TO work or not to work is the conundrum facing most women with children. My elder daughter, the mother of my two small grandsons, works part time and is lucky enough to have the other grandmother who minds her two small boys, otherwise she wouldn’t really be able to afford to work. She’d be paying more for childcare than she earned, which, to make it even more complicated, would probably be necessary in the long run: when women are out of the workforce — or the rat race, however you see it — for some time, it’s a struggle to get back in.
She’d love to have six children, but probably will never afford to do so; married parents with children, it seems to me, are financially worse off than they’ve ever been. Of course the very rich can afford to have as many as they like and the very poor go on having them anyway, but the middle classes can’t really have more than two if they want to maintain some sort of quality of lifestyle.
A young colleague told me she couldn’t afford to take her children out to dinner; this, of course, is not the end of the world, but I see her point. I do not, however, see the point of the Aboriginal woman in the Kimberley, who recently said her children’s school uniforms were filthy because her washing machine had broken down and the Government refused to replace it: hasn’t she heard of hand- washing?
I think it’s not such a bad idea to exclude small children from restaurants, although I’m sure my young colleague has very wellbehaved youngsters. ‘‘ Be seen and not heard’’ would be a good thing to bring back, but it won’t happen in my lifetime, or at least until I’m hoisted into waterproof pants.
Most married women with children do have jobs, which I think is a good thing, even if they are not full time. Often those who do work full time are in jobs they don’t really want and come home at night cranky and tired to an equally exhausted husband and latchkey children.
On the other hand, mothers who do have some sort of career have a better relationship with their children and husbands, and those who stay at home often resent the fact their men have another life and can forget about the household chores, school pick- ups and putdowns and the laundry the moment they walk out the door.
It was a sheer fluke I worked; I had every intention of staying at home, minding the babies, embroidering little smocks for them, playing bridge, perhaps, when they were older. But due to financial circumstances I was forced to work and in those days there was no such thing as a part- time job: it was nine- tofive or nothing. Sometimes it was hard and I probably took too many shortcuts in the mothering and domestic departments, but having a job more or less kept me solvent and out of mischief and I thank my lucky stars every day.
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