Who is the ideal worker? In an abstract about why family and work conflict, the ideal worker is defined as ‘one who takes no time off for childbearing or childrearing and who works full-time and is available for overtime’. We all know the type. They work long hours, if they have children you sure as hell never hear about them and they never took any time off to have said children either! In other words, the ideal has to be men. Where does that leave women and their careers?
Forgetting about women who have to take time out for childbearing and child rearing for a minute, how does the ideal worker paradigm even help anyone? If you are working long hours, hardly ever take holidays and you are checking your emails non-stop, how is your mental health? Do you have any friends? Are you finding time to exercise and eat proper food rather than eat on the go? Your physical health can’t be in good shape either.
This way of living is not sustainable and should not be aspired to by anyone, male or female, if they value their life. Yet, this model of ‘ideal worker’ is what drives most workplaces and promotions. If you can show that work comes first, you will go up the career ladder very quickly but at what cost?
Now to the double bind for women who try to be both the ideal worker and the perfect mother. This is such a landmine laden with traps waiting to amputate them at every turn. There is the pressure that society puts on women to work like they don’t have children and to parent like they don’t have a career. Not sure why it has to be this binary but this is what leads women to guilt, shame, and self-doubt. It is also the fastest route to burnout and to throw in the towel when it comes to their careers. This really is society’s loss.
We know that aspiring to be the ideal worker is ultimately not a good idea unless you want to drive yourself to an early grave with no one to mourn you but what about the perfect mother? What does that even mean? To most, it means to sacrifice your life for your children. Yes, spend all that time educating and telling yourself you can be anything you want to be until you have children. Then suddenly it becomes a bad thing to be anything else but a mother. You need to shelf your ambitions and put yourself on the back burner. If you are a good mother, your children need to take centre stage and you should be grateful on the back stage.
Why does there have to be a back and centre stage? Surely your life is just as important as your children’s? How does giving up on your dreams ever help anyone apart from making you resentful and the poor kids having to pay for it by enduring your bad moods? How does constantly reminding the kids of what you gave up to come and take care of them further their self-esteem? Do we really want to bring up children saddled with guilt? Surely there is room for both lives on this stage of life?
Show me a happy well adjusted child and I will show you a happy mother. A mother who has acquired the skills to live a life of balance and has modelled it for her children. That mother might not be the perfect mother in society’s eyes because she had the gall to hang on in the workplace and perhaps challenged working practices.
She wasn’t the ideal worker but she battled on. She wasn’t at the beck and call of her children 24/7 because life is not like that. She got her partner involved at home so she didn’t have to do the lion’s share of the child rearing. This means her children are independent, they see Dad helping around the house so they also know how to muck in and pull their weight. Believe it or not, this is what helps them to contribute to society because they understand it is not about somebody becoming ‘less than’, to enable them to thrive. There is room for everyone, even mum!
It is about everyone’s life being valued, no sacrifices, just empowering choices, everyone helping out and of course, the skills to keep living a balanced life.