Like all mothers I know and love, I have an aversion to the term ‘working mother’ or ‘stay-at-home mum’, as much as I have a problem with ‘single’, ‘married’ and anything else that requires a box to be ticked. I do, however, believe in keeping people alive and not being a massive bellend.
But there has been some bellendery from my side of late: I failed to pick my daughter up at 6pm from daycare last night. I landed in a sweaty, mangled maternal heap at 6.13pm, apologising profusely and uttering excuses (‘Tube, meeting, late, dog, leaves on line, battery died, chewing gum-on-shoe’) to the matronly response from the duty manager of: “It’s not ideal.”
It flipped a switch. I took out all frustration of this inflexible, expensive daycare system on this poor woman who is simply a cog in a hulking great machine that needs oil – a system that leaves me earning approximately £3 an hour after daycare costs are paid.
It’s a system that’s priced nearly half a million British mothers out of work according to think tank IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) and it’s a system that leaves parents frazzled and shouting at those who are there to help, not hinder.
It was akin to a sugar-deprived Cookie Monster taking on the ever-serene Big Bird but with much less panache.
It’s not ideal at all. This wonderful woman who keeps my child safe thirty hours a week couldn’t have put it better. It breaks my heart explaining to my daughter every morning why Mama has to go to work and can’t play with the ‘cayons’ [crayons]. Hearing ‘Mama’s here! Mama’s here!’ when I’m just three minutes late to pick her up – because some half-wit managed to get his briefcase trapped in a Tube door – and she’s the last one left, eats me up.
Sitting there, alone but for her treasured ‘Peppy’ [Peppa Pig], little rucksack already on and some primary-hued creation in-hand is a sight that can render me broken – it’s a grip no relationship past or present could even touch on.
Then there’s those mornings when I know her eyes are watery as I hurtle off to the 272 bus that tends to come two minutes early or ten minutes late, leaving me skulking into the office again. It’s like life roulette but without the hope of a massive, Simon Cowell-worthy bonus ball on the horizon.
So, I’m all too aware it’s not ideal. I know those 13 minutes were less than ideal because they were the longest minutes of my day. Her face punctuates my day with happiness; it’s like Christmas every morning waking up to her request for an ‘upper T’ [cup of tea] – missing 13 minutes of that is the only chastisement I need.
All I can ask for is for a system that offers some leeway, some flexibility. Some financial relief to those who want to – or have to – work. Or at the very least challenge businesses to channel Dolly Parton’s ‘Working 9-5’ mantra – when did it slip to 6pm? – and not leave mothers edging out of the office, feeling like pariahs.
There’s no ideal working – whether home or away – situation as a mother, it’s all down to circumstance, necessity and doing everything you can to keep everyone under your wing alive and well.
Just don’t be a bellend about it, I suppose.
Written by: Anna Whitehouse.