To the parking inspector who tried to slap a ticket on me the other day: an apology. I was in a clearly marked No Stopping zone and you didn’t deserve my teary tirade. You had every right to threaten to call the police and to call for backup from not one but two supervisors. It’s just I had two babies in the back of the car and I thought that bought me dispensation.
Ever since I became a mother I have learnt to cut corners ignoring not just traffic signs but all manner of procedures designed to make life easier because in my state they no longer do and I brazenly now consider myself exempt. Surely No Stopping means unless you have babies on board and are attempting to drop off a box of stuff to St. Vincent de Paul as I was that steamy afternoon. Surely parking limits don’t apply when you’re ferrying children to the park. Why can’t I jump to the front of the Jetstar check-in when I have a baby in my Bjorn? Don’t mums deserve to bypass the queue at Woolies?
We are entitled to flexible working hours too, the only way we can sustain our careers with little ones at home. It’s a big ask: childcare friendly hours, school holidays off, and a definite no way, not happening to staying back late. The catch is, for every special privilege bestowed on a mother, someone else is carrying the load. Pre-motherhood I was always happy to work weekends and Christmas ever hopeful the time would come when I would be grateful for the same treatment. But what if you’re not a parent and are never going to be, either through choice or circumstance? All hail the progress being made on accommodating mums in the workplace redressing the mass exodus of experience that tragically walks out the door with skilled women who decide that it is one or the other. While “working mums” are often preferred employees for their focus and commitment, keen to get the job done and get on home, others are the unspoken bane of the office, a huge burden on their colleagues who are relied on to cover for them.
A woman I know – who doesn’t have children – claims it is taken for granted that she will be available to work back late and do the interstate trips because the working mums in her team aren’t available due to family commitments. “I get quite resentful”, she says. “Especially as there is no opportunity for payback and no appreciation shown, particularly by the mums. It just seems so unfair.”
Which is why paid parental leave is such a no brainer allowing women to not have to make that choice. To not have to feel torn between their home and work time, leaving co-workers to fill the void. But the system we have now – the first in Australia’s history – is embarrassingly retro and not financially viable enough to enable many mums to stay home. Even for a bit. And there will always be women who want to go back to work. As they should.
But it is the philosophy that underpins this special privilege payment that is encouraging: Honouring the role of parenting so much so that the government will pay you to be one. For eighteen weeks, anyway. At minimum wage. There is economics in it (keeping skilled women in the system because it costs more to train up new ones) but it is also about human rights. And preservation of the species. If mums are not cut a bit of slack to be human beings as well, they might decide it is hardly worth it and then where would we be?
I have come to covet those Parents With Prams parking spots with the little pram symbol (no parking inspector can reach me there!) But it seems even this tiny prerogative raises the ire of some. “You are no more special than anyone else just because you procreated”, vented a woman – a mum -on a mummy blog debating their necessity. No more special perhaps but grateful to nab one of the four out of 400 parks for twenty minutes to get the shopping done. She would take real umbrage traveling in Asia where, on holidays with our then 16 month old baby, we were whisked to specially designated airport gates and strange men carried my bags. It is not just mums who are revered over there but mums-to-be, of which I was also one at the time. Not always the case back home. A pregnant woman was recently declined a seat on a bus in Tasmania with one passenger yelling out, “She chose to be pregnant.” So did his mother.
Yes, pregnant women are equally demanding in the entitlement stakes. Queue jumpers. Seat takers. You would think this would be par for the course. When growing a baby should you not be given a little leeway from the kindness of strangers to ease the load?
At least that nice parking inspector understood. Much to my surprise I was issued with a “warning” for that blatant misdemeanor. I won’t park there again, I promise. But what a treat to be granted immunity.
This article was first published in Sunday Life Magazine and DailyLife.com.au on 11th January 2012