Edward is now a gurgling, joyous seven-month-old and I am at last – and some would say not before time – starting to look outwards at the world around me again. I have hunkered down since he was born in order, I think, to survive, although this has been in a psychological sense since I have been surrounded and supported by friends and family. But, equally, I have still felt incredibly isolated because unless you have live-in family or daily support (I’m thinking of my longing for a maternity nurse or nanny) you are, at the end of the day, physically alone with a baby and you also have sole responsibility for it. It’s a big job – not overwhelming of course – but it would be a good deal easier if it wasn’t so bloody lonely.
I have my three older children here with me but, lovely and sometimes maddening as they are, they are not a substitute for adult company. I have a husband but, helpful as he is when he is here, society and economy dictates that he needs to work long hours, especially as he is the sole earner in our household. I have my network of friends but as fellow mothers they are busy with their own families. I have playdates but, lovely and sometimes too frequent as they are, they are not a substitute for a pair of helping hands at the worst times of the day or for a pair of sympathetic ears when it all seems to be going wrong.
And then there is how I – as a mother – am valued by society which is, like many other marginalised groups, as a non-entity. That, too, is isolating. This view of mothers as a non-entity is, I think, one of the reasons that mommyblogging has been dismissed as trivial in the past – as a group, mothers are not seen as important. What we do is necessary and valuable but it is not considered important and the same is true of mommyblogging (except perhaps not the ‘necessary’ part, unless you count blogging as a sanity-saving measure). It has been interesting watching the advertisers come around to the power of mommyblogging, but only to see us as a commodity, as a money-maker for them, rather than seeing mommyblogging as having intrinsic value. And despite this increased economic power, mommyblogs still do not seem to have gained any more credibility in blogging circles. Similarly, there doesn’t seem to have been any move to acknowledge that mommyblogging has power as an agent of change either in recording mothers’ work or as a result of giving mothers a voice: yes, we have a voice but still no-one wants to listen. I mention these things because I think they reflect how mothers as a group in society are seen – of value if we take part in the economy, but not otherwise: no intrinsic value in raising the next generation, of little value in society as individuals or as a group unless we are doing ‘something else’ to contribute to the economy and powerless in society (even if we are CEO of the home ).
Salary commensurate with experience: ha! – not in motherhood.
Perhaps even if I felt that employers might appreciate some of the skills I have developed – the age-old multi-tasking, peace-keeping, organisational skills that mothers have – then I could view motherhood with more – what? – pride? Perhaps if I felt like I could resume some sort of career progression when I return to work. But at what cost? Do I become like my husband, working long hours, only seeing the children at weekends? Who picks them up at the school gate?
For the first time in my adult life, I am also financially dependent on someone else and sometimes that thought scares me. Motherhood, without any income, leaves me little in the way of reassurance if I find myself on my own. It also scares me, in these troubled economic times, that there is only one wage-earner in our household and that makes us financially dependent on someone else (ie Matthew’s company). Motherhood, in this instance, doesn’t seem to pull its economic weight in the family.
Perhaps the problem is with how I perceive motherhood, even though I love it and love staying at home with my children. Is it possible to think this is the best thing I have ever done, I am ever likely to do, possible to love my children more than anything yet still not ‘rate’ motherhood – the unpaid, boring, lonely, stay-at-home version?
Perhaps the problem is with who I’ve become. Perhaps I should have worked my way through my children’s babyhood. Perhaps then I could view motherhood with slightly more detachment. But how to reconcile that with my need to be at home when they are small? Is it achieving a balance – some work, some mother-at-home time – that brings out the best in some of us? And if so, why is society not valuing both of those things rather than just the ‘work’ thing and why is our economy not paying the work thing better for mothers that want to work part-time so that we can achieve that balance to bring out the best in us.
Perhaps the answer lies in something less achieveable: if I could physically run my own business and at the same time look after my children that would seem to me to be the best possible arrangement – take away the chores, the loneliness, add in something that feels like I am doing something of value, yet still spend that gorgeous time with my children. But then I would have to be outsourcing wildly and managing an army of accountants, staff, cleaners, nannies etc and then am I not really doing anything at all?
In the end it comes back to one thing: motherhood – especially this stay-at-home version with lots of small children – is rewarding and wonderful but also hard, lonely, undervalued and unpaid.
So, yes, I have hunkered down to get through because, if not literally on my own, I feel figuratively on my own. And although I’m coming out the other side now, with my eye on the future as something other than ‘just a mother’ (even if that is still some way off for me), it seems a shame that I can’t imagine any way that things can change in the future to make motherhood not rewarding, because it already is, but valued.