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So Which Mother Are You?

By Kirsty Rice - 30th March 2011

Arrive at any school concert and you can pick the stereotypical Mums from the crowd. There's the heavily involved school Mum, showing people where to sit or helping out behind the scenes. There's gym Mum, dressed in lycra, ready to recite her latest half marathon stats. Working Mum arrives just in time, Blackberry in one hand, guilt in the other. Stay at home and work from home Mum are comfortably dressed, they have their own guilt, they're trying not to make eye contact with heavily involved school Mum. As different as they all appear, they all share a common goal, trying to find the balance between happy child and happy mother. Making choices every day and hoping they're the best ones.

When I grew up, my Mother took on several roles. She was working Mum, studying Mum, helping at school Mum and full time house work Mum. Where was my Dad? He was there, we loved him, he was funny, successful at work and golfing on the weekends. He had a great way of finding the balance, a secret weapon, something many working women of that generation wished they had. A wife.

I can't remember a time where my mother didn't work. It wasn't so much about being 'fulfilled' it was more about paying the mortgage. Even though she's a qualified Accountant now, I've heard the stories of her working in the fruit canning factory, the TAB, the High School office. My parents will talk about the early days when they had nothing, how Mum worked nightshift in a factory that she describes as "what I imagine hell to look like". Her eyes still twinkle when she talks of arriving home with her first pay cheque after a week of nightshift, how she woke up my Dad and threw the money in the air and it landed all around them while they both giggled.

I was incredibly proud of her as a child, I liked that she went to work, and why wouldn't have I? It didn't seem to really impact on my life that much.

She was always there, more than others, she coached the netball team, she umpired on weekends, she cut up the oranges, drove me to piano lessons, she was a timekeeper at swimming, she bought the ballet shoes, washed the basketball tops, she drove to the Gymnastics competitions. Did I mention she studied? When the man from ABC radio announced she'd received the best results in the region she was hanging up the washing "they said your name, they said your name!" I screamed as I ran outside. I can still see her half way through the washing basket, peg in her mouth "really?" she said.

She was superwoman. Or so it appeared.

As a young woman I bragged about my mother, I told friends about how hard she worked, how well she did in her study and how she'd managed to always be there for me throughout it all. I thought if I was ever a Mum, I'd set the same example.

I had no idea.

I had two small children and was pregnant with my third when I started to believe I was never going to get back to the office again. This was mainly because I hadn't managed to put deodorant on for weeks and I could barely string three words together, this was due to a mixture of baby brain, constant interruptions that usually involved poo and sleep deprivation.

We were living in Libya and I'd been to book group the night before. We'd discussed the story of working mother Kate Reddy in I don't know how she does it by Allison Pearson, it had stirred feelings in me that I didn't know I had. I was angry. I was angry that she found it all so exhausting, that she felt her work life was affecting her children. I started to think of my mother, and decided to give her a call. She'd reassure me, she'd agree that it was rubbish.

As I prattled on to my mother over the phone about how pathetic this woman was and how annoyed I was by her whining, I started up with my usual spiel, "I mean, you worked full time and I never felt like I was missing out"......there was a brief silence and then my mother said something that I'd never heard her say before "you may not have felt like you missed out darling, but I did".

I was speechless.

She continued "it might have been nice to have taken a breath, to have more time, to enjoy it a little bit more, you're all gone now and I'm still at work". I knew what she meant about taking a breath. It was always a rush, her car would scream in to the driveway as we reloaded and made our way to our next destination. Grocery shopping was done after work, washing was hung at 6 a.m., she stood ironing late on a Sunday night. There were no girls weekends away, no sneaky manicures, no discussions about work life balance. What was that? I'm not sure if work life balance had been invented at that stage.

I guess what she was saying was that I was lucky I didn't have to rush. There was time to take a breath. When I returned to full time work a few years later I understood exactly what she meant.

Arrive at any School concert and you can pick the stereotypical Mums from the crowd. Some get to choose their options, some have no choice, it's likely they will all doubt and question their decisions at some point in time. As the concert begins you will see a common theme, they will all look for their child, they will all believe their child is the star and more than likely that child will look back and feel exactly the same about them. I definitely felt that way about my Mum. I knew mine was the best.

So which Mum are you? I'm guessing you're the best one you can be.

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