For some mothers, work is a financial necessity. For others, it’s a choice: they want to continue pushing their career forward. But Annie Ridout wonders whether sometimes mothers do paid work to feel appreciated…
Before having children, I worked as the in-house copywriter for a tech company. Often, I’d submit copy for a project and there would be amends required. But sometimes, it would be just right. Either way, I’d be thanked for my work.
And then I gave birth to my daughter and my job became a whole lot bigger. Now, I’d start work (breastfeeding, changing nappies, rocking, shushing, cuddling) around 6am, and continue through to her bedtime at 7pm. And then beyond, as she’d wake multiple times in the night and require feeding.
She thanked me in her own way: by no longer crying or moaning, later – by smiling. But at times, it was as if I was a milk machine; churning the stuff out of my breasts to keep her baby-sized body growing and healthy. At other times, I felt like a human bouncer: jiggling, swaying.
I certainly didn’t get daily thanks in the verbal sense. No one said: you’ve done a brilliant job today, being a mum. Occasionally, my mum would tell me she was impressed by my mothering skills, and that felt lovely. But it didn’t have the regularity of project-by-project feedback.
Sometimes, I congratulated myself. Like when I taught her to say her first word. Or when I gave her spoonfuls of solids and taught her to swallow them. Or when she started sleeping through the night, after successful sleep training. Or when she took her first steps, reaching her little arms out towards me.
When my daughter started speaking properly and saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, I felt proud for having instilled the importance of politeness and gratitude. If someone’s upset and she goes to help them, I feel warm inside; knowing that she learned that empathy at home.
But as a parent, I’d say 70 per cent of your job, when the children are young, is putting up with tantrums, bad moods, “NO!” and challenging behaviour. The good stuff (smiles, laughter, jokes, kindness etc) is delightful when it comes, but it’s often immediately followed by more hard stuff.
And so while you can feel proud, and enjoy beautiful moments, you’re also constantly thinking: is she being difficult because I’ve done something wrong? Has this meal gone untouched because I’m a crap cook/have created a fussy eater? Did she wake in the night because of something we did?
That’s when it would be so nice to have the positive feedback you often get at work: thank you, Annie, for working so hard on raising your daughter. On the whole, you’re doing a great job. There are some amends to make, but you’re pretty much there.
Like a career, motherhood is a work-in-progress. It’s never complete; there are always improvements that could be made, and shifts in behaviour that require attention. But to know that you’re doing ok, which is feedback you won’t get from you’re kids until (if/when) they have their own, is vital.
I think that’s why I like doing paid work alongside being a mother. Because every time payment appears in my bank, it’s a client’s way of saying: thank you for that work you did for me. Often, they will say it in person, or via email, too. In the workplace, we’re more inclined to dish out praise.
So, if you’re raising kids – congratulate yourself. Praise yourself. Thank yourself. Treat yourself to something nice, because you bloody well deserve it. And tell all the other parents you know how well they’re doing, too. Tell your partner, if you have one.
And one day, your kids might just turn around and say: mum, you did a really good job of raising me. Or you’ll just see that they’re happy in their own lives and that will be enough. You’ll know that you did your best, and it paid off (though perhaps not financially).
Do you feel appreciated, as a mother?