Monday, March 3, 2008

High expectations; losing control

20 years ago, Valerie Grove wrote the book, The Compleat Woman: Marriage, Motherhood Career - Can She Have It All. It considered the (at that time) relatively rare idea that some women will have a number of children, want to maintain a good, long marriage and continue to develop a career. Until then, this aim was mainly the preserve of well educated, privileged women. Now, the idea is a lot more widespread, at least in the UK, Canada and Australia - women in the US (see post on maternal profiling) don't seem to be getting the same kind of choices.

The Guardian covers the story in some detail and discusses the circumstances and experiences of those women 'having it all' right now.

One woman described herself as 'a mother who worked, rather than a career woman who happened to have children'. Which I thought accurately summed up how I feel about working.

They aren't off loading their childcare responsibilities lightly either - 'Someone has got to spend time with your children: if it isn't you, who is it going to be? Whatever your answer, you have to take a course of action that leaves you feeling that you can somehow face yourself'.

But this is where I also feel uneasy:

1. I'm uncomfortable that anyone should just 'face themselves' about their work/childcare arrangements. We should be positively happy that when our children aren't with us, they are still being cared for in a fun and loving environment.

2. Only one of the fathers in the article took care of the children - all the others hired nannies/sitters etc. Planning childcare shouldn't just be mum's decision - potentially leaving her feeling both guilty and responsible for the choices made. If both parents are going to work, why don't both parents plan childcare?

So far I have been very happy with our childcare arrangements, despite a photo of L'il Lovely giving her childminder a huge kiss and cuddle (beware the green-eyed monster). I even managed to 'expect' Love-of-my-life to take L'il Lovely to and from her childminder one day a week, but he played golf while I chose her 'minder - I tried involving him, but short of locking his golf bags up... what's a gal to do but make her mind up.

But you know what, while I'm willingly happy to see that L'il Lovely has a great time with her minder, I should also have postponed childminder interviews until her dad was prepared to be there too. Instead I found it too hard to give up that opportunity to control the decision. Perhaps that desire to control is what holds some of us back from improving our choices.

Where once women didn't work outside of the home at all, we now expect to have more choice - certainly we resent it if we don't have the choice at all. If we (so many mothers - I'm sure we can't all agree) want more happiness and choice for ourselves and our families it could mean letting go of the reins so that we can share responsibility properly... eek.


Amanda said...

Do you think that some moms don't want to work? That they work only to provide their families with 'necessities'. I've had people tell me that I am so lucky that I don't have to work. I don't believe it is luck. My husband is not rich and does not make a six figure income. I do not work because we make sacrifices so that I can be home.

Sass E-mum said...

There have to be plenty of women who don't want to work:

Some might want to be professional full-time mums, being the principal carer, kiss giver, playmate, educator, caterer and so on. Some, like you, might make sacrifices to do that, others don't (bah humbug!).

Others might have previously been in a job that wasn't satisfying and being a full-time mum could be more interesting and give them more status amongst friends, family and even their partner.

Others might have done the sums, and found the cost of working outweighed the cost and benefits of staying home.

Others might be lazy. Yup. I said it.

There are loads of reasons. And even lazy mums who don't like paid work can turn out to be fantastic parents. Just as those who set out wanting to be professional-mum can still get bored and exasperated by the whole deal.

I love mothering - and I think it was mainly my decisions and preferences that have led to our expectation that I would take a year's maternity leave and go back to work while still being the primary carer. (Though I think he sighed a sigh of considerable relief at that outcome).

Should I have let my husband really get involved in these decisions. Since he's a parent - yes. But because I had such a clear idea about the type of mum I wanted to be - hell no!

Did you and your husband come to a mutual decision about how to parent?

Amanda said...

I wanted to stay home with my oldest. However, my husband really felt like I should work. So, I did. He did not trust that I would not overspend. He did not understand the importance that being at home with my kids held for me. That was a very hard time for me. Not because I didn't trust my baby's caretaker, but because I felt like I could not make my own decision about it. Since, (as we have already discussed) I had to go back to work after about 8 weeks, I also had to give up nursing. They say that you should be able to pump at work and that you can work it into the schedule, but that is easier said than done. (this is where I trash talk the hubby a little, but remember I love him very much and he is a good man) Then I got pregnant with our second child. Some close friends of ours had gotten pregnant about the same time as us and I truly believe that since the wife in that couple was staying home, in an effort to 'up our status' he finally agreed with me staying home. However it happened, I have been home now for about 4 years. Now, he would not have it any other way. He is very happy with our choice.
A side note: I really don't think men have the same wiring as women do. We wake up in the morning thinking about our kids and go to sleep thinking about our kids. I'm not saying they're all we think about, I'm just saying they're always in the back of our minds. I might be wrong, but I don't think it is the same way for men.

Sass E-mum said...

Mmm. There's a limit to how equal parenting can be. Fathers can be a bit hardwired to think about providing the house and the cash. I'm definitely in it for the cuddles!

I do wake up thinking about L'il Lovely. And how soft my pillow is. And how lucky I am that Love-of-my-life is better at waking up in the morning, getting her up, giving her milk and handing her to me in bed for a cuddle...

Beth said...

Me and my partner are self-employed. Up till recently, our now 3 year old son was in nursery 3 days a week, his dad looked after him one day and I looked after hime one day.

My workload increased as my coaching business took off and now he is in nursery 4 days a week and his dad looks after him one day.

I think that untill more men do more child-care women are always going to get a bum deal - trying to do everything. Personally, I'm really happy that Sam has a day a week just with his dad without me as the mummy gatekeeper - I think their relationship is stronger. He has a grown up son from a previous relationship and says how much better it is to be really involved now - ok, he is an older dad and doesn't have to worry about career ambitions. But he knows from comparing the experience how much more he gains from having an independent relationship with his son - and that can only be had by doing some childcare.

For me, I need to have time when I'm working or I'd go crazy!! I also like spending time with dear son. At least my work scedule means that I don't have to rush off to drop him at nursery before 9 and I can pick him up before 5pm as well.

The problem with trying to have a full-time, full on job is that you are constantly exhausted, juggling too many balls.