“You’ve never had it so easy, we had nothing in our day”. A statement I’ve heard many times from older women as we whip out our disposable nappies and crack open our organic Ella’s Kitchen pouches. The app’s, the kids tv channels, the sleep aids, the video monitors – the list is potentially endless, and fortunes have been made on the ‘must have’ baby items we find within arm’s reach. So when discussing the now and then with my mother-in-law, I was a little taken aback when she declared that given the choice she’d rather raise children fifty years ago than now, as the pressure today seems overwhelming. In the 1970s it was expected that once you were married you would have children and in doing so often gave up work, which in turn created a simple way of life that she feels is now lacking. She kept coming back to the pressure she now sees mother’s cope with – the mortgage, the career, the childcare, the kid’s clubs, the housework, the holidays – an ever-increasing list that seems to have mounted as the decades have passed.
So, what’s changed? Well one observation has to be consumerism – we see, we want, and we get. Years ago she explained there was less access to childcare so you couldn’t often return to work, the cost of a new television was out of reach and a foreign holiday, well dream on! As the price of all these things have come down our expectation and desire to consume has gone up. I had a little head-in-hands moment when she said our playroom would have been called a toy shop in her day. It’s also not limited to physical goods, we seem to crave information and data. There are app’s that monitor our babies progress and forums fit to bursting with advice – it can simply be relentless! With all of these products and all of this information are we actually slowly chipping away at our own confidence? Instead of falling back on our instincts or common sense is our default position seeking out others for reassurance? Years ago, and when Alexa was still just a girl’s name, you had limited resources on which to call, so you did the best you could.
Over our second glass of wine we debated who had it better? In the red corner, the mother-in-law representing ‘we didn’t have much and it worked for us’, and me in the blue corner representing ‘convenient consumerism keeps me sane’. There was a back and forth on the good, bad and ugly of the internet. We verbally jostled on the role and expectation of women in society. We laughed at the “how much an hour?!” baby swimming lessons that had more of a “get on with it” and “that’s the deep end” explanation in years gone by. But ultimately, I’m confident to wave a flag of thanks for the here and now. As a woman our career opportunities are abundant, albeit with a huge need to improve flexible working. Travel is largely affordable for the masses, so we can show our children the world and give them experiences previous generations could only read about.
Yes we need to wear many hats now but ultimately we have the power to manage the pressure we put upon ourselves. We can turn off the noise we fill ourselves with on social media, we can opt out of comparisons, we can hear our instincts if we choose to listen. Yes there was a simplicity about motherhood in yesteryear, but that simplicity could also extend to the opportunities you had as a woman, which sadly could mean not having any at all. My mother-in-law was absolutely right about the pace of life we all seem to be racing in and the increasing pressure that seems to be weighing mothers down. But we get to choose now, we get to say stop and seek the simple life that our mothers and grandmothers remember fondly – so keep reminiscing as there is much to be learnt from taking a look back as we all march on forwards.