It was just the girls on the call centre floor today, four of us chatting away about life, love and everything else in between. I enjoy days like these because it’s usually where we end getting into really deep, thought provoking discussions.
The topic of one our many discussions today was, children.
I, as many of you know, have two children, and I talked about how, as much as I love the bones of them, if I could give my teenage self some advice it would to wait just a little bit longer. I would tell myself to study, explore, and pursue a career first. All of those things you can do with children if you’re determined, but with children in tow, even normal everyday tasks can be a struggle. So whenever the topic of starting a family comes up, I always urge any young women I know not to rush it.
Personally, I was too young when I had my first child, I was 18, oblivious to responsibility, still growing up myself and I struggled like hell. Motherhood didn’t come naturally to me, the first time round anyway. I felt resentful, like I was missing out, yes it was a completely selfish way to think, but I’m being honest. All my friends were out partying and enjoying the best years of their lives and I was cooped up in a council flat with a colicky baby who couldn’t be consoled, feeling like I had failed as a mother already.
Each of us had our own stories to tell, either about children we have or the possibility of having children in the future. It was refreshing to hear that those without kids were thinking of securing their future first. Then it got me thinking of the attitudes that we have to face as women when confronted with this topic.
The thing is, I sort of feel like women just cannot win when it comes to making important life choices. Being a young mum opens your eyes to how judgemental some people can be and unfortunately it’s not uncommon to be looked down on because you have children young, or you end up a single mum, or if you’re a mum on benefits. I experienced all those things at one point.
I can remember going shopping once with the two boys on my own, it wasn’t long after me and their dad had split up, and Leo’s behaviour resembled something like out of the TV show Nanny 911. I was trying to push the pram, he was screaming, I ended up having to throw him over my shoulder in a fireman’s lift style manner and continue to try and push the buggy with one hand, whilst he’s still screaming and kicking at me. I could feel the stares cutting into me like a thousand knives, I could feel my face burning, and I even saw one woman tut and shake her head at me.
Events like this weren’t uncommon, and so eventually I did get used to it. Now I just laugh and shrug it off, or even join in with them if they tantrum. But at a time when I was low and vulnerable, I could have really done with a kind word instead of a stare. I wasn’t a bad mum, I was just a struggling mum.
It was the same when people asked me what I did for a living. (Before I had Charlie).
‘I’m a stay at home mum’. I would reply, but you could tell that as soon as I said that, it was as though I wasn’t relevant. Sick of the judgemental attitudes and feeling like I wasn’t good enough, I decided to start volunteer work with children’s services and shortly after I was accepted onto a course in social welfare.
Before long I was applying for University. To me this was a major big deal, I had been kicked out of two schools and left with one GCSE, no one in my close family had been to University and I was finally going. My course was an access to Higher Education course, so it was more or less 2 years’ worth of A Levels crammed into 10 months and it was hard, but I was determined and it was all worth it when I got the letter saying I had been accepted.
I had got myself into debt already though trying to pay Leo’s nursery fees whilst I studied at college, I got some dodgy pay day loans to cover it. It didn’t matter, because soon I would be studying Law and I would get myself a proper job. I was a tad delusional, and a bit naïve. So, you can imagine my absolute horror when after all of that, I ended up falling pregnant. I can remember looking down at the positive pregnancy test and being genuinely gutted, I cried the whole night.
I wasn’t happy about the pregnancy at first because I was scared. Here I was, one child already, about to start my degree, how is this going to work? I was still halfway through college. Everyone was so proud of me, all I’m going to do now is be letting them down, I thought to myself. So I made a decision to continue with college, and months later I handed in my extended essay and delivered my presentation, baby bump in tow and I passed with an overall merit. Trying to concentrate in lessons with morning sickness was a task in itself, but I made it and not content with that I decided to try and go ahead with University too.
I started university in September, and I was due to give birth the following month, god knows why I ever thought that would be a sensible idea at the time but I was so determined not to let the opportunity go, I thought I could do it. I arrived on campus really excited, okay I was definitely the fattest fresher there but I made it. I was a fresher! I walked up to one of the campus reps to ask for directions to the Law building.
‘I don’t think you need to go there, I think you need to go to the hospital.’ Said a young man, looking down at my bump.
You know those moments when you walk away and all of sudden all these really cool, clever comebacks come flooding in but it’s too late – well that was one of those moments. I just didn’t know what to say, what on earth gave this complete stranger the right to tell me where I needed to be. I’m carrying a child, I’m not incompetent. Since that comment, my heart just wasn’t in it. I went to a few lectures, but the stares and the awkward questions and the not fitting in became too much. I only lasted a month.
Having Charlie was so different to my first. I took to motherhood the second time around like a duck to water. I breastfed, and I loved it. I bonded with him straight away. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. I felt content and I just wanted to enjoy it. That was until I had my compulsory back to work interview with the Jobcentre a few months later. I have never felt so patronised and small in my entire life, it dampened my spirits. Nothing I had done prior to having Charlie was recognised, the focus was on getting a job, even if it wasn’t relating to what I wanted to do in the future.
Fuck this, I thought. I’ll get a job before they force me into some slave labour type course that will only be ticking a box and fulfilling one of their outcomes. I ended up landing a lovely little job when Charlie was about 10 months old. I had tried and failed at many things but I was working now, so at least I won’t be judged anymore right?
I was judged alright, but now I was selfish, now I was a part time mum, now I was met with snide remarks from full time mums who would claim ‘I would never leave my child with a stranger just to go to work’. Hearing those words, cut deep. It made me feel less of a mother, it made me feel like utter shit.
‘How do you manage working away in London with the kids?’ (A question I bet not many men are asked when working away)
‘Don’t you feel guilty leaving them?’
‘Aren’t you afraid you’re going to miss out on all the important things?’
Over the years I heard it all. I felt torn but now I know I shouldn’t have been made to feel that guilty by people who weren’t relevant in my life. I thought back to the people who judged me for being a stay at home mum and suddenly it dawned on me. Why am I so obsessed with proving I can achieve things? Why do I care what other people think? Shit, either way I’m going to get judged.
And it is so true. As a woman, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Just take a look at the two memes below, it proves my point entirely. Both examples of how we can be extremely judgemental, and this is women against women! Not good ladies!
A man can join the army, leave his children behind months at a time and yet he is never faced with the same stigma as a woman who goes to work instead of being at home. I’m not making this a sex thing but as women were constantly made to feel guilty about our choices, and why? We should be able to feel comfortable doing whatever it is that makes us happy, and whatever works for us and our families.
If you’re a stay at home mum, it doesn’t mean that you are lazy, or a scrounger, or nothing more than a boring housewife.
If you’re a working mum, it doesn’t make you selfish or a part time mother, or second best.
And finally if you don’t want any children at all and you want to pursue a kick ass career, you’re not a bitch for wanting to be a boss.
Just do you, and forget what everyone else thinks. I wish I had taken that advice a lot sooner.
Love Laura, xo