It’s not generally a request for a persons complete CV. Yet, that’s how I answer that question. I am at home at the moment on maternity leave but I will be back at work next year. I did manage IT and knowledge for a law firm, but managing a big team with children wasn’t ideal so I have moved into more of a consultative role.
It’s only recently that I have started asking myself why I do this. What am I really saying is: I am a mum, and that’s fun and all, but I am also an intelligent, successful person with a career. I am actually quite smart and valuable. And you aren’t going to see me that way if I only tell you the mum bit.
I decry a society that doesn’t seem to value motherhood, and yet I am a part of that devaluation. I think as mothers we need to start valuing the important work we do. Of course we are more than mums and of course we want to be recognised and respected as interesting people outside of our mummy role. But that role is not a small or unimportant part of any of our lives. I say am “just” a mum or “at the moment” I am home with kids. I am making it small – even apologising for it. I need to stop for a moment and really think about this role we call motherhood. Every mum I know struggles with aspects of it. Women who are extremely competent and seldom falter on the career stage have felt out of their depth. And yet, despite the job obviously being a difficult one, so many of us continue to tout our careers as being the real achievement and the early years of motherhood our little “break”. I call BS.
Being a mum is hard. It is rewarding, beautiful, amazing and really, really hard. I have learned so much as a parent. Skills that are easily transferable to the workplace – organisation, patience, a willingness to let the little things go, creative thinking, flexibility and empathy – to name just a few. Motherhood is NOT unskilled labour. Motherhood takes to time to learn. Innate mothering skills are not magically born with your child. Instinct? Yes. Complete competence and confidence? No.
Whenever I accepted a new role or challenge at work, I was given training and support. I didn’t expect myself to be an expert at once and neither did my colleagues. I knew I would learn and competence would come with time and experience. Motherhood seems the inverse. There is no training. Antenatal classes focus on birth and teaching you to breathe out the baby (as a side note, please don’t believe anyone who tells you can breathe out a baby). There is precious little practical training on what to do with yourself and the tiny bundle after the birth. There is a widely held belief that a latent motherhood ability will kick in and mothering a newborn will be instinctual. That being a good mother will simply happen.
We expect a very high level of competence at some thing we have not done before and have had no training for.
With families shrinking in size and women entering motherhood later in life, our experiences with babies are often limited. The first newborn I ever held for longer than a few moments was my own. If I lived in a different era, I might have helped raise younger siblings or been part of a larger family unit. I would have had some idea of what looking after a newborn really meant. But I, like so many, went in blind and just assumed that I would excel at motherhood.
After all, we see plenty of mothers surrounding us who clearly have it together and know what they are doing. When Master I was very little I met a group of other first-time mums through my local child health clinic. They all seemed to be doing just fine. Eventually, after we had become comfortable with each other, one girl was brave enough to admit that things were hard. Really hard. There was a collective sigh of relief as we each admitted to feeling out of our depth. Eventually, we each found our stride and things got easier. Having each other helped. Being honest really helped.
If I imagine myself an elderly woman, looking back on her life, I know that I won’t reflect for long on career successes. I will consider the raising of my sons as my most important achievement. If I fail at work, it is disappointing, but my failures as a mother are heart-breaking. If I give it thought and time and perspective, I know that my role as mother is the most important in my life and my kids’ lives. I need to bring that knowledge and perspective into my every day.
We do this thing, day in and day out. This thing called mothering. This thing that can be daunting, that can be boring, that can seem like drudgery. This thing that fills our hearts to the brim, makes us prouder that we thought possible and brings joy and tears in equal measure. We do it for hugs, smiles and sticky kisses, for the beautiful weight of a child in our arms. We do it because the bond between mother and child is a sacred and unbreakable thing. We do it for a million little reasons and one very big one: LOVE. And that is the most valuable thing of all.
I am given the incredible task of raising the future. That’s no little thing. To all mothers, whether they are engaged in the paid workforce or not, I want to say: What you do as a mother is incredibly valuable.