Whenever I am asked for advice for working mothers – and it has happened three times, now – I feel I invariably disappoint.
What is longed for, I think, is some detailed advice, along with specific links to websites for clothes you can purchase, companies you can work for, phrases you can use, techniques you can employ and magic flying nannies you could hire that would make it even one per cent easier.
There must surely be a powerful silky Stella McCartney blouse you could wear, and a conversation you could have with your managing director – “Did you see the match last night? Coh! PS Please let me work flexitime and pay me the same as men” – that would allow you to both pay the rent, and not feel like a terrible mother.
Unfortunately, if this advice exists. I don’t know it. I don’t have a Stella McCartney blouse. I still don’t know how to bond over football, and the first time I asked for a pay rise I, shamingly, wept throughout: “I’m sooo, sooo sorry –“ hiccup – “but I have two children now, and just need more money – or I can’t do this.” Thankfully, my boss at the time was a lovely man who handed me a box of tissues and agreed to my suggested sum.
“My wife cried the first time she asked for a pay rise,” he said calmly. Good male bosses who have wives at work are a blessing you will never forget. And if you have a female boss who gets where you’re at, give thanks to God, every day.
Good male bosses who have wives at work are a blessing you will never forget.
I give thanks also to another good man, who gave me two useful truths before I went to ask for my pay rise. As I agonised over whether I should ask in the first place – “It’s too cheeky. They say they love me – what if asking them for a pay rise make them so angry that they fire me??? If I deserve a pay rise, surely they would have just given it to me! Oh, I can’t do this!” – he looked me in the eye, and told me two things.
“Firstly, people never just give you money or power, you always have to ask. ALWAYS. And, secondly, the way big institutions show that they really love you is with cash.”
Over the years, I have thanked him, again and again, for telling me vital things at such a young age. I’ve borne them in mind in every business meeting I’ve had, and not cried since.
However, the single piece of advice I have to give is much simpler, yet harder and more basic than this. It is: do not marry a cunt.
When I gather together with my friends and we talk about what we would tell younger women, if we did not worry that we would come across as just yet another instance of older women seeming to rag on younger women, it would be this: nine times out of 10, a woman’s life will only be as good as the man or woman she marries.
I don’t want to say this! I don’t want it to be true! Because it feels, on first analysis, to be unfeminist to tell bright, hardworking, joyous women that it doesn’t matter how incredible they are, how many degrees they get, how many businesses they start up from scratch – if they then shack up with a self-pitying woman or man called Alex who’s not very good at replying to texts, ‘freaks out’ when they have kids, doesn’t use a washing machine because ‘I’m just not good at that stuff’, always has to see the guys at the weekend to ‘wind down’ and flies into terrifying rages if he/she can’t find their favourite suede jacket, they are doomed.
We want that woman to do well. She should still get promoted, be happy and succeed in life – because of her sheer determination, hard work and charisma. But she almost certainly won’t.
Life is an experiment that bears this out. I’m 44 now. Of all the married women I know, who have children, all the ones who are successful in their careers and are happy, are – without exception – the ones who married for the want of a better term, ‘good men’, or ‘good women’.
Of all the married women I know… all the ones who are successful in their careers and are happy, are – without exception – the ones who married ‘good men’, or ‘good women’.
Gentle, clever, kind, funny people, usually in cardigans, who just show up for everything. Ones who at a bare minimum cut it 50/50 with the housework, childcare and emotional upkeep.
Furthermore, and again – without exception – the women who have done the best in their careers, and are happiest, have partners who do more than 50/50. The more their partners do – the more they engage in childcare and housework – the more those women fly.
It’s amazing that this shouldn’t be an obviously known fact – the equivalent of knowing that if you marry a butcher, you’ll have a lot of sausages, or that if you marry a light housekeeper, you will live really near the sea – but the maths is simple: if you have children, you can only have as much career and happiness as your partner will help make room for. You are dependent on them. Because: all you have is your time. And as we all have such short, finite lives, every tiniest increment counts.
Even a partner who does 40 per cent of the childcare and housework – who you’d think was a good guy! 40 per cent! That’s nearly half! – is leaving 10 per cent of their shit for you to sort out. Their trousers to wash, their kids to raise, their meal to prepare. Here’s what that would look like, if it were picture: a woman pulling a sledge, on which was her career and her children – with her partner occasionally jumping on 10 per cent of the time, ‘to chill’.
This is why, of all the things young women say, “I’m into bad boys/girls” makes older women weep as hard as if they had just said “I’m into heroin.” No, girls! Do not want a bad boy or girl! If you find yourself saying that, you go and get CBT right now – or else say out loud, “I formally renounce all my plans for career and happiness, in order to marry the wrong person, and spend all my time feeling tired.”
Because: if she wants children and a job, a woman’s life is only as good as the man or woman she marries. That’s the biggest unspoken truth I know. All too often, women marry their glass ceilings.
This is an extract from Caitlin Moran’s book More Than A Woman.
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