Did my mum have it all?
1950’s housewife images have an strange pull for me. The small waisted, perfectly groomed wife and mother, smiling with inner peace, as she serves delicious and nutritious food, to her handsome husband. I allow myself to fall into the soft gooey world, as these images tap into something deep within me; I can almost taste the dessert. It must have been so easy then, just follow the rules:
- Have dinner ready
- Prepare yourself
- Clear away the clutter
- Prepare the children
- Minimize all noise
- Make your husband comfortable and listen to him
- Make the evening his
We have all seen quotes from The Good Housekeeping economic books. I pull myself back and see that this is a veneered imaged. My 20th century self laughs out loud at the thought that, to prepare myself, I should have to, take fifteen minutes to rest so that you will be refreshed when he arrives. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift. Greet him with a smile. I rub the tint away from my glasses, and remember that this was a slavish life and as a woman you had no choice, in the good old days.
History records, that this was a time of great change and television showed us how. Frozen dinners, convenience foods, and electric appliances marched right on in and women were suddenly given more time to actually look up from the sink. The strata of change was being laid down, freedom, a car, the right to work, choices, women could be anything. Being married with a family was no brake, as long as you remembered the above rules, the world was yours, you could have it all. If you were not married, or did not want children, well, that did not count, there was something wrong with you!
Growing up, my life was pretty perfect. My mum had a full time job, came home, cooked a meal from scratch, which usually included ‘afters’ of some description, washed and cleared up, while my dad fell asleep on the settee and my brother and I argued over something. The house was meticulously clean, and our clothes all washed, ironed and put away, sheets clean, beds made. All this with style, mum wouldn’t open the door without make up on.
If any woman could have it all, it would probably be my mum. She was a domestic goddess with a successful career. She has now even written book, and received rave reviews, probably in a perfectly put together writing outfit.
I thought that all mums were this magical. Opening stored boxes of time, when there simply were not enough hours in the day, to completely redecorate the house, upholster the old settee, perm the mother-in-laws hair. I did not even question the skill that was employed, when she made me a two piece skirt and short set, so that I could hang upside down on the monkey bars, without the boys seeing my knickers. My long white socks would glow, even after they had been soaked in blood. Mum would tut, tell me that my knees would be ruined, but my socks never were.
She guided my brother and I through our various ‘stages’ and lost her composure rarely. I do remember her pulling to a halt in the car, stopping the engine and throwing the keys between her squabbling children, refusing to go any further until we stopped. We deserved much more, my brother probably started it. My mum did have it all. She worked, ran a home, and raised a family, all with a minimum of noise. She cleared away the clutter and prepared herself, all the while, keeping us all extremely comfortable. I faced the world ready to have it all, just like mum.
As a working mum, I very quickly realised that mum did not have it all, SHE DID IT ALL. I just about manage, to get the dinner on the table, keep the house clean, the children maintained and my sanity intact, with the help of my husband. I pay for people to paint my house and re upholster my old yellow couch. I pay for people to cook my food and grab a take away when I can not be bothered cooking. Where is my secret box of hours, I wail, I want more time for me. And there it is, the cold hard truth, one person, man or woman can not have it all.
To choose a career, we often have to pay the price of long hard, underpaid hours, in the early years. For women, these are also her prime childbearing ones. So the decision, put off having children, and run the race, or pit stop and try and make up a lap later on has to be made. Glass ceilings, studies into wage equality, child care facilities, judgement from the sisterhood, we know the facts, they are very well documented. The problem with the, woman can have it all notion, is that the male of the species have not picked up any of the duties that the 50’s housewives so elegantly let float to the floor. She simple picked them all up again and balanced the job on top. Even high achieving woman that are married, continue to do the lions share of the domestic work at home.
I will not lie to my daughter, she has the right to know that the world is her oyster, she can do whatever she wants. She can be strong, single, independent, career driven, a world leader, a mother, a wife, a housewife, a part time or volunteer worker. Just not all of the things, at the same time. She has more options than ever before and must choose the combination that suits her best, without judgement that one choice is better than the other.
I will tell my daughter the truth, you can have it all, darling, just not at the same time.
My advice to her is simple be aware of your options, look at the facts, do not listen to the whispers. There is a growing movement to include fertility in our sex education program, to stop the shock of women who have left it too late to start a family, having chosen to establish their career first. Lets teach our girls that a job that you are passionate about is emotionally fulfilling, not the same as having children, different and OK.
It is normal to have dust and takeout, be overwhelmed and blob on the sofa watching bad TV. Love your body, keep it healthy and it will work for you, how you keep it warm is up to you. Be that 50’s babe if you want to, do not if you don’t and that is having what you want, having it all.