Soon after I became a mother, nearly exactly nine months to the day, I was having a leisurely browse in Charlie Byrnes Bookshop in Galway City. Out of many interesting titles, one that caught my attention was, ‘Mother Ireland – Why Ireland Hates Mother’ The sociologist in me instantly responded with mentally rewording the title to – Does Ireland hate mothers. Force of habit. Being a young mother I was angered by this book title. How dare they say that Ireland is anti-mother! I am a mother and nobody hates me! (Well not en masse to my knowledge) I was in fact, so angered by this book that I bought it. With the intention of reading it and giving it a deep sociological critique in order to find its flaws and emerge triumphantly to have proven that in fact, Ireland does not hate mothers. Boy was I disappointed. Sociologists rarely are stumped for a response, but I did find myself after I read the book saying, well, maybe they have a point.
It’s nearly ten years since I completed my final year thesis project on the work life preferences of women in Ireland. This comes to mind as I wander past the intellectual bookshelf in the dining room with my second child who is teething and finding an immediate ease to her problem in my arms. Aside from a nostalgic trip down memory lane of a time when sleep ins rarely ended before noon, I began to ask myself what has changed for women now that I face this dilemma myself.
Working outside of the home with small children is no mean feat, it carries with it burdens and challenges that are both unexpected and coming in quick succession. The issued raised by the afore mentioned book coupled with my own research and recent experience of unemployment have exorcized the question raised by many before me, can women have it all. Or, more specifically, can mothers have it all. Of course, it does depend on what ‘all’ means to you as an individual, but in the classic sense of the third wave feminist movement, all in this instance means being able to have a family and a career simultaneously.
My own experience of unemployment has given me an understanding that if you want it all, it is not only going to be dependent on your own hard work, dedication and will power, but also two things externally to this.
In short, life happens. But sometimes as a mother, it happens disproportionately to you. Sick child, sick childminder, school holidays, upset child, infectious disease outbreak, teething, concussion at the crawling stage, trips to a&e. it has been established, that as a mother you have a right to not be discriminated against, but good luck proving that being passed over for permanency, pay rises or new projects has anything to do with your little angels. Aren’t you lucky to still be in a job. It is reflective of the inflexibility of the about market, where a request for a drop in hours translates to not being as committed as you used to be.
The lack of state support in this area is indicative of the demographic of our policy makers and the value placed on working mothers and fathers. Not to say that they are not valued, but that the nature of the value is conservative. There is little state support, and state regulation of childcare available to parents of young children. In the event that you are in fact, earning enough to pay full time child care fees with more than your petrol money left over, can you ever be sure that without the safety net of solid state regulation your child is being properly looked after. There is a lack of political will in devising effective policy in this area, and does not seem to be of immediate priority. Recent policy discussions have centred on the introduction of Paternity leave. The proposed policy would introduce a two week leave entitlement for new fathers, this is great! However, even with this, we are still trailing well behind the European average.
This idea of Ireland hating mothers is extreme in its approach, but does raise issues that were prevalent ten years ago, and are prevalent now and will, without political and systemic change will continue to be. Hate, is perhaps too strong a word, but it does ignite the debate of the effect on current policy and attitudes of a questionable historical record in relation to women’s rights. In my writing of this, it also comes to mind that all of these points are equally as applicable to fathers as mothers – Ireland might not hate mothers, but it certainly has a grudge against working parents.