I was bought up in the Fifties, we didn’t have much money, rationing had just ended, we lived in a two up two down terraced house with an outside toilet.
We had no telephone, no car, no washing machine and of course no television. We did however have a cellar, and if unwanted callers arrived at the door, like the milkman or bread man demanding money, she would herd us into the cellar where we had to remain very quiet until they had disappeared.
Our diet would certainly have been frowned on by today’s standards. We were an observant Jewish family, no mean feat when you are poor and you live in Leicester. We had sugar sandwiches at tea time, dripping sandwiches for lunch, and some very odd concoctions for dinner. We only had chicken twice a year – I am not sure if this was because of expense or the rarity of getting kosher chickens.
As toddlers, mum would take us to the local park, typewriter balanced precariously on the pram handlebar, and while we played on the grass she would be typing envelopes to earn a few bob.
Mum was not a Nigella or Delia and until I left home I thought that cabbage was supposed to be all mushy. However her chocolate eclairs were a triumph! Once when she had friends coming over for tea, and not wanting us children depleting the supply, she left a note on the cakes which read “I have spat on every one of these”.
When we got to nursery school age she would take both of us to school on her bike, one on front and one behind and then ride to various temp jobs she had with the Brook Street Bureau.
Despite our lack of amenities growing up with mum was a lot of fun. She had a great imagination, a wicked sense of humour, and a real anarchic sense of adventure. She would take us on escapades that would be unthinkable in today’s health and safety conscious society.
I have 3 children, I had help with childcare, we live in a comfortable house with all mod cons, my partner and I have well paid jobs, and the children had an excellent education. Yet somehow I think my mother was less stressed than I am. I run around chasing my tail and never catching it. Weeks wiz past with the ‘to do’ list getting longer. And despite the fact that the children have all grown up, my parents sadly dead, and I run my own company, I still have no time and sink into bed at night exhausted.
So would one say I had it all and was I better off than my mother?
I think the mantra first coined by a Cosmopolitan editor that we could ‘have it all’ was perhaps misleading. Combining a career and motherhood is hard work. And although it’s possible to raise a family while holding down a career, something has to give. Maybe it’s the chocolate eclairs! Certainly within my circle of friends life was a tiring mix of slapdash housework, missed dead-lines and juggling childcare and nothing ever really went to plan.
Erin Pizzey, founder of the women’s refuge movement, argued that by dispensing with the time-honoured tradition of male breadwinner and female nurturer, we’ve invented a game in which everyone loses. Men are “disenfranchised” from their roles. And she thinks that we are an exhausted generation of women trying to do it all and in chasing this we have become imprisoned by the need to work full-time. And yes, she thinks we should turn back the clock.
I wonder what my mother would say.