Opinion

A mother’s work is never done

By John Lewis

Here we are again on the eve of another Mother’s Day and the flowers are blooming, the cards are in the shops, and the love is growing like a great balloon of... love.

Nothing out of the ordinary there.

What has been extraordinary, if not downright shameful, is the use of a politician’s love and respect for his mother as an election baseball bat.

Undoubtedly, Bill Shorten is a wily politician.

He’s been in public life long enough to expect brick-bats from the Murdoch press during an election.

Cynical observers may even think him wily enough to use the story of his mother’s struggle to become a lawyer as a vote-winner.

But there’s just no excuse other than a desperate attempt at a ‘‘gotcha’’ moment in The Daily Telegraph report that he ignored his mother’s later ‘‘illustrious’’ career as a lawyer after she had raised her children.

That’s a nasty personal swipe from a Murdoch attack dog, which actually says more about conservative attitudes to women than it does about Shorten’s alleged factual cover-up.

So what if his mother had a late career as a lawyer?

The truth is — she, just like so many mothers, let go of her own goals to help her children pursue theirs.

Of course, The Daily Telegraph’s point was that Shorten had shown ‘‘slipperiness on detail’’ when talking about his mother Ann on the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday.

However, the paper scored an own goal in then giving Shorten more oxygen to talk about his mother’s story of sacrifice as a mum and then determination in the face of prejudice as an older woman trying to forge a career later in life.

As we approach Mother’s Day it seems an appropriate time to talk about what we owe our mothers.

Whether our mums were ambitious or not, they washed our clothes, cooked our meals, made our beds and cleaned our toilets.

And they still do.

A 2016 Australian Institute of Family Studies report showed that mothers continue to do the lion’s share of the housework even while they work.

Not surprisingly, a lot of mothers reported feeling tired a lot of the time.

An abiding memory I have of my mum is of her collapsing on to a kitchen chair at the end of the day saying ‘‘I’m exhausted’’.

And she didn’t go to ‘‘work’’.

My mum came from the other side of World War II when it was expected that young mothers stayed at home while fathers went out to ‘‘work’’.

I remember conversations about her dreams of becoming a teacher as a young woman.

In 1936, she travelled from Edinburgh to London to train as a nursery teacher in the slums of Deptford.

She spent six months in hospital with diphtheria and then went back to work pulling nits out of snotty-nosed hungry kids’ hair and dreaming of her own class full of book-hungry kids.

Then she got married.

Forty years later as a snotty-nosed college student I asked her what was the happiest time of her life?

She said it was standing in the backyard on a windy day with a washing line full of clean cloth nappies flapping in the breeze.

Then I asked — did she regret never having a job?

She looked at me with the rheumy eyes of someone who had peeled shiploads of potatoes, shelled buckets of peas, cooked ten thousand Sunday roasts, cleaned hectares of muddy floors, and nursed four children through decades of winter colds and schoolyard scuffles.

It was never work for her, neither was it duty or sacrifice. It was just love.

Twenty-four years after my mother cleaned her last floor — I suspect it’s still the same for mothers everywhere.

Sunday is a day to say thanks — with love, and flowers.

John Lewis is a senior News journalist.