I recently received Hollie McNish‘s book Nobody Told Me as a birthday gift. It’s fantastic. I can’t stop reading it and I can’t stop thinking about it.
If you’ve not heard of it, it’s a combination of poetry and diary style entries about Hollie’s experience of motherhood, and all of the things that nobody tells you before you have a child. It’s searingly honest, poignant and hilarious and reading it made me feel like I was having a really good chat with a best pal. So much of it resonated with me.
Since becoming a Mam I’ve realised – or stumbled, sleep deprived yet in so many ways, more awake than ever – into the idea that women are pretty bloody special. The labour (yes, the childbirth kind, but also the literal everyday kind) that goes into bringing a baby into the world, raising children into little people, keeping a house, a job, maintaining some semblance of a social life, simultaneously – these are all things that no-one really talks about.
It’s just life, apparently. I was guilty of it myself, pre-child. I just thought ah, yeah, something akin to equality pretty much exists now, we’re doing ok. Women’s voices are being heard, we have females excelling in their fields, from surgeon to MP, scientist to artist.
Except we’re not. Doing ok, that is. It took having a child and being made redundant (these events weren’t connected, I should say) and struggling to see how I could ever possibly find the time and energy to do a job that paid well enough to get childcare to make me realise…
THIS IS TOTAL BULLSHIT.
(#Sorrynotsorry for the swears.) It feels as though there’s a huge conspiracy, surrounding almost everything to do with parenting, that is kept separate from mainstream news or discussion. That most of the time issues like maternity and paternity leave, flexible working, what parents actually need in the first few months and/or year, isn’t “for” everyone. That it doesn’t sell papers or win votes.
But again I call bullshit, because while not everyone has children, it is sort of universally important that someone does.
These issues are hugely important to the whole of society. There are economic benefits – a 2013 report from the Government Equalities Office estimated there are over 2.4 million women who are not in work but want to work, and over 1.3 million women who want to increase the number of hours they work. Encouraging these women into work, they propose, could increase UK GDP per capita growth by 0.5 percentage points per year.
Yet there are benefits beyond the economic impacts of getting women in to work, as important as that is. To make any real impact, the discussion should also focus on flexible working for both parents, and supporting dads to be able to stay at home. What impact could this have on how children are raised, on the self esteem of young men? On the numbers attempting – and completing – suicide? Perhaps, and we can but dream, we’d have fewer Donald Trumps in the world if dads were given the support to spend more time with their children.
So what’s stopping them? Childcare costs, for one, of which the UK tops the leader boards across the western world according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, with average costs of £11,300 per year. Managing to find suitably paid flexible work is also not easy.
Thankfully there are people talking about this – Hollie McNish included. There are people working to get these issues into the public arena, people like the awesome Mother Pukka, aka former journalist Anna Whitehouse, who recently organised a huge flashmob dance in central London to highlight her “Flex Appeal” campaign for better flexible working. To highlight the fact that working isn’t …er, working, for families in the UK just now.
I don’t remember seeing anything about that in the press, though. Sure, there are probably lots of campaigns taking place every day in any given city, but given that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has also recently launched “Working Forward“, a coalition of high profile employees and businesses who have committed to supporting new mothers and women in the workplace, you’d have thought it might be slightly topical.
Being at home with a baby, young child or children is such hard work. It is glorious, and vitally important, but it is without doubt an extremely challenging job. It touches every aspect of our lives. Intertwining threads of love, guilt, hopes, physical and mental exhaustion, body image, our attitudes towards sex – pretty much all of our experiences as a human – that are knitted together and entirely frayed; altered, undeniably.
That it isn’t recognised as work, or really valued in society at all seems so backward to me, when families (and working families, as our current government keep reminding us) are so important to society. Work, and how people manage it as a family (I hate that phrase: how about, as-individuals-separately-but-also-together. No?) has got to be higher up on the political agenda, or even, as a starter, more openly debated.
Because no-one told me that I had the right to apply for flexible work, or that by living with my working partner I’m not due any financial support, or just how expensive childcare is.
Maybe we can start the discussion… Now!
You go. No, you!
(Sorry. I’m leaving now.)