Working mums strike back

By Elizabeth Binning

Every day is full on for Greer Robson, shown with daughter Sienna. Photo / Norrie Montgomery
Every day is full on for Greer Robson, shown with daughter Sienna. Photo / Norrie Montgomery

Claims working mothers should quit complaining because they "have never had it so good" have prompted anger from women's groups who say juggling parenting and work is no easy task.

An opinion piece by Jenny Dillon published in Sydney's Daily Telegraph this week, said fewer children and more labour-saving devices meant working women had never had it so good.

Dillon claims many working women have been perpetuating a hoax for the past 40 years - "pretending that running a household is still as hard it as it was 40 years ago".

She said mothers of that era were standing over the agitator washing machine, down on their knees polishing linoleum, baking biscuits from scratch, digging the vegetable garden and shopping daily.

"They were the real working mothers," she said in the piece, which was picked up by other Australian papers and international websites.

In New Zealand - where there are more than 900,000 working mothers - her comments shocked and angered many modern mothers who believe juggling a career and motherhood is harder than ever.

West Aucklander Nikki Jelash, who has just returned to work after the birth of her first child last year, said many mothers had no choice but to work due to financial pressures.

While she admitted labour-saving devices made housework easier, they still had to be loaded and unloaded. Clothes still needed to be ironed and folded and put away and most of the time that could not happen until late at night, after the child had been collected from daycare, fed, bathed and put to bed.

Women doing these things 40 years ago might not have had the technology, but Mrs Jelash said they were able to do their chores during the day instead of going to work.

District nurse Andrea Clayton, whose 1-year-old son Jesse is in childcare, said claims that working and raising a child was easier than in the past were "outrageous".

She said the jobs today's mothers were doing were often far more complex than in the past.

"I remember my mum working and she was picking asparagus and I would sit on the back of the trailer. There's no way my son can come with me to work."

Marilynn McLachlan, publisher of social networking site Mums On Top, said today's mothers also faced a range of social issues and pressures that mothers of previous generations did not have to worry about.

Such issues ranged from worrying about what foods to feed your children and never-ending research about what was good for them through to protecting their safety.

Kelly Reid, director of Jobs For Mums, said the claim that it was easier today did not fit well with her own experience or that of the mothers she helped into work.

LIFE'S FRANTIC FOR MOTHERS

A typical day for working mum Greer Robson starts between 6am-7am when her two young daughters wake up demanding breakfast.

After breakfast she makes lunches and gets them dressed.

She hurriedly has a shower, gets dressed and often applies her makeup in the car before she drives the girls to kindergarten, then rushes to work.

Ms Robson, an actor, works in human relations at a law firm.

At lunchtime she finally has time for herself - but usually sacrifices food for a run around the waterfront.

In the evening she battles rush-hour traffic, collects the girls from kindy and returns home to make dinner, and get the girls showered and ready for bed and a story.

It's about 7pm before she has time for her own dinner and 8pm before she and her husband sit down and catch up.

Ms Robson's day is typical of many working mothers. On the days she is not working she juggles household chores in between the needs of her daughters. It's only recently Ms Robson, who is pregnant with her third child, has slowed down.

She says claims that working mothers have it easier than mums of years gone by are laughable.

"I think the modern woman is just absolutely stretched to the limit all the time."

"When you are working you feel like you should be home with your children, when you are with your children you know there's things piling up at work and you are constantly pulled in a thousand directions, let alone maintaining a relationship with your partner."

- NZ Herald

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