My career means a lot to me.
Just thought I’d get that out there so there’s no confusion.
Start warning: I’m exorcising a demon today. Something grrrrr-inducing and toxic that’s been rattling around inside me for longer than it should have. Ranty pants are on. Click away now if they’re not what you want to see.
Start rant: I’m a stay-at-home mum. I do some work here and there, bits and bobs that float my way, but I’m first and foremost a mum, and anyone who works with me understands that. I’ve scheduled phone interviews around the kids’ naps, stayed up all hours to work, and even brought the kids to corporate board rooms for meetings.
When I was pregnant with Ashleigh, people used to ask how long I’d stay at home. And, not having been particularly clucky at any stage of my life, nor having been particularly brilliant at relating to kids, I used to respond with something along the lines of this: I’ve never had one of these baby things before, but I imagine I’ll be climbing the walls in frustration by the six-month mark, itching to get back to work.
But then I had one of those baby things and lost myself to motherhood. Totally and completely lost myself. I’ve since found myself. An altered self, but essentially the same self. But a self that has surprised me. A self that has decided to stay at home with the kids.
Four years since I stopped working full-time in the corporate world, I’m still at home with my almost-four-year-old and my one-year-old.
I’m at peace with that. But something still niggles.
It’s not the lack of career. It’s not the concern about the gap in my resume, or a worry about finding work when I’m ready to return to the world of wearing suits, attending meetings and actioning actions (and verbing nouns).
It’s a comment. A single comment made two years ago by someone I barely know.
I was at a party, talking to a friend of a friend. His wife was pregnant with their second child, and he mentioned that she was about to finish work. He was talking about child care, his worries about juggling two children, and when he thought his wife might again return to work. He then asked what I did.
When I said that I was still at home with Ashleigh, there was a pause (which I’m used to). Then came the bit I’m not used to: he said, “Oh. I guess my wife’s career means more to her than yours does to you.”
It might seem like a nothing sentence, and even as I read it now, I feel like I’ve blown it out of proportion. But it stung. It really stung. I didn’t feel the need to jump immediately to my defence (I may have been too busy collecting my jaw from the floor), but a friend of mine who was having a (completely separate) conversation nearby immediately spun around and said, “Oh, mate, if you think that then you don’t know Em at ALL.”
The friend of a friend laughed awkwardly and things went quiet. We then moved onto another topic and nothing more was said about it. And I doubt that he’s given it a second thought since. In fact, I’m sure that if he read this blog post, he wouldn’t recognise himself.
But I have given it a second thought. And a third, fourth and fifth. Obviously. Two years later, and I’m writing a blog post about it.
I’m annoyed because I feel like it shouldn’t annoy me, that I should rise above it. (And yes, I know how little sense that makes.) I’m annoyed because that’s a huge assumption to make about someone. I’m annoyed because if I had said the opposite thing – that I guess my children mean more to me than hers do to her – he would (quite rightly) have been offended and put me in my place. I’m annoyed because if I had put another spin on it – perhaps that I was more confident in my ability to find the work I wanted to do when I decided to return to work – he would again (quite rightly) have been offended on his wife’s behalf.
Why is it okay to make judgments about, and comparisons to, other people’s decisions? Why is it especially okay in regards to family and children?
Why must we pass comment?
I’ve been thinking about why this statement annoyed me. I’ve asked myself to be brutally honest and admit if it’s because it struck a nerve. But it’s not.
This statement didn’t annoy me because I wish I had my full-time corporate career back, or because the stay-at-home life is wearing me down. Not yet, anyway, and certainly not two years ago.
It annoyed me because of how flippant it was. Oh, you’re still at home? You don’t care about work then. Dismissed.
It can’t be that you’ve sat down and considered the options. It can’t be that you have decided that you can build a career at any time, but that you know yourself well enough to understand that in ten years’ time, you would personally regret missing these early years more than you would regret missing out on any career progression that may have happened.
It can’t be that you realise how privileged you are to even be able to make this decision when others are forced to go back to work just to survive and provide for their children.
It must mean that you just don’t want to work.
My career means a lot to me. I have ambitions, goals and dreams. There are things I want to achieve. There are things I was on the way to achieving when I took my ‘baby break’. I am confident that I will achieve these things.
To paraphrase Dr Seuss, I have brains in my head. I have feet in my shoes. I will steer myself any direction I choose.
My family means a lot to me. I have surprised myself with how much I’ve enjoyed being home, and how important that decision to stay at home has become to me. I’ve learnt things about myself. I’ve discovered patience I never knew I had.
And I know that patience has a limit. I will not be at home forever. But that doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. None of this should matter.
These are my decisions. Our family’s decisions. Other people and other families make other decisions. Other people and other families have decisions made for them through circumstance.
I do not think that any one person is more or less committed to their career than I am. I do not think that any one person is more or less committed to their family than I am.
Do what is right for you. I just hope that what is right for you includes not judging others for what is right for them.
Enough with the mummy wars, the parenting wars, the judgy wars, the anything wars. Just. Stop.
And… deep breath. Sorry about that. What’s gotten you fired up lately? Or two years ago?