks every day.She looks back with fondness to her mother and how she was brought up yet has chosen a completely different lifestyle for herself with her children-interesting.

Jimjams · 09/03/2003 12:00

I think it was that I found sad star- that she looked back at her own mother and childhood with obviously very warm memories- and she felt that she wasnt providing anything remotely close to that for her children (I'm not saying she wasn't- just that she felt like she wasn't).

I had the same thought reading the article in my fornt room. We moved into this house a yar ago and have decorated the boys rooms but then promptly ran out of money. The front room has the wallpaper half stripped off, our old sick covered sofa, a strange brown ancient sofa left by the previous owner and some really incredibly revolting brown velvet curtains (left behind again). I can safely say I don't care what ends up trodden into those carpets!

Batters · 09/03/2003 12:24

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janh · 09/03/2003 13:42

I think the thing is that we are what we are - in her case, "her father with ovaries" - and whether we work or not makes no difference to that.

Some women are just effortlessly patient, caring, tolerant, kind, imaginative etc etc mothers and some - like the writer of this piece, and me - aren't.

My kids are grown-ish now and are confident, mostly happy people, not too damaged or twitchy (I hope ), but I so identified with her:

"Where my kids are concerned, I am volatile but deeply sentimental, like my father. I keep locks of their hair, a drawer full of their drawings. And as they sleep, I kneel beside their beds in atonement for my sins, press my nose to their sweaty, blond heads and ask forgiveness for my take-no-prisoners parenting style."

I was like that too when my older ones were little (and I was a full-time SAHM...) and I wish I could go back and do it all again properly - but as I would still be the same person (and I do still explode on occasion) would it make any difference?

We all do the best we can - try to be "good-enough parents" - some of us are better at it than others, that's all. As long as they feel secure and know we love them they should turn out OK. It is sad to feel that you should be less cross about things like Vaseline in rugs or crumpled sheets but maybe men-with-ovaries have other gifts to bring to motherhood?

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lucy123 · 09/03/2003 13:55

Well, for crying out loud, no wonder the woman is falling to bits. It's one thing to have a family where both parents work, but to have both parents working in jobs where they often have to do overtime, and both parents so into their work that they "argue over who is going to catch the 5.58 train to relieve the nanny" is frankly horrifying.

She says she is gradually losing her guilt, but I don't think the guilt as such is this family's biggest problem. Those poor children (there, I said it, but like I say, this situation is extreme).

lucy123 · 09/03/2003 13:59

janh - my post crossed with yours. Dd is too young yet to really try my patience (she is the best behaved baby in the world - I think I'm due a nasty surprise any day now) so i read that piece with a completely different slant to you.

But no, very few of us (perhaps none) can be perfect parents and we have to just manage as best we can. What I was shocked by was that any family can have two parents who regularly work 10 or 12 hour days. No wonder she loses her rag when she gets home - I would imagine that your children at least enjoyed some days when you weren't completely strung out!

janh · 09/03/2003 14:13

Hi, lucy! Yes, we've had one or two enjoyable days over the 21 years.... (What life would have been like if I worked, though, doesn't bear thinking about...) (BTW my DD1 was the best behaved baby in the world too and my nasty surprise landed with DD2, who I love to bits of course but it has to be said her best thing was scowling! So you might get away with it!)

From her description of the way her sons behaved when they arrived home (probably a composite of several arrivals but still) they sound like lovely little boys, free spirits with bags of energy and imagination. I thought it seemed as if they are actually doing a pretty good job between them, under the circs - obviously having what sounds like a brilliant nanny helps - if she had to drop off at child-minder's at the crack of dawn and then pick up after a 12 hour day it might be a bit different.

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lucy123 · 09/03/2003 14:26

Actually, yes, they did sound like nice boys. But the sad thing was (I thought) that she didn't seem to have enough time to appreciate that.

slug · 09/03/2003 15:43

I couldn't get over the way she excused her husband's inability to remember simple domestic chores as "a y chromosome thing" Oh for God's sake woman, no wonder you're so exhausted. Let the man pull some of the weight some of the time. All that guilt about forgetting to send something off to school with her son, why did the husband not remember? Did he feel guilty? i bet you he didn't.

janh · 09/03/2003 16:57

But, slug, don't you think it is a man thing? My DH is quite good domestically (and he does all the horrible jobs like emptying the kitchen compost bin into the big one and clearing up the neighbours' cats' poo from the flower beds) but hopeless at remembering who has to be where when, even when it has happened every week for years...I mean I will send him out in the car specifically to collect child A from place B, where he goes every Tuesday or whatever, and he will call on his mobile to ask if he is getting child C from place D, where he hasn't been for months. (He went to Tesco's this afternoon to get 2 loaves of bread - one white, one wholemeal - and rang within less than 5 minutes to ask if he was getting 2 white or something else.)

I suppose if her husband had been on the spot when the note from school arrived, and she said "dear, please find something that feels interesting for kindergarten RIGHT NOW and put it in DS's bag for tomorrow" and then stood guard until he did it, he might...

I thought the "joke" about her needing a wife is actually quite true - being at home most of the time I do usually manage to remember dates and things, if I worked FT I would struggle with it, if I am ever away I need to leave DH a sheetful of instructions about things like packed lunches, school requirements and music lessons. (Fortunately the kids are quite tuned in themselves.)

lucy, I agree, it is sad that she hasn't more time with them, but then if she did they wouldn't be exactly the same as they are now, if you see what I mean, and they probably appreciate the time they do have with her (when she's not yelling!) more than they would if there was more of it.

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Janeway · 09/03/2003 17:12

This must have such resonance for so many women...I could so easily find myself in her shoes in a few years - dp & I were just talking about this, and how to engineer our lives so that we both have enough space and freedom to do what we need (both express our work selves and be with ds + any others that come along). I believe it is worthwhile for ds to see & learn that women can be sucessful at work as much as it is important for him to see that men can be full participents in home life - but in trying to achieve that (dp & I both work part time and split the childcare & housework responsibilities) we still find ourselves spread thin in both places.

There is a perception that you're not committed to any role (home or work) unless you're there full time - people can't see that the act of leaving ds is an ultimate commitment to my work and that not caving in to pressure from work is out of commitment for my ds, and a belief in the lessons for him I described above. If I gave up my work, I (personal statement only) would be less of me, and therefore less able to show ds what a woman can be. The same is true if I gave up the "my time" with ds.

Jimjams · 09/03/2003 20:08

My old boss was one half of a very successful couple. Both worked ridiculous hours- 14 hour days for both would have been normal. All the women who saw it said "I won't do that when I have kids". And by and large we haven't.

I have no problem with women working, but I do think that when people decide to get pregnant/have kids they do need to bear in mind that they may not be able to carry on working the way they were, if it isn't suitable for the children. If Ds1 didn't have his problems I would probably have aimed to go back to work in some form once ds2 was at school, but it simply isn't going to be possible (apart form the couple of hours I do a week for channel 4 from home on the internet). I always thought I would combine motherhood with some sort of rewarding work, but ds1 has made that impossible. I can honestly say that I don't feel any resentment though- I just feel as his mother I have to put him first, and I would be so cut in two trying to juggle his needs with work comittments it would be impossible.

slug · 09/03/2003 20:24

No janh, I think it is an abdication of responsibility on men's part and we as women collude in it. There are plenty of solo dads out there who manage perfectly well without needing a woman to keep things running smoothly. it only seems to be ones with partners who can't seem to get it together.

Empress · 09/03/2003 20:39

Jimjams - just being nosey, but what work is it you do for C4 on the internet? It's not film-related, is it?

Jimjams · 09/03/2003 20:52

Nowhere near as exciting as that Empress. I work as a teacher on their homework high website. Actually it's a bit of a win as I'm mainly in the chat room which is quite fun!

janh · 09/03/2003 20:58

slug, I don't know any solo dads! I can't imagine mine making and managing that kind of arrangement on his own - it's frankly embarrassing now when he tries to "take an interest" in the kids' activities, including school - his remarks are so ill-informed they just look at him.

Do you know lots? Do they have full-time/part-time jobs and a nanny, or are they full-time parents? Do they organise lots of out-of-home activities and always remember who goes where when? I am intrigued!

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Janeway · 09/03/2003 22:17

Janh - don't know any solo Dads, but know one who is the primary carer, with his dp doing most of the paid work. He's great with his 3 kids - and begs the question (in response to JimJams' post) why is it only the women who are expected to change their work patterns & responsibilities? As I said, both ds & I have gone part time - his colleagues see this as a really groundbreaking step for him - he's a really "good chap" - I'm seen as uncommitted and no longer promotion material...

ScummyMummy · 10/03/2003 03:03

I liked this article too, though agree that bits of it were v sad, especially her own summing up at the end where she worried that she was wishing her kids' lives away and was missing out. Thanks for reminding me about the man's role in all this, slug. Had overlooked that a bit but do tend to agree that men are rubbish only because women let them away with it. (Just look at what my partner achieves on the equal housework and parenting front, and all because he lives with the messiest, laziest female house cleaner in Christendom, who is loath to get off her backside for anyone and determined to have equal time to herself to boot.)I thought the 5.58 arguments about who had to go home to the wee brats were quite funny in a way. I quite often feel tempted to stay on at work beyond hometime, especially if I'm absorbed in something I have a yearning to finish. It's sometimes so calm and peaceful, comparatively speaking. Other times I really can't wait to rush home to my boys. I think that was maybe the sadness of this article- that she didn't seem to feel that overwhelming urge to be with them very often at all, unless they were asleep.

Janh- I honestly treasure memories of my parents behaving badly, exploding with rage etc! Such moments were, sadly, only occasional and I wouldn't have missed them for the world. Maybe I'm weird but for me text book parenting is BORING and I'm very glad my parents couldn't or didn't want to conform to the norm all the time. I think they did us proud between them; bellowing, chinese burns, temper tantrums when we beat them at chess, seriously encouraging their kak handed, five thumbed daughter to train as a plumber, attempting to show us that swearing was unacceptable by yelling quite appalling and obscene words right back at us, cringe-worthy attempts to use the "in" slang appropriately and all. So futile, yet so funny. Please don't worry too much about this- I am prepared to bet good money that your brood think that you're fab.

bells2 · 10/03/2003 08:31

My parents both worked hard throughout my childhood. Nonetheless, I had a blissfully happy time growing up, felt loved and secure and overall, the six of us were extremely happy. My mother still taught me to cook, arrange flowers, set tables and so on and today we remain extremely close (although not without our ups and downs). The fact that she happened to work was just never an issue.

I too probably find the actual time spent at work "easier" than that at home but for me that's not really the point. It's the inflexibility and the having only a few short hours every evening to spend time with our children, cook and clean etc that makes it so hard. When I was a child, 12 hour working days were simply not so common as they are now.

WideWebWitch · 10/03/2003 08:59

I skim read this article and thought it was sad. If she knew that their lives were so totally out of control (and it seemed they were, for both of them) in terms of seeing their children and trying to have a nice time when they were together then why didn't they try to do something about it? And I agree about the getting upset about vaseline (I think) on the carpet, big deal! It'll come off! Agree with Slug about the y chromosome thing, it's a handy get out and (some) men get away with it if women let them. And it seems a lot of women do let them. A long hours working culture has a lot to answer for. I do think it's fine to work (for either parent) and I do think it's also fine to be a SAH (for either parent) but I do think it's pretty pointless having children if you hardly ever see them. Or if your job takes so much outr of you that you've nothing left to give. I saw her point about it being easier at work than at home, of course it would be if you're a control freak-ish type since children are unpredictable and unreasonable and chaotic in a way that work isn't (well, not always).

WideWebWitch · 10/03/2003 09:04

I also thought all the sentimentality in the world when they're asleep doesn't make up for the fact that you can't be very nice to them when they're awake. I know we all have bad times when we find it hard to be nice to our children but it sounded to me as if she had more of those than good.

Ghosty · 10/03/2003 09:08

Jim jams ... totally irrelevant to the topic (I am keeping well out of it ...) BUT ... your job sounds like my kind of job ... I am a teacher and would like to work but don't want a job IYKWIM! How did you get into it and how can I get into it?

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