How my juggling act is harder

Men and women usually still don't share the load on domestic chores.
Men and women usually still don't share the load on domestic chores.

The adage says that behind every great man is a woman. And women, who know the reality of these things, add that behind that woman is a pile of laundry. It’s true; laundry never ends.

But what happens when it is the woman who is in public eye? The laundry is still there. But there’s probably also a complex life behind the scenes that belies her public face.

This is how I’ve increasingly felt over the past few years as motherhood has kicked in. Whether I’m in front of the camera, or behind a computer screen writing, my calm, focused exterior is most likely hiding a worry about whether the uniforms have been washed or if there’s enough milk in the fridge for breakfast.

I know I’m not alone. This is the price of motherhood, especially when attempting to navigate public and private spaces and be superwoman in both.

Mostly, this is a recipe for embarrassing moments. In an important business meeting you put your hand into your handbag to pull out a business card. Instead, what appears is a card that has been scribbled all over by your toddler. Or a box of raisins. Or worse still, an undisposed nappy sack.

I need to check and double check when doing TV interviews whether vomit, snot or felt-pen ink has magically appeared on my clothes courtesy of my children.

This week I published my most recent book. Launch events for such things are a heightened version of the frazzled nature of motherhood. While trying to pull together a world-class event with dignitaries in attendance, which inevitably results in the need to work late nights and weekends, there are children who continue to need attention. Inconveniently, they do not understand deadlines or urgent work pressures, and instead continue to demand things such as the need to be fed or put to bed.

Writing a book with two little ones has felt like a miracle. Yet all I can think of is the infamous book dedication that sums up exactly the contradictory feelings of delight at having a family and children and the angst that they trigger: “I’d like to thank my family and my children for their participation in writing this book, without whom it would have been written much faster.”

You could argue that the same complexity exists for men and we should see them not just as public faces but also as complex human beings with intricate personal lives. I’d like to agree. I really would. But often that’s just not how it is at the moment. Mothers bear the greater share of responsibility of both childcare and housekeeping – and that’s even before paid work is mentioned.

I’m sure I’ll be told I should cherish motherhood and that I should stop complaining. But that’s the problem: motherhood is put on a pedestal and women are supposed to pretend that we are like princesses floating through a Disney film. And it also diminishes how intensely challenging motherhood is. It is a vocation that requires giving as much attention to the minutiae of life as to big ambitious projects.

There’s nothing wrong with expressing just how very hard it is. We all need to know we are not alone in our struggle. As a result, when someone sees a mother on stage, on TV or just simply managing to grab five minutes to sit down and have a coffee, we will all remember that her moment was not won lightly. More specifically, the worries and planning are most likely still continuing behind her relaxed exterior.

Shelina Janmohamed is the author of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World

Published: September 8, 2016 04:00 AM


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