News broke last month that Cardi B was reclaiming the c-word for women everywhere.
No, not that c-word. An even more taboo word. A c-word that most women still daren’t use in 2018. The word in question? 'Can't'.
Let me explain. Cardi B, ex-stripper, Bronx rapper, and now, new mother; a woman at the peak of her powers, has cancelled her upcoming world tour alongside Bruno Mars. Her simple explanation, 'I underestimated the whole mommy thing' is such a statement of genuine humility, so heartbreakingly honest and true as to seem almost astonishingly countercultural.
Everywhere you look right now there are mothers living their Best Life. There are instamums, there are mumpreneurs, and there are sharents. And the overwhelming message in 2018 is that being a mother not only doesn’t stop you from doing it all, motherhood, somehow, enables you to do it all.
Except, sometimes, we can’t.
In her statement, the singer said 'I thought that after giving birth to my daughter that 6 weeks would be enough time for me to recover mentally and physically. I also thought that I’d be able to bring her with me on tour…Not only am I just not ready physically, I’m not ready to leave my baby behind since the doctors explained it’s not healthy for her to be on the road.' That somebody like Cardi B, who has the resources for an endless entourage of staff to help, still feels like she can’t leave her baby is so reassuring for new mothers everywhere, that its impact can’t be underestimated.
Because sometimes we just can’t carry on doing the same jobs once we have small babies. Sometimes we can’t manage it, sometimes our babies can’t manage it, so sometimes work (whisper it) has to take a back seat for a while.
I’m not talking about giving up work to be a stay-at-home mum - which in itself is a definitive choice - because not everyone has that option (note: I didn’t say ‘luxury’). I’m talking about mums who give up great creative or academic or professional jobs for boring just-for-the-money jobs (and to be skinter) because those kinds of careers are all-consuming and so are babies and there just isn’t enough ‘all’ to go around.
Of course, thanks to the rise of the ‘slummy mummy’ blogger, it’s okay to say your home is a mess, you haven’t washed your hair in a week, you sent you kid to school dressed up for World Book Day - on the wrong day. These things are social media gold, hilarious (just like Motherland!) and excusable - we’re juggling too much! Something’s gotta give! Ah, the comfortable chaos of modern motherhood (have another G&T).
But it somehow still feels taboo to admit that it’s your career that’s taking a back seat for a while (where are the aspirational modern role models for women who end taking a step back - to ‘lean out’)?
And the guilt! This isn’t what our (grand/)mothers fought for! But while feminism was supposed to be about having a choice, most mothers will tell you that the realities of life, including the astronomical cost of childcare (and commuting; both emotionally and financially), the lack of family-friendly roles and the ongoing issue of gender labour imbalance in the home takes away an element of choice about who ends up returning to work after childbirth. Mothers with very young children still have the lowest employment levels of all parents with dependent children, at 65%, far behind 93% of fathers with children of the same age.
I know this from personal experience. My daughter, (yes, a daughter – extra-guilt for setting a terrible example to the next generation) has just turned 4 and up until now, work has taken a back-seat. I’m still working (we have household bills and no in-house billionaires) but I’ve certainly not been ‘back in the game’, for a long time.
I wouldn’t even call it something as glamorous or intentional as a ‘career break’, I simply dropped out, slowly but surely, doing less and less inspiring work, and more ‘just for the money jobs’ in a way that surprised and frustrated and depressed me.
I’ve never been more skint, but I ended up where I wanted to be in every other way – with more time and headspace for my daughter.
And yet, when a friend of mine recently left a kickass STEM career in Silicon Valley to work as a secretary to the headteacher at a school close to her daughter’s, 'so I can be nearer to home and Mia,' I felt sort of devastated for her, despite knowing I’d been in the same boat.
As someone who’s always loved work and been ambitious in my career, it’s hard to commit to the c-word. A couple of years ago, when literally all of my parenting peers had returned full-time to their former jobs, a friend emailed to headhunt me for an incredible opportunity; full-time, with a luxury brand.
I wrestled with my competing desires for ages – I was desperately missing ‘proper’ work – before emailing back that my daughter wasn’t at nursery yet, finally admitting; '…and I just feel I can’t [that word again] leave her.'
In two decades of working, it was the most embarrassing email I’ve ever sent. I said I knew I was mad to turn it down, that I knew opportunities like this might not be available by the time I felt I was ready. What I didn’t say was I felt like a failure to the feminist cause. How could all these other mothers already be alpha-female-ing around me, but I still didn’t feel ready? I was falling behind, but I knew, that right now, I just couldn’t do it all. And so I was even more grateful to receive this reply; 'There is LOADS of time and they grow so quickly. You are doing absolutely the right thing by following your heart. My youngest starts university in September!'
Two years later and my daughter is finally about to start school and I’m so glad I followed my heart.
It’s always hard to write about motherhood, because for every woman mourning the (possibly, temporary) death of her career there’s another mother who can’t get a job, or is at the food bank, or whose child is seriously ill, or who can’t conceive in the first place. But for many modern mothers, Cardi B’s bold ‘this girl can’t’ statement will be a turning point that allows them to finally own the c-word with pride.