Monday, April 12, 2010

I can have it all, right?

Blog: I can have it all, right?

A blast from the past….

I was at my local café last Sunday afternoon for Mummy Time, getting my weekly fix of the Brangelina saga, when I ran into an old colleague. I had worked with Anna in my first job out of University. She was ten years older than me, smart, sassy, confident and capable. She not only broke the glass ceiling in the company we worked for, but she also cleaned up the shards of glass so we could follow in her footsteps. At 22, I wanted to be exactly like her.

We quickly gave each other a rundown of what we’d been up to. Anna had run her own business before joining her present employer. She was now a Senior Executive with a large team and an astronomical budget. And she had two new dogs to replace the two that had passed on.

I had done a few things too; I had climbed the corporate ladder, managed a team, travelled, and got married. Oh and my dog had died. Only I replaced him with a child.

“So, what do you do now SeaBreeze?” she asked looking a little flummoxed.

“I am a stay-at-home mum,” I said with an easy smile.

“What a waste!” she blurted out. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean it that way!” she said and when I didn’t answer, she dug herself a little deeper.

“I mean, you were really smart,” she continued.  Strange, I am sure I had said I had a baby, not a lobotomy.

“But I suppose you enjoy a life of leisure now” she sneered.

“No, Anna, I wouldn’t call looking after a two-year old a leisurely activity,” I said with a wry smile.

“Don’t you get bored?” she asked.

“Not really. I mean I work from home too,” I said earnestly, suddenly feeling the need to prove myself to my old mentor.

“Surely it’d be good for your child to be at crèche and for you to go back to work. For his socialisation,” she parried.

“He goes to playgroup twice a week and has play dates ,” I said.  I glanced down at my handbag, overflowing with Tonka toys, and discreetly kicked it under the table.

Anna’s friend joined and she introduced us to each other. “Meet SeaBreeze, she was a really promising graduate but now she is a stay- at-home mum,” Anna said with great flair.

“Don’t you even work part-time?” came the opening question from this complete stranger.

“No” I said defensively as the waitress put a steaming cup of hot chocolate down in front of me.

“What a waste of all your years of study,” Anna commented.

I really wasn’t in the mood for this. Besides it was none of their business.

“Hey, is that the time?” I asked abruptly looking at my watch. “I have to go, young child stuff you know,” I said quickly and skulled my scalding hot chocolate. I hadn’t been a beer skulling champion at University for nothing and I am pleased to report the old girl still has it in her!

Out of the birthing suit straight into the boardroom!

The next morning I was multi-tasking between reading the online news, working, cooking, stopping my son from using my saucepans as his potty when I saw an article in The Age by Virginia Haussegger – Women, Ambition and the Baby Boom: what’s going on here?

You can read the article yourself here. However, a rough summary is that Australian women are finally breeding like rabbits (praise be to the Baby Bonus!), but they are losing their career ambitions along with their bladder control during childbirth.

How does Virginia know this? It’s all because more and more women are opting to work part-time to balance young families and careers.

Imagine that! How dare women? Surely a real woman must be able run a corporation full-time, breastfeed and have a body ready for that Vogue photo shoot just a week after childbirth!

My Decision

Now that article just annoyed me. Anna’s comments hadn’t fazed me in the slightest. She really hadn’t said anything I hadn’t thought of myself - I had struggled with whether I was wasting my tertiary education, being lazy,  pissing my potential  down the drain by being a mum. However, my decision to be a stay-at-home-mum had nothing to do with my lack of ambition.

My decision to stay at home was a no-brainer. My son had chronic reflux as a baby, which caused him to be fearful of food. We had to Naso-Gastrically tube feed to prevent him from starving himself to death. My choice was easy, I could either stay at home and teach him the joys of food, or schedule him for major abdominal surgery to have a feeding peg inserted so that he could be fed at crèche. I chose the former.

But is it just me?

Although my choice had been clear and simple, my friends with perfectly healthy babies have faced similar dilemmas. From hairdressers to office administrators, from teachers to lawyers, all have struggled combining careers with motherhood. Some have been forced back into full-time work to pay bills, while others with the best intentions, have pared down full-time work to part-time work.

We women are also completely aware of the risks we are taking by hitting the pause or slow motion button on our careers while we raise our children. We lose out on career advancement and take a massive hit on superannuation savings.

RMIT researchers Karen Elgar and Andrea Chester also report that while most women feel positive and engaged by being employed, they also struggle with having to do everything.  They often feel that they sacrifice on something, usually their children, to keep all the balls in the air.

If you want me to read you a bedtime story, book it in my Outlook Calendar!

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud women who are able to combine full-time work and motherhood. But for effective career advancement in Australia, women have to work twice as hard as men. This means putting in more than your regular 40 hours. Unless you have a very supportive partner, your child will be spending between eight and nine hours in crèche all day. By the time you factor in drop offs, pickups, dinner, bath and bed, you’ve barely spent a hour in your child’s company, except for weekends.

If this is how a person envisions parenting, having to make an appointment to spend time with your child, I’m afraid I am going to have to agree with Dr. Laura Schlessinger who wrote Parenthood by Proxy, who bluntly states “don’t have em if you don’t wanna raise ‘em”.

What do Frank Sinatra and I have in common? We both do it My Way!

Combining part-time work with motherhood seems like a good answer for juggling both a career and parenting. You get to spend time with your child to nurture and bond with your offspring while still keeping your foot in the professional door. Sure you’ll get overlooked when it comes to advancement; but your time will come when the children are older and don’t need you as much.

So Virginia and Anna, I haven’t sold out. My tertiary education has not been a waste. I am still as ambitious as I have ever been. But for now, my priorities have changed. I need to get my family in order. After all it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind and do exactly as she wants!

1 comment:

Tea & Toast said...

Hey Seabreeze,

I too am a stay-at-home mum, formerly a middle manager in a not for profit organisation overseeing multiple programs and staff. Since having my baby girl (who is now 15 months) I have gained significant insight into myself; I love being a mother and in parenthood I have found my calling. I do not plan to go back to work until we have another child, and not until this child is at least in kindergarten. To achieve this we have downsized, we have few expenses and lead a very simple lifestyle. Do I prefer this over struggling to meet deadlines, negotiating staff disputes and that feeling of tight anxiety that precedes an important meeting? Hell yes! My honours degree is not being wasted, it has taught me to view my decision with perfect clarity.... my relationship with my loved ones is far more meaningful than the externally imposed identity of paid professional.

I will continue to read your blog, and look forward to your future observations!


Post a Comment