It has dawned on me recently how lucky I am to be a third-generation working mum.
Research (like this from Harvard) tells us how having working mothers benefits children – of both genders. But there is nothing I can find about how those children handle being working parents themselves.
Probably because we’re still a bit of a rarity. My mother was the first person in her (large) organisation to return to the same full-time job after having a baby – less than 40 years ago.
So this post is only based on my experience (and a few others’…). But I hope it’s encouraging forfirst-generation working mums: our children are all learning from example how it’s done…even if we don’t get it right all the time… and with luck they will have an easier time of it.
Here’s why second- (and third-!) generation working mums have it easier:
Their model of motherhood includes achievement outside the home – so guilt at home and lack of confidence at work are less of an issue
This Annabel Crabb quote goes to the root of both the guilt and the lack of confidence some mums feel:
The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising children as if one did not have a job
I think first generation mums are more vulnerable to feeling like this: compelled to deliver an unrealistically flawless role at home – and at the same time feeling that having a career is somehow a privilege that they have on condition that they don’t let a single ball drop, anywhere, ever.
For second- and third-generationers, this feeling is is easier to dodge. Combining motherhood and career is simply ‘business as usual’- and they know it can work.
They worry less that their children are missing out, as they know from experience children can have a happy loving family life without their mother being with them every waking minute. And they have first hand knowledge of the positives that come from a mum who is fulfilled and thriving at work she loves.
I never questioned that I would carry on with my career after having children – and have never worried that it would harm them.
And although I’ve benefited hugely from having flexibility and slightly reduced hours, I don’t see that as in any way incompatible with having a successful and challenging career.
They’ve grown up with the juggle – and know what works and what doesn’t.
I was going to caveat this whole post with ‘of course I was lucky to have a positive experience’ – but then it struck me that it wasn’t luck.
My parents organised childcare and the household to the best of their ability to ensure we were happy, secure and nurtured. My mother had learnt from her own experiences (as the child of a working mother who also had a hectic social life) and made sure we spent as much quality family time together as possible.
In turn, I’ve tweaked my mother’s system – adding in flexible working, and frankly not even trying to match her housekeeping standards! And as a family, we’ve chosen childcare arrangements that enhance the boys’ lives and give them experiences that we can’t at home.
What about sons of working mums, when they become fathers?
I’ve written this from a female point of view because that’s what I know… but I imagine many of the same things would hold true. For men who have grown up with working mothers, they should be better prepared to appreciate and support their working wives:
- First- hand knowledge and confidence that two working parents works fine for families and can benefit children
- Preparedness to share childcare and household duties on an equal basis
So to any first-generation working mums out there who are feeling embattled or discouraged – here is my letter from the future: you are getting it right, even when it goes wrong sometimes. You’re blazing a trail that the next generation can build on…and all will be well
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