In a pivotal moment, the charade of successfully balancing a freelance writing career with childcare unraveled for Shona Sibary. This incident occurred when her eldest child, Flo, was approximately six months old, leaving an indelible mark on her experience as a working mother.
On that particular day, Shona found herself conducting a phone interview with a self-important celebrity from the comfort of her home. Assured that the conversation would be brief, she placed Flo in a door bouncer, hoping her baby would amuse herself with cheerful jiggles while she tackled her work. However, as the minutes passed, Shona remained tethered to the phone, with Flo’s contentment giving way to restlessness and grumbling.
Desperate to extricate herself from the seemingly never-ending conversation, Shona relocated to another room, putting more distance between herself and her increasingly agitated child. The cries of baby Flo became louder, and Shona found herself torn between her maternal instincts and her professional commitments.
After thirty agonizing minutes, unable to escape the ongoing call, Shona resorted to taking refuge in the garden, firmly closing the patio doors behind her. As she repeatedly tried to conclude the conversation, her palms grew sweaty, her heart raced, and her only desire was to reunite with her distressed baby. Finally, when she could bear it no longer, she rushed back inside to find Flo asleep but precariously suspended upright from the door frame, her tiny face damp with tears.
This heart-wrenching incident left Shona wondering how many other working mothers had endured similar scenarios, grappling with guilt for prioritizing their careers over childcare.
Miriam Cates, a Member of Parliament, ignited further controversy by placing blame on working mothers for the rising number of children starting school in nappies. Her remarks came at an inopportune moment, right after an arduous rainy half-term and with the specter of Christmas looming. Adding fuel to the fire, Cates seemed to direct her criticism primarily at working mothers, seemingly ignoring the role of fathers in parenting.
During her speech at the Alliance For Responsible Citizenship conference, Cates argued, “Consider the rising number of young children who start schooling in the UK still wearing nappies… potty training can take weeks of dedication to the task. This is increasingly impossible when our GDP-obsessed economic system demands that even mothers of small children leave their infants in daycare to return to the workplace.”
While Shona vehemently disagreed with parts of Cates’ comments, she couldn’t help but concede that toilet training was an arduous and tedious endeavor. By the time her fourth child, Dolly, arrived, Shona had grown weary of this aspect of parenting, so much so that she contemplated returning to work to escape it. Thankfully, their au pair took on much of the responsibility, adopting a laissez-faire approach that involved letting Dolly roam the garden half-naked, contributing to the garden’s hydration.
As her youngest child, born in late August, began school at the age of four, she still relied on night nappies. Shona acknowledged her role in this, as her commitment to her career took precedence over dedicating her days to potty training. Looking back, Shona realized that her recognition of the need for childcare coincided with her willingness to delegate some of the more mundane parenting tasks.
While she delegated willingly, Shona realized that neither au pairs nor nurseries could replicate her level of dedication to parenting. In contrast, many working mothers she knew fought fiercely to be present for every aspect of their children’s development. Shona, on the other hand, attributed her different approach to the demands of managing four children through teething, weaning, and potty training.
Shona also recalled her French mother-in-law’s thinly veiled disapproval upon discovering the delay in her children’s potty training. French babies, it seemed, were promptly placed on potties upon birth. Although her husband, Keith, was between jobs at the time, he never considered taking on the potty-training challenge.
Convinced that their demanding careers during their children’s early years would have led to divorce without outside assistance, Shona recognized the unique challenges faced by working mothers. Despite the opportunity to work, these women bore the brunt of household responsibilities, particularly at the end of a long day when lunchboxes still needed to be emptied and the washing machine filled.
For many working mothers, school provided a welcome respite, simplifying childcare arrangements and alleviating feelings of guilt. Shona speculated that her perspective might have been different had she embraced a more hands-on approach from the outset, devoting her days to less demanding activities such as crafting with Play-Doh.
As she sent her four children to school with spare pants and a twinge of guilt, particularly for Dolly, who clung to her dummy until the last moment, Shona recognized that motherhood was far from easy. It was a complex, guilt-inducing journey that mothers navigated to the best of their abilities.
Shona acknowledged that her self-perceived failings as a mother continued to tug at her heartstrings, even as her children prepared to leave the nest, still not entirely ready for the challenges that awaited them. However, despite her many tribulations, Shona found solace in the fact that, aside from the occasional drunken night, none of her children were still wetting their pants today—a measure of success amidst the chaos of motherhood.