Ex Pat Mamma

Friday, February 18, 2005

Is there a contradiction?

Being awake in the middle of the night is never a good thing, especially when one is feeling extremely tired and has the added pressure of "ooh, I HAVE to get to sleep because I have lots of work to do tomorrow." Not exactly conducive. Whilst I never fail to dose off in the relaxation session at my yoga class, at 4am the same skill utterly deserts me. The body is practising for parenthood.

So what was it this time? The career thing. Do people judge me because I have no plans to curtail my career for this baby? And why do I care? Why am I even writing this self-justification blog? Why do I feel I need to?

Needless to say, it has not even occurred to my husband to feel in any way as though there is a conflict between his work and his family to be. Nor has anyone else implied that there might be. There is no suggestion that loving his job means that he will love his baby any less; in fact, the general attitude is that loving his job makes him a better father, ┬┤cause of course he will need all his hard earned pennies to support his wife and child. (This, incidentally, is not true in our case; my husband and I earn the same and could live on one - either - salary. We might curtail our trips to our families but we would certainly not be poor.)

Why am I writing this? I hate myself for writing this, for feeling I have to. But I read something in a magazine where a stay at home mother said that she thought going back to work was not only selfish and irresponsible and meant your child would be permanently emotionally scarred but that she thought it was a form of "acceptable child abuse." What? And why I am I STILL pissed off about this? Why do I care what a total stranger things about my life choices?

I love my job. I love my career. I have worked off the balls I don't have to get here. Sure, some mornings I struggle to get out of bed, because I am tired and some nights I go home exhausted. I cherish my weekends. But I never wake up and wish I didn't have to work. It is the most important thing in my life.

I believe that when my baby arrives, things will change; my child will be the most important thing in my life, infinitely more precious than my career. I think this change might even begin gradually before I give birth; in the last couple of months slowly my love and devotion to this child will grow and grow. And I am already fiercely committed to this baby; sitting in hospital waiting rooms wondering if this baby would even make it brought that home very much.

But, and this is the big but: I do not think, no matter how much I love my child, I will love my job less. It is not a zero sum game. There is not only so much love to go around, especially when the sorts of love and committment are so completely different. Incommensurable.

One reason (apart from the fact that it is deadly dull) that I didn't pursue a career as a practising lawyer is that to get anywhere, you need to work ridiculous hours and sacrifice your personal life. You CAN have a family and work "part-time" (part time for lawyers is only 40 hours a week). This is known as the "mummy track" for good reasons and guarantees you shitty simple cases, crap pay and zero chance of career development, let alone the chance to make partner.

One of the reasons we moved to Iceland was that work and family are not mutually exclusive here. When I have a child, I will work 8-4 and no later and no-one will even think this implies I am not committed to my job. This will not hold me back. (We turned down Barbados for this!)

I have a huge respect for stay at home mothers. I believe they do the most amazing and important job. It frustrates me when they say "I don't work, I'm a stay at home mum." (What?! So you are just sitting about all day drinking tea? The feeding, clothing, bathing, nappy changing is done by the fairies?) The irony is that within my research for my job I routinely call for greater support and respect for full time parents, including pension savings for people who put their paid jobs on hold to do something that is both more important and contributes more to society. I do this whilst demanding that women have a choice - a choice with quality day-care so that if they choose to work for pay, they can "afford" to do so. It is tragic when women who want to work for pay cannot do so because they end up worse off financially at the end of the week. And it is also tragic when women and men who would like to be full-time parents of their pre-schoolers cannot afford to do so. This is particularly hard for men as, being usually the higher earner and also the one who is expected to be the breadwinner, they simply cannot afford to swap traditional roles with the mothers of their kids.

Some parents work for pay because they can't afford to stay home. They hate their jobs, or at least don't enjoy their jobs and would much rather have the job of full-time parent. But some parents work for pay because they love their jobs. And I think it is hard for people who do not love their jobs to understand that. What could be more important than being with your child? Nothing, that is a stupid question. But I can spend 128 hours a week with my child, knowing that for the other 40 he is in loving, caring hands. My husband will do the same. No-one judges my husband on this (if anything, they will think he ought to be working more). Why do I feel they will judge me?

And more to the point, why do I even care?


  • At 9:58 PM, Blogger U&A said…

    Oh, please!!!

    My mum and dad both worked. Okay, they were self-employed, but as far as I can see that only meant that they worked longer hours than most people who are employed by others. One thing I never doubted was how much I was loved by them. I'm not emotionally scarred by the fact they both worked.

    You love your job and that is as it should be. Everyone should be so luckly. As far as I'm concerned, when quality of care is equal, working and staying at home are both equally valid choices dependent on one factor only: how much love you show your child when you're with them and how accessible you are to them when you're not.

    Anyone or thing that says otherwise is taking a cheap shot that plays to guilt and fear. That's why it hits so hard, of course.

    You'll be a good mum, I think.


  • At 10:40 AM, Blogger ex_pat said…

    Thanks, Alisdair. I'm feeling sensitive these days, don't really know why. Not sure I will be a good mum, but I'm pretty sure I will be a guilt-ridden one! (regardless of the choices I make). I'm one of life's saddest creatures: a perfectionist, which makes it impossible to forgive myself anything. Accepting in advance that I cannot be a perfect parent will not perhaps provide me with the armour I need every time I screw up.


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