With my son in China and Harvey out of action, I had no illusory expectations about Mother's Day. For various completely different reasons, I was feeling a bit down by the time I set off, mid-afternoon, for a walk to the supermarket. I imagined being the target of pitying looks: "Poor thing, shopping alone, no one to do things for her today..." I should have known that was rubbish. The shop was full of mothers with one, two or three young chidlren in tow, trying to get the shopping done. They can't all have had partners doing shift work. On the local tennis court, four men were playing doubles.
Anyway, I bought myself two pink treats - smoked salmon and tinned guavas - and soon after I got home our lovely neighbour Jenn rang and said she was bringing some flowers over for me. So I invited her and Barry for a glass of wine, and we ate the smoked salmon with it, and I felt much better.
Among the sudden rash of Mother's Day items in the media, a few stood out. First, David Hill's very moving tribute to his mother in the Listener - all the more poignant because she worked in a tobacco factory (which gave its bonuses in cigarettes), and died of emphysema at 52.
Then there was the report of a survey showing that women and men have completely different perceptions of how much each of them do around the house. Men think they carry responsibility for 4.7 chores a week compared with women's 5.4. But women reckon they do 9.3 chores a week and men do 2.7. Most mothers feel undervalued and say they carry the bulk of household tasks such as laundry, cleaning, vacuuming, shopping, cookng the evening meal and looking after sick children.
The other story that really got to me was about one of the five mothers featured in the Sunday Magazine. (Doesn't seem to be on-line so I can't give the link.) This 22-year-old "housebound mum", with a three-year-old and an eight-month-old, sounded exactly the same as the flat, ground-down young mothers interviewed by Jane Ritchie in the 1960s:
"I spend every minute of the day with these kids and I would love to get away...but you're a mother. That's your job. You don't get holidays, you don't get sick days, you don't get overtime, and you don't get any pay...[my partner] has just had a fantastic guys' weekend away. Not that I'd want to stop him doing that, but why can't I do that?...Yes, I'm happy and I wouldn't trade any of my kids for the world but in the process I've given up everything that used to make me me. I have a problem finding out what I actually enjoy now."
I know there has been real change over the last forty years for lots of couples, and there are plenty of genuine parenting partnerships out there. But there are also plenty where nothing's changed, and that's awful.