The complexities of being ‘just a mum’
Meeting family’s needs while trying to pay a mortgage is anything but easy
Jen Hogan with her daughter Chloe and sons Adam, Noah, Zach, Tobey, Luke and Jamie in their home in Co Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
“You mustn’t know yourself, now you’re at home,” a fellow parent commented as she passed me on the footpath one school morning. I was attempting to navigate a buggy single-handedly, whooshing other children along while contemplating investing in a cattle-prod and considering whether it might make the school run altogether easier.
Her words brought me back from my daydream. “Oh, well I’m actually working from home these days,” I replied, calling half-heartedly after her, but she’d already turned the corner rushing off to work – work in an office that wouldn’t involve clearing soggy cornflakes, spilt juice and a pair of small boy’s underpants, that had been catapulted at a brother who breathed near him in the frenzied morning rush, off a desk that doubles as a diningroom table – before setting up the laptop.
Working from home has its advantages but domesticity can prove difficult to separate.
I’m not quite sure why I felt the need to clarify. Passing niceties is common practice on the hurried school run, but the need to let her know I am more than “just Mum” confused me – because there’s no “just” about being Mum.
There’s never been more pressure on us mothers. The promise of having it all and the less than subtle undertones of expectation to be it all, has mums everywhere exhausted. I’ve tried motherhood from every angle – working outside the home, working reduced hours, as a stay-at-home mum and now mostly working from home. It’s been somewhat a case of trial and error, adjusting to meet my family’s needs while concurrently trying to pay my mortgage and protect my sanity!
In my case, it’s not that himself isn’t a hands-on dad, but because he’s the main earner in the family my career was the one that had to adjust – well that and the fact that I wanted to have more time with my children. Had it been the other way around, I know I’d have been resentful.
Yet in spite of the huge workload that goes hand in hand with modern-day motherhood, the most undervalued I felt was as a stay-at-home parent. Flippant remarks about lazy coffee mornings (they’re an urban myth by the way), the almost pitiful recurring comment, “sure how could you possibly work with all those kids anyhow” or the most irritating (and presumptuous) of all “ah it’s well for you that can afford to do that” aside, there’s a sense that you’re letting yourself and the sisterhood down somehow.
My grandad predicted it. He couldn’t understand why I bothered going to university and voiced his opinion to my indignant mother. “Sure what’s the point of her going to college?” he asked “she’ll just get married and have babies anyhow”, he said matter-of-factly. And though my graduation photo ultimately took pride of place in his sittingroom and he told everyone who came in to his house, whether they enquired or not “that’s our Jennifer being canonised”, he remained confused by it all. He was proud of my achievement, albeit not quite saintly, but he still couldn’t see the point.
I of course knew better, I was a modern-day woman and we could have it all – until this modern-day woman realised that she needed to stay at home for a while and became “just a mum”.
Juggle it all
“Just a mum” who couldn’t quite manage to juggle it all, who found the logistics of rearing children actually became more complicated as they got older and who in spite of working a pattern that saw a maximum of two of her children in childcare at any one time, still struggled to break even at the end of the working week when those childcare costs were paid.
Ambition and practicalities collided, but then the near unmentionable also played a part – I wanted to be at home with my children. The inward conflict was short lived when financial lunacy lent its support.
“Hurry up,” I called to my children once again while nodding “hello” at another mum who passed by. “You’ll miss playtime,” I added for the benefit of my junior infant in the hope it might spur him along.
“Come on – I need to get home, I have loads of work to do,” I continued, though I’m not sure for whose benefit this time. Certainly not for my tuned out troops who were engrossed in a discussion on Garfield’s love for lasagne.
Possibly it was for my own, lest I feel unvalued once more. Maybe it was for the parents in earshot, lest they believe that urban myth.
Though probably it was in case my grandad was listening – lest he think he was right!