A domestic reappraisal

I’VE been batching for two weeks so far, two of four weeks, and I’ll confess to a new appreciation of a working mother’s life. Not that I want to make too much of it, or to appear contrite or abashed, but it is true that I’ve had to tweak my mindset in a few small ways.

This is not the first time I’ve batched for any length of time, because, after all, I was a self-catering batchelor mostly for the first nine years of my adult life, but somehow things were different way back then. I didn’t cook as a bachelor – I can remember making two dishes, one boiling fresh peas on Crete until they became a stew and another adding a tin of curry powder to a pot of boiling vegetables in a London flat – and I never, not once, used a washing machine. Cheap eateries and laundromats made good sense and perhaps should still.

But now I have a home and an at-home 17-year-old son, who while not entirely dependent does need a fair bit of organising. And it is the organising, the new need to organise him, me, meals, clothes and a surprising number of other things that has required me to reprogram the way I go about my day. For the first week, for example, it didn’t occur to me in the morning to plan what I was going to eat that night, and as a consequence son and I ate toasted sangers and tinned stuff on toast.

By the second week I’d decide in the morning what I was cooking for dinner, take the sausages from the freezer to thaw and check to see what was still edible in the rotter, which you may know as the vegetable crisper. So this afternoon, as I write, I’m buying vegetables on the way home. On the way home, that is, after I’ve picked up my son from a late finish at school, and there is concern for both of us as to whether I’ll get there at the appointed time and whether I’ll forget and not get there at all. It doesn’t matter much at age 17, but I can imagine the stress for working mothers in arranging the transporting of young children and for those whose working hours are not flexible in getting there on time. I recall that my wife’s arrangements for picking up and dropping off when we had a number of school-age children were often complex, not that I paid much attention.

The mornings can be more stressful than I’m used to, and that’s with just one teenager who seems always to me to be about to miss the bus. Breakfast, lunch, books, bus pass, teeth, hair. He says I’m worse than his mother, and I’ll admit I seem to be more stressed about it. I can’t imagine how I’d have coped in the days when we had four going to school and a toddler getting in everyone’s way. Just as well I didn’t have to.

For all my new understanding I cannot accept the incessant moaning about the washing. It’s a cinch. On Saturday I did my first ever wash in a washing machine (I’ve been advised not to admit that!) and it went so well I did four loads. I put either light or dark stuff into the machine, added a spoon of powder, turned the dial to the appointed spot and pressed a green button, and it was so easy I was worried I’d missed a step or two. When the machine beeped I hung the washing on the line, not the first time I’d used a peg but certainly the first time I’d used as many.

Then I asked my son to use a wet cloth to wipe dirt marks off the floor and he excelled by actually mopping the floor!

Not bad for someone whose domestic duties had extended to putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket, making half the bed, suggesting something nice for dinner, and telling my wife when I’m low on socks.

A friend who is a single mum with young children tells me my batching is no test. I have, she says, no stress about job start and finish times in conflict with the children’s needs for supervision, no crisis in child care when I finish late, no need to feed children separately because of different timetables, no daily preparation of school uniforms, no constant organising to ensure a child is not left alone, no anxiety about missing work to care for a sick child.

Yes, I’ll admit that my attitudes are undergoing a realignment. And in the spirit of renunciation I’ll confess that I’ve never changed a dirty nappy.

Do many of us underestimate the stress on working mothers? Is the division of domestic duties still unequal? Or do women have hormones that help them cope?

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