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Fuss and bother of motherhood
by Clara Chow

SITTING in class one evening, while discussing feminism and the guilt experienced by working mothers, I suddenly thought of something disturbing: Am I, by the simple act of writing a column about motherhood, perpetuating unrealistic expectations of women, or reinforcing gender stereotypes?

After all, feminist theorists will argue that the modern woman has been subtly conditioned into feeling guilty for abandoning her traditional roles, and thus pull double shifts - one in the office, and the other at home, after working hours, to try and make up for being away from her kids.

So, I interrupt our normal Manic Mummy programming to wonder: By writing about the joys of staying home as a mother, and then blathering on about the challenges of part-time work and study, am I contributing to the endless sea of ink spilt on what makes a good woman in the eyes of society?

I cannot help but feel that it is worth examining how a motherhood column can never be anything but a loaded thing in today's socio-political context.

The very name "Manic Mummy", I realise, sends out the signal, somehow, that raising children belongs more in the female, rather than male, domain.

Made aware, by academia, of how much my position on and attitudes towards motherhood are coloured inevitably by my social, educational and cultural background, I now wonder if I am ever going to be able to draw any feel-good, universalising conclusions about motherhood without feeling, gulp, yes, guilty again.

A few years ago, when I first quit my full-time reporting job at the newspaper I have since returned to as a part-timer, I wrote a column in a women's magazine here about how I refuse to subject myself to the endless, crazy race to be a Super Mum.

While other women kill themselves trying to be both mums and career women, I was giving up the feminist goal of equality in the workforce to retreat home to raise my babies. And that was okay, because it was my choice.

So far, so dandy, right? Wrong. The next month, the magazine's star letter was a response to my column that asked me to please consider mothers who continue to work, not because they wanted it all - like I'd suggested in my piece - but because they just couldn't afford financially to survive on their husband's income.

For every motherhood action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The irony, I find, is that I started writing my motherhood columns because I needed that extra money, too.

Writing about being a mummy, my primary activity, was what enabled me to stay home with Julian - and later, Lucien, now 10 months old - for three glorious, fruitful years.

So, to realise that I might have perpetuated some working- mother guilt with my depictions of rosy romps with my boys, is something I now struggle with a little.

But, that said, who needs all this post-theory funk?

After all, the alternative to this working- mother impasse is to stay silent. If it's so controversial - with the personal becoming political - let's not say anything about motherhood at all? That's just plain silly.

Because, since I started writing this column, I've met and made friends with so many other wonderful mothers.

Their points of view have enriched me, as much as I hope mine have enriched them.

In creating a public dialogue about the mosaic that is motherhood, we create more strategies to cope and survive. And that's something worth discussing.

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