Friday, February 16, 2007

Life and other problems

My computer is giving me lots of problems and I’ve been trying to post for days, without success. I don’t think it’s New Blogger’s fault; I think it’s my computer’s. So I’m doing this on my husband’s – which is why I haven’t put a photo on the top. I’m on holiday (mid-term) and he’s not here to show me how to send his computer one of my photos. Technologically challenged and deeply frustrated is how you find me. Also amazed at the whizziness of his computer. Wow.

However… deep breathing, sense of proportion and other such sensible reactions…

I’ve been having lots of chats recently with my mother, and when I compare my her life to my own, I’m aware of huge differences. She was born in 1922 and was 17 when the war broke out. She had just gone down to London to work as a Civil Servant (government worker) and was there throughout the Blitz. She had many long-distant friendships with young men who were in the forces but life was so uncertain that she didn’t commit to any relationship till the war was over. That must have been a hugely difficult time in her life.

Then she got married to my father and they returned to Edinburgh. They had actually known each other since their mid-teens, since my mother and his sister were good friends.

After marriage, she never worked outside the home. My brother and I came along quite soon and of course housework was much more time-consuming then. But later, when we were off to school and when labour-saving devices were available, she had a lot of freedom to do as she wanted, which turned out to be church committee work and coffees with friends. She says, however, that she would have liked a job. She’s a very intelligent woman. When my dad retired, they took a lot of holidays.

I also met my husband in my mid-teens; I started going out with him when I was 17. I continued to live at home while I was at university and teacher training college. Indeed we lived with my parents for a year after we were married at (23 and 25) because we couldn’t afford to buy a house. Having taught at a tough comprehensive school (never again) for six years, I was then a stay-at-home mum for the next nine, though did some tutoring and taught evening classes. When our son, the youngest, was four and went to nursery, I started teaching at college part-time and then steadily increased my hours. I’ve been teaching full-time plus an evening class for years now, which means lots of marking and preparation. Life is very busy, ridiculously so; like the lives of so many of our friends.

I enjoy my job most of the time but would rather not have gone back to work – or so I think. Life has been far too busy and I believe that I’d have been happier as a housewife, doing the job properly and having free time for my own projects. But maybe I’m fooling myself. Maybe I’d have been bored.

My generation of women had working lives pressed upon us; it was possible for us to go back to work and it therefore became expected and indeed necessary for most women. House prices soared but dual-income couples could afford to pay more, which meant that it became hard to buy a house on one normal income. It was stressful then, as it is now, to be a working mother when the children were small; lots of guilt and lots of juggling, especially when they were ill.

However, I do feel very lucky that I had those years with them when they were little. I wish I could think that my own daughters will have that privilege. Young women now seem to have to take a few months off and then go back to work. Of course, being at home with toddlers isn’t a picnic – I do remember a lot of days mainly spent picking things off the floor. But ah, the little chubby arms round one’s neck…

Would I have my mother’s life if given the choice? Would she have mine? And my daughters – what sort of lives would they choose?


  1. As one home all day with my two I'd say that the grass is always greener. I'm mostly glad to have this time with them but sometimes dream of going off and doing adult things for a whole day! When they're older I think I'd like to go back to school, I could be a perpetual student.

  2. I think if I get the opportunity, when the FB and his siblings are at school I'll take an awful lot of art and craft courses. I'm a stay at home mum which has its pluses but also is so very isolating.

  3. In Ireland there's a saying "if ifs and ands were pots and pans there'd be no need for tinkers."[Tinkers are the 'travelling people' of Ireland]. The road not taken always tantalises us. My mother was also a very intelligent woman. Youngest matron they'd ever had at her hospital, then a visiting midwife [wish I'd heard more of her stories of delivering babies in slums while she was still here]. In some ways it seems such a waste that she stayed home raising us. But I'm old fashioned---it was always lovely to come in after school to a nice cup of tea and a chat. I was fortunate to also be a stay-at-home mom. Although there were days I thought my grey matter was turning to mush. And I'm not sure it was better for my children. I don't think I did a better job than many who had jobs/careers too. What is IS and no amount of speculation can change it.

  4. It is interesting to speculate about 'what if'? My mother had to work to support us, & she always said she would have much preferred to be a stay-at-home Mum.
    But she was very intelligent also, & always wished she had a chance for more education. She never stopped trying to learn all she could as her life moved on.
    I think I agree with Molly- what is IS.

  5. I loved being a stay at home mom! I worked til right before son #1 was born, then was fortunate to avoid full time work again til our youngest son was in high school - I went back for a couple of years of college, then got a real job to help with the bills from the private Christian college the boys wanted to attend.
    I did work part time - during the school year only - once they were in school, but I loved the freedom of summer days at the beach with the kids!
    I've been back full time since 1990 - goodness - time flies!! I can hardly wait, however, to retire from this desk in about 16 months and move to the northern state we have purchased a home to retire in!! I may do some part time work from my new home, but I will also have time to take long walks and quilt and throw pottery (on a wheel!) and have coffee with friends and actually cook something that takes longer than 15 minutes and go the grocery store during the day and have the time to shop with a proper list!!

  6. Wow -- you're post is exactly what I've been discussing with my friends for the last several weeks. Women, generations, and the choices that we have. Your paragraph that starts "I enjoy my job..." is EXACTLY how I have felt for years. And, indeed, our working lives were pressed on us -- our mothers were that generation that fought so hard so that we would have choices. And our daughters? We're finding here in the states that so many of this younger generation are choosing a different path -- they're staying home with their babies. Perhaps they didn't like having their mothers work? Generations indeed. Such a fascinating subject...I could go on and on...Thanks for the wonderful post!

  7. It's interesting that the two younger of these commenters are stay-at-home mums. I don't think I know any of these here, now - not full-time ones, anyway. Maybe the problem is exacerbated here in Edinburgh because house prices are so high - higher tham almost anywhere in Britain (though not London).

    Thanks for all your comments - Thimbleanna, you seem not to have a blog, so I can't "visit" you, but I'm interested in what you say. Truly one wants to have one's cake and eat it...

  8. I was a stay at home Mum till my husband died last year, and now I work full time as a teacher. I met him in my final year at university and married him a year later. My son came the year after that, 4 years later, my dayghter arrived and 8 years later my youngest son. My elderly mother has lived with us since 1997, so in one way or another, I have been caring for people full time all my life.I have never been bored, because I have always had a zillion things out there to learn and try and people to meet etc. Would I have changed that? No, not for a second. I had choices, and I don't regret the the ones I made. Now, my son and his wife are 2 young profesionals who have bought a house in London, and they have no choices, because of housing costs. So is this progress? I wonder.Thought provoking!

  9. I do know how to spell. I just need to remember to proofread my posts. Oh heavens, I think this is the 2nd time I have said this to you, Isabelle!Oops.