Christine Armstrong with her eyes closed and smiling in front of the water

The mother of all rages

The first literary agent who read the proposal for my book, emailed back, “This is very funny and angry in equal measure” and I was taken aback. I didn’t feel angry – I felt like a researcher telling the stories from the frontline of mums and dads trying to make working parenting work, intermingled with a bit of drunken madness and some disastrous post-birth sex.

Yet, 100 days my book came out, having written more and talked to even more people, it turns out that he might have been a fortune teller.  I now find myself lying awake at night raging and ranting in my head about why it’s so hard to combine modern work and caring for others.

These are just some of the things that trouble me at 2am:

  1. How we’ve sped from a world in which one household income was enough for a family to live on to a world where both parents usually have to work. Which would be fine – a good thing in some ways – if only it hadn’t precisely coincided with lengthening working days, growing commutes, our ‘always on’ working culture and many of us living further away from our own families than in times past.
  2.  That we have done this without really changing the way that we care for kids (school days ending mid-afternoon, more summer holiday than our annual leave, two places at nursery requiring a salary of £40,000).
  3. And we’re not even seriously talking about how we could tackle this, which I would argue is because not a single senior politician in the land has a dual income and kids. Well, that and their obsession with bloody Brexit.
  4. What’s more, social expectations of mothers haven’t changed much in that time either. I say this as someone who has, in the last two weeks, attended two nativities, three carol concerts and two Nutcracker ballets AND rustled up three ‘fun’ Christmas outfits and angel and narrator costumes. Plus been forced to learn how to embrace a donut as a hair accessory, rather than an emergency hangover cure. All while Christmas shopping. My husband, who is a good co-parent and does attend a lot of events, but somehow the hair costume and gifts department as very definitely mine.
  5. Meanwhile so many parents – especially mums – are battling to even be honest publicly about this stuff for fear of upsetting their employer. Or being fired. Ensuring that the debate is being dominated by a very few hyper-successful women who don’t remember life before they had staff to fold their washing for them. Don’t get me started on non-disclosures which are – as Joeli rightly says – an aberration.
  6. While there are good signs about change with pay gap reporting and board quotes, it is also depressing how invitations asking me to talk to businesses about these issues are from women or family groups, rather than HR or leadership teams. Which means I’m too often talking to people who already know this stuff and would have it sorted before the next episode of Doctor Who if they had to the power to do so, rather than having conversations that involve men as well as women and are likely to lead to real change.
  7. Resulting in – and this does make me fucking furious – parents all over the land staring at each other and their kids and feeling like failures that they can’t make this work. They are buying slow cookers and bigger white boards in the desperate hope that being better organised will solve the problem of two parents working 14 hour days and not having time for their kids.  And wondering what they did wrong. Even though they did nothing wrong, they just tried to work and pay the bill and be parents.
  8. After the anger, comes sadness. Sadness for everyone working so hard that they’re not getting to enjoy their kids as much as they’d like. Sadness for the kids who say that their greatest wish is that their mum or dad would be able to pick them up from school one day. Sadness for a mum who told me that, for a year after her son left for university, she walked around her house grieving that his childhood was over and she had missed most of it because she was working.
  9. My Christmas wish is that we start talking about this and we get our political leaders talking about this so that I have somewhere to put my anger and so our kids won’t need to feel sad because we’re all always working. If we can do that, I might even have to call the bloke I’d never met, who told me how I felt – and turned out to be right! – and thank him.

Christine Armstrong, author of The Mother of All Jobs: how to have children and a career and stay sane(ish)
[email protected]


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