Whether you agree with this or not will depend, of course, on who you are, what you do, and who you’re comparing your life to.
Because if you read about how things were for women, just under a century ago, in this country of ours, you wouldn’t recognise the country. Or the women’s lives.
The memories of a County Cork woman who grew up in the 1920s, would have your shuddering in your shoes. Along with producing a baby a year, she wrote, women were expected to help the men break up the land to put potatoes in. “Everything that happened inside and out, the men expected the women to help,” she recalled. Her father was disabled, so her mother’s day went like this. At 6am she went out and milked the cows.
Next she fed the calves, pigs and poultry. Then she called the children to get up for school, cleaned out the fire, and lit it. She dug potatoes for the dinner. Prepared the dinner. Did the washing, cleaning, mending darning and made the children’s clothes. Checked the animals were bedded in for the night. Set potatoes in spring. Helped save the harvest. Fed hungry men and children. This was her day, more or less. And in fact, said the author, this was a typical day’s work for most women of the time. Notice that line in there, though; everything that happened inside and out, the men expected the women to help.
Things have changed in a lot of ways, thank God (but mostly thanks to science.) We have electricity, running water and household appliances; they do most of the heavy lifting which would otherwise be involved in day-to-day family life, like laundry, cooking and cleaning. (Although it could be said if you wanted to get really sticky about it, that for quite a lot of women, these appliances only made time for them to do even more work, inside and outside the home.)
However, one thing, it seems, hasn’t changed at all: Modern Irish men still expect their women to do much of the work around the place (even though for most families, and thank God, say the women, ‘the place’ isn’t a farm anymore.)
The survey, for Sudocrem, found that 14% of males undertake at least half of all housework. I was stunned by this finding, primarily because I couldn’t believe that as many as 14% of Irish men actually do half the housework. Is the figure really that high? I was equally gobsmacked by another finding — that just under 20% of Irishmen do no household chores at all. I couldn’t believe this was so low. Only a fifth of Irish men do absolutely no domestic work at all?
The survey also found that about a third of mothers rarely or never have time for themselves — and that 60% said they were unable to continue with hobbies after having children. Not wanting to be mealy-mouthed about it, but I guarantee you a large percentage of Irish Daddies will somehow continue to enjoy their hobbies after the joy of becoming fathers.
The study also found that two-thirds of mothers would prefer to stay at home and raise their children if they could. Women want to go to college, get a degree and carve out a successful career. We all did. But you see, then we realised that we were expected to shoulder everything to do with the home as well — and we had no Mammy around to do it for us. We were The Mammy now — on top of being something else as well, like a teacher, doctor, secretary, journalist, nurse and so on. We are expected to do a full-time or part-time job. We are also covertly expected to shoulder the responsibility of running a house, raising children and getting on with just about everything involved in family life.
Ask any GP which parent mostly brings the kids in when they’ve a high temperature. Ask any primary or second-level teacher about the mother/father breakdown at parent-teacher meetings or which gender — mother or fathers — is the one most likely to come in when there’s trouble. Ask any crèche which parent stays home from work to mind children when they are sick and can’t attend day-care.
I recall seeing a TV documentary on commuting sometime way back in the Celtic Tiger boom. I recall how one mother had to take a car, a train and a bus to work in the city and back again. To do this she had to leave home in some suburban town, at some Godawful hour of the morning and didn’t get home until very late at night. She barely got to see her baby. I still think about that woman. I still see her exhausted, guilt-ridden face in my mind’s eye.
Given the weight of the burden that’s placed on the shoulders of many modern mothers, could you honestly blame them for wishing they could afford to just stay at home and rear their children?
Amárach Research, on behalf of Sudocrem, surveyed 400 mothers of young children and 400 grandmothers who are themselves mothers to adult daughters with children.
The study, which explored a variety of issues, including feelings towards motherhood, mothers’ ‘me-time’ and quality of life had some interesting things to say about women today.
Sixty per cent of women say that they have no hobbies after becoming mothers.
Only one in three mothers (35%) feel valued by their family. And you know why that is, don’t you? They take you completely for granted. An even smaller number of mothers — 12% — feels valued by society. No surprise there either. Society is only interested in mothers when they want to find someone to blame for, says, obesity in, or anti-social behaviour by children. Or worse.
While the overall picture is largely positive, the study says — today’s mothers are generally happy and satisfied with their role as mothers and a majority say they have a good work-life balance — they also face challenges, many of them societal.
Many mothers feel they are not valued in the role, many lack self-confidence. May struggle to get their partner to contribute to household chores.
Writing about women’s lives in the old days, the woman said that when she was growing up in the 1920s in Ireland, a woman’s role was “only a degree above slavery.”
Things are different today, but aren’t they also not so different, really? No matter what they’ll tell you about ‘having it all’ , no matter how many helpful domestic appliances are put your way, too much is expected of women in today’s society. It’s a very different kind of ‘too much’ than was expected a century ago. But it’s still too much.