“Do you work outside the home?” This is my ultra-politically-correct way of enquiring how a woman I have just met spends her days. I don’t want to say the word ‘just’ when enquiring as to whether she is a full-time mum. I don’t want to assume that she’s dropping the kids off elsewhere in the morning and stressing to get to the office for 8.45am. I don’t want her to feel any need for self-justification as she describes her daily juggle. So I have devised my little question, endeavouring to imply my respect for whatever approach to life-management you have adopted.
Now we ladies, we do like to dissect each others lives. We can’t quite help ourselves having a little something to say about our this or that woman we know who’s choices are just so polar-opposite to our own. Occasionally, having our little say equates to being a bit, well, bitchy. I’m not immune. I feel The Bitch Within me rise from time to time, usually when I am visiting a very average day nursery, (there are, unfortunately, a few) wondering why all these mums think this is a good place to leave their little ones for 40+ hours a week. And – pausing to adopt a feminist stance for a moment – if I spend time wondering how all this bitching looks to those upholding the patriarchy, I conclude that the view isn’t good. It looks like a waste of time. Time, that thing we women claim we don’t have enough of.
We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour. I heard that somewhere and have repeated it often. If we judged others by their intentions, I think women would see each other pretty differently. Every woman I know has, in relation to their mothering-working-other ‘balance’, gone through a million permutations, agonised over every aspect, and wrestled with guilt on a daily basis. We know this about our fellow mums, because we know we do it/did it ourselves. And when our kids are grown, they will be each other’s friends, partners, colleagues, wives, husbands. And they’ll talk about what they learnt from us, won’t they? I’m guessing that none of us would want them repeating our unnecessary prejudices, that are ultimately borne out of us not taking the time to truly understand another’s perspective.
So, if you’re mulling over another’s choices to help you make sure you’re getting yours right, fine. Sometimes we need that comparator, that juxtaposition, to see our own circumstance more clearly. But, if you’re doing it to vent a little, to breathe a little ill-will out into the collective air, don’t. If you’re speaking without thinking, why not try to work on remembering what it’s like to be on the receiving end. In short, let’s just let each other get on! Life is hard enough, as the saying goes…. As of now, I am resolving to focus on seeing the women around me as they are, and to retrain my thoughts to let go of labels and their implied baggage. I don’t mind sharing my decision making process with other women, but I don’t really want to feel I’m explaining my decisions to other women. Nor do I want other women to feel the need to explain and justify theirs to me. If my decisions are working for my kids, my hubby, and me, I am satisfied. Or, to be more precise, ‘satisfaction’ is what I am currently working on.