Scenario: Meredith Grey is on the streets picking up trash as part of her social work. A “PTA mom” AKA “super mom” passes by, but not without commenting on how happy it makes her feel to see Meredith – a working mom with three kids (or so I have been told. I stopped watching Grey’s Anatomy after five seasons) – volunteering for something. To this our protagonist replies, “You know, Suzie, when working moms don’t volunteer at school, it’s usually because we’re working in the daytime and parenting at night, so we generally don’t have time to participate.”
Let’s just unpack that a little, shall we? Firstly, I’m sorry I didn’t get the memo, but since when did it become the job description of anyone to make anyone else feel happy?
Secondly, oblige me, if you may, by imagining a spectrum. On the one end, let’s place these super PTA moms. On the other, those super successful career women, who are breaking the glass ceiling every day, as they make great strides on every level professionally. Somewhere in the middle, let’s put all the Merediths of the world, attracting the judgmental wrath of both these extremes.
These women are never considered good enough mothers for choosing to have a career and dreams. They are never considered professional enough, for how can they be if they have to leave at 5:30 p.m. to pick up their child? This doesn’t mean they are not fulfilling their responsibilities equally well in both these spheres. These women are doing the best they can, day in and day out, running from their meeting, to the school bus, to getting groceries and starting dinner, to getting their kid in bed on time, only so that they can do the dishes. They have careers, kids, family and social responsibilities. But here is the thing: how is their position any different from the “working fathers” out there? A terminology that ought to be brought into currency!
Men have careers, kids who presumably have bedtimes, and responsibilities, and yet they never have to hear statements like, “You never volunteer at school,” “It must be time to pick the baby,” “It must be hard for you to work more hours because you have kids,” or “I could never imagine leaving my kids to go back to work.”
It almost appears as though once you have kids, your identity is to mould itself around the institution of motherhood, and this should be enough. A good mother stays at home with kids; a bad mother tries to pursue her own goals. And God forbid, if you actually derive contentment from your work – that will be the cardinal sin!
My partner has never been told how brave he is, to have packed up his life and moved to a new country with a five month old baby in tow to pursue his dreams. Those comments have been given especially to me by other working women, as a sign of encouragement and support. However, within these statements too lies the underlying theme of such acts being extraordinary feats for a woman. They have not been normalized as a concept, despite the fact that I personally know many women who have chosen a similar path.
Not for one moment does this mean that I think that women who make up the ends of this spectrum are not judged. Working women are judged by men with half their qualifications; the PTA moms by other mothers who think they are simply better. By the virtue of this conclusion, one can argue that if everyone is being judged, why am I making a big deal about working mothers?
The deal is that such judgments are directly linked to the stereotypes that exist around motherhood and working mothers. It perpetuates this image of women finding unbound happiness within the confines of their home, and their offspring. That looking for anything beyond this is selfish. This perception is then disseminated by both working women and PTA mothers, leaving the working mothers forever standing on shaky grounds. This simply needs to change.
Graphic by @sundaeghost