Sophie Heine (Dr in Politics, Author. Latest book: For a sovereign Europe, Peter Lang, 2019)
I was extremely lucky to spend the first year of my second baby almost full time with her: to see her grow, every day, to give her affection, provide for her, feed her, nurture her… It seemed like a particularly long period of time since, coming from the continent, I am used to the short leaves after giving birth.
But recently, I have done the great move of ‘going back to work’ as they say in the UK…As a progressive intellectual, I have of course been influenced by all the feminist views on this topic: to be better treated in society and maybe even aspire to become men’s equals, women have to fully embrace their working lives. Jobs are the path to recognition outside the domestic sphere as well as the most secure way to reach economic security.
Precisely because I know about what work is supposed to bring to female emancipation, it is even more daunting to realise that, instead of welcoming this situation, I actually resent it. Instead of self-fulfillment, I feel only internal emptiness; instead of security, emotional shakiness; instead of energy, depressing apathy…
Of course I see my kids in the evening : I hold them, kiss them, feed them and play with them. And I know that they enjoy having other carers – their dad, their child-minders and the school staff. But none of this sensible reasoning can go against the huge, enormous, painful hollowness I feel inside while I am sat in front of a computer the whole day. After dropping them to nursery and school and on my way to a very interesting job, the only thought occupying my mind is that I should have stayed longer with them.
When I heard that the former company I was working for was organizing a ‘team-playing retreat’ abroad for four days, my first thought was not: ‘wow, great, a free trip to a beautiful destination!’; it was a desperate ‘ how am I going to deal with even more separation from my kids’? But, of course, I could never express such a fear out loud. No-one is supposed to feel sad and empty at the idea of leaving their kids to work for other, very remote, people. Not only are we supposed to be productive, but we are also meant to not complain about the personal sacrifice industrial life demands from us.
Some will purport that when your job is neither alienating nor boring, the sacrifice of not seeing your kids much is worth it. It might be true. At the beginning. But isn’t it equally true that, after the first exciting weeks or months, the same feeling of anxious emptiness risks overhauling us again? I have to admit that this feeling was much less gripping before I became a mother. It is bad enough to waste your time for the benefits of others – because let’s face it: most jobs use our skills, time and energy to enrich a minority – but when we do so at the expense of the precious time spent with our kids, this is a much more difficult sacrifice.
To all working mothers who suffer in silence and put on a brave face every day going to work, pretending they are perfectly fine to leave their kids so that they can ‘use their brains’ , ‘socialize with other adults’, ‘continue learning and developing their skills’, here is a little advice: stop hiding your contradictions and feelings. Just dare to say it out loud: a huge part of us just just wants to spend hours and hours with our kids and work so much less. And to all the fathers who feel exactly the same: please stop being silent and just say so….Absolutely no job on earth is worth tearing us apart from our kids and families.
Dr in Politics
New book: “For a sovereign Europe”, Peter Lang, Oxford.
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