Over the years I have become depressed by the continual digs about not having been out to work a great deal in my life. I wonder if anyone has ever considered that it could be that you don’t go to work because you don’t have a job?
You may well have entered your child rearing years without a marketable skill. You are not a typist or hairdresser, a nurse, a doctor or a lawyer. The options – as the children get older you are divorced or you enter those years when the children are off your hands but you are not too old to work – are menial and low paid jobs. And you’ve just had a few decades of that, haven’t you?
Or not paid at all.
Many jobs carry enormous pressure. At home, we have other pressures. Going to work gives you an excuse. Like, from your siblings, ‘I can`t help with our mother because I go to work.’ Well, at home we mother the extended family, and anyone else with a problem. And of course then there are the children of the working mum.
How I loathe, ‘As you are at home, could you do this or that for me?’ What they are thinking is, ‘As you are home with nothing to do…’
As I am home with lots to do, now I can do something else for nothing?
Work carries a remit and job description. And at home there are no limits.
‘Yes but we do work harder,’ on goes the wrangle.
I think we work as hard for various reasons. One, we are at everyone’s beck and call. Two, everything takes longer. If you leave your child with the child minder, you post your letter on the way to work, get your shopping in the lunch hour… In some cases – I know so not often nowadays – you write your own letters and make your own phone calls in work time.
We have to put coats on ourselves, and the children, to go to the post box or the shops. The child wants attention when we are on the phone. Write a letter? Forget it. Of course the children aren’t there forever. But your mum is. Or the importunate neighbour.
Then there is money. If the woman is not at work, budgeting becomes a major task. For decades I remember my head being full of nothing but juggling pennies.
(the head which should have been devising my future career.)
You see why I say. ‘Because I don’t have a job’?
And because of that we do odd jobs occasionally: cleaner, check-out girl or dinner lady, which bring in little and do nothing for our future job prospects.
When I was a dinner lady, I walked my children to school in the morning, walked home, had a little time to do not very much, and then walked back to school to supervise lunch. Playground duty was followed by the free dinner and chat which you could not pass up on when you are hard up for both company and food. Back home, I often just wanted to sleep, but there was little time before I had to walk back to pick up my children, and then walk home again. Out of the house for most of the day, for two hours’ pay or less! At minimal rate, of course.
As I say, if you enter child rearing without a skill, it is hard to pick one up while you are so busy. To create a life from nowhere when you are living everyone else’s – that’s a tough one. And then on top of that, your head is filled with the money worries which come from not working. Kind of chicken and egg, really.
Who works hardest? That is the row I get into. We work harder (or at least as hard) because what we do we do without energy. At home, you are lonely, bored, unfulfilled, and without colleagues’ support or training. Just because you have no obvious marketable skills does not mean you have no brain. Biology and gender can put the intellectual woman into the domestic scene. Certainly it did in my day. And I still don’t believe that has totally changed.
Let’s look at women and work historically. Made to work in the war, later they were told they were taking jobs from men, or that all the ills of society were caused by the working mother. It was made impossible for me by my employer to continue whilst expecting my first baby in the early sixties. When I went to another job after she was born, I was met with disapproval. You see what I mean by ‘We don’t have a job.’?
Being an easy target for criticism and being dumped on leads to no confidence, no self-esteem and even a feeling of worthlessness. Feelings which de-energise. Another reason why it seems we work harder.
Lack of esteem through no money? I still hear young wives say that if you don’t work you have ‘no money of your own’!
Why does the man go to work for pay, and you run the home and earn nothing when you enable him to do so by looking after the children? I see parenthood – within and beyond marriage – as a business. One goes out to buy the goods, the other minds the shop. The proceeds are therefore joint. A mother should be given half what is earned by her children’s father, albeit she’ll have to put most of it back into running the home. Which he, of course, must do equally.
We live off him? We get our keep. A slave gets that or they would not be able to do the work. If we are divorced we often don’t even get that.
The grass always greener? Certainly the working woman thinks the non working one is having the life of Riley.
Sometimes it feels as though the only criterion of happiness or unhappiness is whether or not you go to work.
I spoke to a (working) friend about someone who had had a hard, and financially poor, life and had just died. ‘At least she didn’t go out to work,’ said the friend. Then, there is the young woman I know who does work, and has had a few hard knocks, but has always had a lot of help and good fortune. I spoke of how fortunate this young woman is having the help which seems always to hand, and I was told, ‘But then, she has always worked.’
The only criterion of desserts is whether or not you have gone out to work as well.
If work is, to the worker, a minus, then to be without work you are only minus a minus. And ‘-1’ minus ‘- 1’ equals nought. (if you don’t do sums get somebody else to explain)
Us being minus work does not give us a plus. A plus anything. It could do. Plus freedom, time, opportunity to follow interests… But it doesn’t. You try it.
Some of the issues of women and the poverty of the woman at home are shown quite horribly in my poem If This Is A Woman in my poetry collection, Windows.
In Reasons there is a story called Lips That Would Kiss, which narrates the awful struggle for a romantic life of the single parent with little money. She has only done bits and bobs of jobs. The low esteem her life creates for her does not attract a real man.
The story begins with her only enjoying fellatio because she had read that sperm contains protein. So that is an unpleasant, but welcome, addition to her poor diet.
Pamela Pickton’s novel Neverland is on sale on amazon now, and on all good ebook websites, and read about her travails and worldly challenges in her Zitebooks collection of short stories, Reasons, which is also available to download from Amazon.
Thanks are due to ‘The Huffington Post’ for the use of the photograph.