Tuesday 26 May 2020

Let’s stop fighting with each other

I caught the last half of Xarabank on Friday night, and it was like time had stood still.

Ever since I can remember we have been arguing over whether mothers should go back to work or not. What was worse this time round is that the all-female panel ended up arguing with one another. In the past we used to have men arguing with women over these life choices, or an all-male panel discussing what women should or should not do…which was bad enough.

But to see women attacking each other and bickering with furrowed brows over who is right and who is wrong was really depressing. To top it all off, Xarabank is not conducive to civilized discussion in a normal tone of voice, so everyone kept raising their voice to be heard, and the overall impression was that of shrieks and yelling.

Can we women please stop fighting with each other once and for all over this issue? The decision every woman must make whether to continue working after she has children is so fraught with variables and individual circumstances that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.  It is bad enough that Maltese society heaps huge guilt trips on women no matter what they do (if you have too many kids, if you don’t have any kids, if you get married, if you stay single, if you live with someone, if you have an affair, if you leave your husband, if you stay with him no matter what, if you are gay, if you work, if you don’t work, if you have a career, if you are a full time mother, if you are the perfect housewife, if you and your husband share the chores…the list is endless). Women, seemingly, can never get it right.

There always seems to be someone beady-eyed and judgemental around the corner assessing what you do and don’t do.  Although I stopped caring what people think a long time ago, I still get the occasional shafts of disapproving looks from other women and I wonder in amusement what could be disturbing them this time. Am I going to hell because I don’t attend Mass? Have I neglected to wash my windows? Am I in and out of the house too often, even to the extent of going out alone at night (gasp!).

More and more I have learned to curb my conversations with some women, especially in my age group, because I know it will end up in a useless, futile argument of my lifestyle as compared to theirs.  I find it all so pointless, and exhausting. So I try and change the topic or else make an excuse and leave.  I don’t mind if they do not agree with me, just as I don’t agree with them, but it is when they try and badger me, or  wrestle me into their way of thinking that I get irritable.  My slogan of Moviment Tindahalx starts whirring through my head at a fast pace and it is all I can do to remain polite and not tell them to buzz off.  I really, really, really cannot stand being told what to do and how I should behave.

In any case, it often strikes me that we are all born into the families and circumstances we find ourselves in, purely through a fluke. I could have easily been born a woman in a Malawi village, for example, where it is common for girls to start having children at 16, followed by numerous  pregnancies and a husband who spends all day lounging around in town while I slave away at the water pump.

What a completely different life I would have had.

Apart from this destiny of birth, then there are the paths we consciously choose to take at certain turning points in our lives.  It is often in middle age that it dawns on us how crucial those decisions were and how our lives have unfolded precisely because we chose Path A rather than Path B.  Most of the time, women’s decisions impact on their future more than men’s decisions, precisely because of the biological factor of having children.

I have often met women who regret ever having children in the first place (hopefully they do not say this within earshot of their offspring), because they have realised (too late) that they were not cut out to be mothers.  Those who have never had any children of their own obviously have their own silent heartaches as well.  And yet you find insensitive people who twist the knife even further with their careless talk, “you made the right choice… children are nothing but trouble!”

Maybe some women get a kick out of being bitchy and nasty to other women, but I find it horrible. It is for this reason that I get upset when I see women arguing like I did on Friday.  Why are we so hard on each other when we have enough dilemmas thrown our way as it is?  Maybe it is because we are projecting our own insecurities as we agonise inwardly whether we have made the right choice after all.

One woman in the audience who has had four children pointed out that if the arrival of a child is going to cause such stress and disruption, perhaps women should ponder whether they really want children after all. It sounded harsh at first, but on reflection I have to agree with her. If you are not willing to disrupt your life, then a child is truly not for you. As I get older I have come round to the conclusion that the biggest fallacy women have been told is that they can “have it all”.

Trust me, you cannot have it all.

There will be moments when you will have to choose, even if for just a few years, not only for your own sake, but more crucially for that of the child’s.  I completely understand mothers who say staying at home would drive them around the bend because they need to have mental stimulation. However, having said that, children grow up so quickly they will be independent before you know it, and you will never get back those lost precious years when they are tiny.  I’m not saying don’t work when they are young (that is your choice), but if you do stay at home and are creative you can still continue to develop yourself until they get older.

I think the biggest mistake we seem to be making is that we think it has to either be a 40 or more hour week in pursuit of a high-flying career, or sitting in front of soap operas eating chocolate and getting depressed.

Come on. With Internet you can take a multitude of courses online, keeping abreast of what is happening in the world around you, and you can even do certain work from home for a few hours if you so choose.  In fact, through Facebook, I think a whole generation of stay-at-home Mummies have found their lifeline, which allows them to connect and stay in touch even when they cannot leave the house for various reasons.

I’m not forgetting the financial issue – basically, if you plan to have children, and wish to raise them yourself, then don’t sign up for a mortgage which demands a two income household for the next 40 years. You need to either scale down the size of your new home, and lower your material aspirations, or be willing to make other fiscal sacrifices.

Life is hard enough when you are a woman because society is always quick to blame children’s failures on having had “a bad mother”. Funnily enough, fathers don’t seem to get blamed so much when children go wrong.

So please, let’s try and give each other a break here.  Try to support other women’s choices if you can, because if we don’t understand each other, who will?



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