Mothers might not make good minions for capitalist exploitation, but they are adept time managers, skilled negotiators and ultimately assets in the workplace, writes Jenny Ostini.
Dear women who are writing about how mothers should give up trying to be supermums and stop competing with those twenty-somethings with the perky boobs,
While I always enjoy reading gross generalisations about other people (who doesn’t?), due to my personal dislike of anecdotal social commentary, I am simply going to tell you why I, as a forty-something mother-of-three, still have something to contribute to my workplace.
I remember a time before hashtags, when I too may have had perky boobs. I did not have any experience of life. I believed that I could change the world by educating people into the right way to do things, that knowledge and my personal effort would set people free.
Now I know that I may prepare the perfect nutritionally balanced meal, bring my family around the table to eat it, and have someone fall asleep in their highchair or simply refuse because, “Today is a peanut butter day.”
Translated to social policy, this means that I may develop an evidence-based policy using the latest in “nudgenomics” and people just might not go along with it. They may have other things on their minds or simply not be in a place where they can make rational decisions about their futures. I understand that and try to develop ideas and policies that work within the parameters of people’s real lives and experiences.
I have dealt with the lack of out-of-hours doctors when a child fell sick on a Friday night of a long weekend. I have waited in hospital emergency rooms. I have navigated state schools and the quirks of private schools. I have had people dependent on me for every need, and I have learnt how to trust that my children will make good decisions as they become independent human beings.
These are the skills of a good manager. To teach, supervise and then let people do their work. To be in the background, ready to step up if needed. To not panic if something goes horribly wrong, because it will and it can probably be resolved.
I will not mother you in the workplace but if you ask nicely I will probably be carrying Band-aids, painkillers and a supply of tissues.
I do not have all the answers but I am not afraid to say that I don’t know something. I will find it out. I understand that life is not fair, and in fact, should not be fair; that different people will have different needs at different times. I understand the need to share and not to be competitive.
I also can run a meeting efficiently. I don’t have time to mess around. I have faced down more skilled negotiators than you. I know that every battle does not need to be won. Sometimes Johnnie from accounting needs to be allowed to talk about travel forms just like my child may need to sometimes go out looking like a bag lady. It’s not the end of the world.
On the other hand, I do not expect anyone to stay up all night finishing a report. Working hours are working hours for a reason. Focus in the office and your home time is your own. I will not call you at home, although I may occasionally email you at 4am because I am up making sure that one of my kids gets off to sports training. I do not expect you to answer that email immediately.
Because I do remember a time before hashtags, I have had experience of a number of technologies. I know that what matters is having the literacies to learn new technology and the content knowledge to use these technological tools to actually do something in the world. I know that a hashtag can be used to draw attention to issues and create momentum around change, but that it doesn’t change anything in itself.
I work because I have a wealth of knowledge and experience that I can bring to an organisation. I work because I spent 10 years at university training to be able to make a contribution to society. I work to show my children that getting up out of bed and going to work is a commitment and a reward in itself. I feel bad when my son whispers in my ear “Can’t you just stay home today Mum?” but I know that I will come home and cook dinner, play games and read with him. I feel a twinge of guilt when I realise that the damp laundry may have been in the washing machine for three days but this doesn’t diminish me as a person. I also sometimes feel bad when I leave the office at 4.30pm to go to a parent-teacher meeting. But I also know that I will be sending emails at 4am (see earlier).
I also don’t judge you if you have made a different decision about parenting and working. I have been a stay-at home mum, a part-time employee and a full-time worker. I have cycled through these roles and may well do so again. Feminism is about women having the right to choose what works for them and for their families. Make that decision for yourself, with your partner, for your family and your situation.
I think that what these recent articles are trying to say is that mothers are not good minions: that by having life experiences, other priorities and people dependent on them, they no longer fully buy into the tenets of capitalism. They are expensive workers because they know what they are entitled to and that they need to demand it because it is not going to be given to them “just because”. And I think that is a good thing.
A working mum
By: Jenny Ostini
First published: 15th July 2014
Source: The Drum
Jenny Ostini is a qualitative social scientist who has worked in academia and in the not-for-profit sector for a number of years. She is a community correspondent for 612 ABC Brisbane and tweets @follysantidote. View her full profile here.