'But don't you miss her, Miss?'

by Kaley Louise @MrsRileyEng

Since returning to work, from maternity leave, I have been asked- numerous times- ‘How do you do it?’, ‘Don’t you miss her?’, ‘Are you afraid you’ll miss out on something precious?’ and questions of their kin, numerous times. But always by adults.  Until today.

Today, during a lesson discussing Dickens’ representation of family via the Cratchits and Belle’s familial home as a ‘matron’ in ‘A Christmas Carol’, I alluded to the scenes at nursery when trying to explain what the author meant by ‘one child conducted themself as fourty’.

I did not expect what was coming next:‘What? You choose leave your two year old at nursery all day so that you can come to work? How? Don’t you miss her? Why didn’t you wait to go back to work until she was at school?’

A year ago, that would have upset me. I would have taken it as a criticism and I would have been consumed by the oh so familiar ‘mum guilt’. Not today. Back in your cages, gremlins.

Having read Boys Don’t Try, and having attended #WomenEd Unconference, along with my current reading of Misogynation by Laura Bates, I felt empowered to answer honestly.
The student was far from rude or deliberately prejudiced. He was genuinely shocked that his Head of House and Head of English could possibly be those things as well as be a mum and do any of it successfully. 

This subconcious bias that has been so ingrained through the perpetuation by all forms of media, that women cannot be successful in their careers as well as being mothers, causes these questions to be so commonplace. However, I had never experienced it from a student before now. And I saw it as my duty to challenge, respectfully, his subconcious bias. It meant we went off task a little, but it’s important if we are going to advocate for equality as, I can almost bet my wages on it, that this student has never once asked a male teacher with children the same question.
Am I saying that this child is a misogynist? Categorically not.

What I am saying is that society’s messages are that- if we are to create a more equal world in which our children are not subjected to the same messages over and over again, we- as the educated and respected adults- must school the younger generation of such.

How did I respond? Not angrily. Not defensively. But in a matter of fact way that explained (but did not need to justify) my reasonings for working and being ambitious with my career, whilst also being a mother. I told him that teaching was my passion. That embedding a love for Literature and Language over time was something that I take joy from, and that doing so whilst being able to earn a good wage and – thus- life for my family in which we want for very little, makes me happy. I explained that I returned to work part time initially and that I chose to go full time because I wanted to. Because- for me (and only me- no judgement on anybody else whatsoever) it makes me a better mum. 

As I explained this, I saw his thinking shift. I saw him see women in a different light. A light that told him that good mothers can be high-flying, ambitious career people if they so wish. That what they do is entirely their choice.

So, whilst I deviated from the topic study of Family in ‘A Christmas Carol’, I like to think that this deviation has opened his mind, as well as others’ in the room, and that I have contributed towards a movement in which women are not seen as either a mother or a career driven person, but as autonomous people whose lives are not drawn out for them as a result of child-rearing abilities.

Tackling #everydaysexism and #subconciousbias every single day

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