Parenthood

All mothers should work – that’s according to US author Samantha Ettus. Her book, The Pie Life, has been causing some controversy since it was published last week.

Samantha believes that women who don’t continue working outside the home after they have children may be unfulfilled and asks readers to accept that having a job is a good thing, then moves on to giving tips for leading a balanced life.

And she does have one or two good tips – for example, she makes the point that many couples, when looking at their options, tend to weigh up the cost of childcare against the income of the lower earner. She argues that childcare is expensive for five years and after that it comes down, so couples should look at the longer-term trade-off, not just the immediate future. (I would also argue that couples should look at the cost of childcare against combined income, and not the income of the lower earner, but that’s a different point.)

Ettus also warns readers to avoid employers with ping pong tables, because you may not want to work for a company that encourages staff to spend as much time as possible at work – it’s a neat sound-bite, but I imagine there’s some truth there too.

However, some of the other tips were less easy to swallow. She suggests, for example, that we (women) should get out of bed an hour earlier than everyone else in the house, in order to hit the ground running – she calls it the “magic hour.”

Now I do know some people who do this and swear by it. They are natural early-birds, and thrive on having some peace and quiet before the rest of the house wakes up. But if you’re not an early-bird, this idea is just torture. A penance that non-morning people can do without.

In my house, my husband is the one who’s good at getting up in the morning – he goes downstairs to make tea and put lunches in school bags. I jump up when I hear him coming back up the stairs. I can’t help resenting Ettus’ advice that I should bypass all of this natural dynamic, and because I’m the mother, I should be the one to get up an hour earlier.

She also advises having a “golden triangle” – the area between home, work and school. She says women should make sure everything they need is within that gold triangle – shops, hairdresser, doctor, gym – to save driving time. Maybe this is an American thing, but I can’t imagine anyone here driving way out of their way for shops or gyms unless they choose to or have to. I don’t know that it’s ground-breaking advice to tell women to find a hairdresser that’s close to home.

But my biggest issue isn’t with her tips for balancing life as a working mother – it’s the very suggestion that we should all be working mothers.

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Writing about the idea of giving up work because of the messy moments of life, she says:

“Before we go any further, let’s take that option off the table. If you feel squeezed between work and family responsibilities, please know that the worst thing you could do is give up your career. Research shows that the happiest among us, the ones who enjoy their lives most and feel fulfilled, are those with thriving personal lives and successful careers.”

She talks about women’s happiness plummeting along with their paychecks when they give up work, and says we need to use our whole selves to feel fulfilled.

But this blanket assessment doesn’t take into account that we are all different – while one woman may be miserable at home and missing her old career, another may be relieved to be finally free of the rush and struggle.

It doesn’t acknowledge that we go through different stages as our families change and grow. It might suit one parent to stay at home while a baby is small and another to take time out when a junior infant is struggling settling into school.

It doesn’t take into account that there are different types of jobs and careers – some that allow career breaks, some that because of their very definition will always provide employment, and some that suit portfolio careers, where people can take on a number of different projects on a self-employed basis.

It doesn’t cover fulfillment that comes from interests that are not work – many people are not in paid employment but get fulfillment from painting or running or Pilates or voluntary work or political campaigning or writing or yoga.

And it doesn’t accept that, actually, some people are truly miserable at work, and leaving a child all day to go somewhere you hate just doesn’t add up to happiness. For those who must do so for financial reasons, it is very tough. But to suggest anyone should do it in order to avoid “plummeting happiness” is nonsensical.

We are all different, and we make our choices based on what’s right for our own families, our own careers and our own finances. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution - it’s not as easy as pie. Because we are not homogenous – and that’s a good thing.

 

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working mums, books, book review, The Pie Life