As mothers, it’s not ‘news’ that we’re handed the short straw in the workplace when we bear children, with inflexible working practises and extortionate childcare costs, the norm for most. This framework cripples not just our confidence levels but also our bank accounts as women tend to take on the majority sector of caring roles in the home, firstly with our children and later, our parents in their old-age.
Included in stats I was given on Monday at the Government Equalities Office stakeholders forum I was invited to contribute to, forming part of a strategy proposed to government with mine and others’ input), by the time a child is 20, a mother will have lost 4 whole years from the workplace. Laura Summer Bates of Laura’s Lovely Blog who also attended the think-tank shares further insight into the barriers women face. Her piece resonated with me…
There is grave stigma and bias towards women and mothers, and with the pay gap and pensions gap, equal recognition will take another generation.
Choices in the workforce are vastly limited for mums, and being a mother isn’t on the whole, in my opinion, widely respected or accommodated for.
We parents often find ourselves undermined and undervalued far more frequently than our child-free counterparts whether that’s losing jobs unlawfully when we procreate, to not having dedicated areas for nursing/expressing when we return to work as just two examples.
I love being a mother, and I love working flexibly around my children. I want to thrive in both areas of my life and feel lucky that for the most part, I can thanks to this accidental digital career which came about when my film making one couldn’t accommodate my role as a mother. It is important to note though that not everyone wants or can work online, leaving many feeling vulnerable and economically dis-empowered.
Being on the back-foot financially makes mothers understandably more emotionally fragile too. We don’t have the support or respect we require and deserve in society (this of course includes Stay At Home Mothers too), and affects the entire family.
Equally, we are (mis) sold unrealistic expectations around the realities of motherhood which serve to stifle and stunt us.
Most of us have spent our whole lives being told by society and the media that motherhood is the most natural job of all, something we were born to do, so when we do indeed struggle, as most of us will at some point, we end up self-silencing in fear of being deemed weak or unfit when actually we’re tired, need more support, respect etc.
The same applies with the limitations and dangers of the pervasive alpha male culture and the correlation between toxic masculinity and the male suicide crisis.
Many men struggle to open up about mental health concerns, as do many mothers.
The internet and the great many thought-leaders naturalising mental health issues are making great strides however, utilising the powerful platform that is social media and blogging, to share and amplify their vital message.
This more open discourse is fast becoming commonplace, and about time too. Had it been the norm in 2010 when I suffered in silence after a traumatic birth, I would have sought the help I needed (CBT) far quicker.
Yet, admittedly, despite having learned the hard way to speak up, I have found it easy to return to die-hard, old habits; in believing in a martyr like superwoman narrative (despite the fact we are of course inherently super as humans, just not super human) and of doing it all however rubbish I might feel. This notion is entirely self-inflicted as I have a husband who shares the physical and emotional load equally.
Therapy lately, though, has helped me to value myself more and to become more candid with those around me, about my own needs. To not place myself at the bottom of the ladder, struggling without help.
Take PMT. This month, I took the time out to actually explain what having a period was like, to my husband.
I simply took it for granted that he knew.
I described the pain and fatigue I endure each month and the emotional roller-coaster that comes with it. By spending ten minutes to actually talk about that time, he was able to help and support me better, as I would him, if he was experiencing ill-health.
He was able to take up more of the mental and physical load over those days I needed him to, whereas we usually divide it equally.
Easy when you remember to speak up and accept that yes, right now I feel weak and need help.
Therapy is encouraging me to be kinder to myself in all areas of my life. To intervene when I try and self-sabotage, to speak up, lean in, be bold and believe in myself more consistently, not just when life is riding high.
I now treat the mental side of PMT with the same reverence as a physical injury (and it is physical, too)- and in doing so: i.e. taking things easier over that time, getting to bed earlier, taking a day off guilt-free, making sure I do some aerobic exercise etc-I’ve suffered less, and have felt more supported and buoyed up by those able to help me.
It only took 10 minutes.
So let’s all speak up and ask for help more, today on International Women’s Day, and every single day.
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