SOCIETY is in awe of mothers who work. Ever since the Welsh journalist and author Alison Pearson penned her novel How Does She Do It, we’ve watched, entranced, as an increasing band of Mumpreneurs reach for the glass ceiling. And the more children she has, the more we admire her.
And, combining business and motherhood IS admirable. But does that mean that single women are somehow inferior or have it easy, however successful their business life? For some singletons, it certainly feels like it.
One friend said recently, that this constant praise of super mothers was hurtful.
“These women have support,” she said. “They have husbands. I pay my own bills, cope with a leaky roof and put out the bins. I do it all, and I work, and nobody says I’m wonderful to manage it all.”
And it’s not just the physical work that’s a problem. According to Gerry Hickey, a Dublin-based psychotherapist, single women lack emotional support, too. “They get support, but it’s conditional,” he says. “It’s ‘we will support you, but you must do your bit too.’ It’s ‘why don’t you find a man?’
“I see lots of single women who are stressed. They tend not to get invited to functions where couples are, and, although they might have fulfilling lives, they can’t talk about it except to someone of the same ilk. Otherwise they are not understood. They are considered ‘different.’”
Lisa Cunningham is a serial entrepreneur with six businesses who lives alone, in the wilds of Wicklow, with five dogs and two horses. She made that choice, and she’s happy with it. But it bugs her when people assume she has nothing but work to live for.
“I’ll be in a boardroom meeting, and a woman will get up to collect her kids. And in meetings they say, ‘do you have children?’ The inference is, if you don’t have kids, it’s easier for you, but it’s not.
“In my head I have seven kids with four paws each,” she says. “They can’t pour their own food, and they can’t make me a cup of tea. You try clearing up after them all, walking them, and taking care of the horses.
“I have to get up at 5am to get finished in time for work. It takes me an hour and 40 minutes. In that time I muck out, check the horses and the paddock, prepare the evening feeds, then feed the dogs and, if I’ve time, take them for a five kilometre walk.
“I put in 15 to 18 hours’ work each day, and I work most weekends. Today I had a 7am meeting, a lunch meeting and one in the afternoon. I’ll finish by 5pm, and go home to let in the horses and feed the dogs. If I can’t get home, I have to get someone else in. Tonight, I’m out again to help at a network meeting. If I want to meet a friend, I do that at 9.30pm.”
Lisa took a course in mechanics back when she was 24. “I can paint the house, and try and replace a broken slate. I’m great at reading manuals, and will try to mend the washing machine myself. If I can’t, I call in someone. I have amazing contacts.
“Mothers underestimate the help from a husband. I go home to mayhem, and if the water isn’t coming through, it’s the well that’s broken, or the infiltration system that’s packed up. And I have to sort it.”
Before Christmas Lisa had four biopsies, and she worried throughout Christmas.
“I’d have loved the distraction of children,” she says. “The results were clear, but if there’d been a problem, what would I have done? I’d no husband to take care of the animals or the business. But I would, somehow, have worked it through, by calling in help. I’ve had to do that before.
“I’m happy. I have all my dogs around me, and if I get home in a foul mood, I go and talk to the horses, rather than row with a husband. I will take solace from their therapeutic ways.
“When you don’t have kids people assume you have nothing, and that really makes me mad. They assume, either that you’re a workaholic with no time for children, or... you don’t have their busy life. I do have their busy life and I do have responsibilities. I may not have school fees, but I have vets fees and farrier fees instead.
“I knew from an early age I didn’t want children, so I don’t have biological fights with myself when I see women with grown-up children. But I don’t think having kids is a criterion to being successful.”
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