negotiating equality

Three years out of the paid workforce and I started to want back in. Is it a mistake?

Everyday, I am so busy as it is. I am exhausted. My head is spinning with all the things I’m trying to get done, trying to think through. I have a long list, my finger in many pies. It is difficult to explain to people what it is I do, but please believe me when I say: I do a lot.

And if I get a paid job, even a very small teeny-tiny part time job, what will change? What can I stop doing? Yes, someone will else will have the pleasure of minding Wren while I am at work. But I will still have to make his lunch, get him dressed, get him there. Will Turtledad do more cleaning? more laundry? more anything?  Nobody but me will put the time and mental energy in to do all the research in to Wren’s health care needs. And I just don’t trust the professionals.

My volunteer and activist work will probably suffer. My social life will suffer. The dog will get even less attention, no doubt – poor old thing. And this already very-intermittent blog will suffer.

I do hope that my garden won’t suffer. I hope that my mental health won’t suffer. I hope that Wren won’t suffer.

I think there’s little doubt that life will be even more busy. I can only hope I’ll learn to cope.

So why do it?

To develop another side of myself, to help me feel like a more-rounded multi-dimensional person, because somehow the many, many things I do now are not enough.

So that I can say ‘I have a job’. I don’t believe anyone should need to say that, because there are so many other things of value in the world – but right now, I do.

To keep myself employable, with the possibility of financial independence, because who knows what will happen in the future.

Because it’s been three years out of paid work, and each day I feel my confidence is dwindling and that world is becoming scarier. If I don’t do it now, it will just get harder.

Because full-time parenting is too much for me now. I need time away from Wren. Oh yes, there’s the mama guilt as I write that, but that’s how it is. And I feel like I need a paid job to justify having someone else care for him for more than one morning a week – even though I could easily fill that time in other ways.

Because I live in a town where it is surprisingly easy to get work right now, even possibly interesting and meaningful work.  That may not always be the case, so I feel I should take advantage of the situation while it is here.

And I have a beautiful wonderful friend who will care for Wren for at least some of the time while I work, so I feel like I should take advantage of her while she is her. Um, no, I didn’t mean it like that. I just know that Wren will be happy with her. Ah, easing mama guilt.

So there you go. Are you convinced?

I have applied for a job. I had to do it, but I am terrified of what will happen next.

When I was pregnant I was determined that we would share parenting equally. I really had no idea what parenting meant, what equality meant. Breastfeeding was a shock, initially, the time, the non-sharability. He did lots of other stuff of course. He’s a great father. It was fine. The real shock was that I was happy to be the primary parent. I’ve had a wonderful two years.

But not anymore. Now I want something else.

But now, as I start to try to find that balance again, refocus on that goal of equal parenting, I find we are stuck. Stuck in unequal patterns, internalised parenting responsibilities, weighted heavily towards me.

Notice that I said “I start…”, “I find…” – it is up to me to get equality.

So far this is taking the form of pestering, nagging, frustrated explaining: parenting is more than just taking him along to the shop, the football. Parenting is a lot of thinking, planning: When/what will he eat? When will he sleep? What does he need? How will this affect him?

And then I feel quilty because he has a full time job and is tired and he’s trying his best and my hassling is not really getting us anywhere.

And I feel guilty because I know Wren is picking up on my absence of mind, my longing for something else.

So we are stuck. The way we began is the way we go on. I think lots of people are stuck. It’s a struggle to change when we’re just trying to get through the day to day. Too busy just doing to think about what we’re doing, how we’re doing, who’s doing.

But I don’t want this anymore. I need time for me, other things for me. Me.

So the struggle for equal parenting goes on.

Oh my, where to start? This has possibly been the worst week so far.

I have finally reached the end of my patience.  I don’t know how you get it back…?

Wren is being an average, energetic, authority-testing toddler – what else can he be?  At my best, I can laugh with him and eventually we get somewhere.  But this week, I am not being the mother I want to be.

I am afraid that in this previous post, I oversimplified my choice to delay returning to work. The truth is – and I am surely not the only mother to feel this way – that I am continually being pulled in two (or more) directions. But why is it me who has to be so torn? Why is it so much more straightforward for his father?

We have had a wonderful two years, but I think I may have reached a point where spending 24/7 with Wren is doing more harm than good. I want to enjoy his gorgeous company, not feel resentful. As much as I don’t want to put him in childcare before he is ready, what we have now is no longer working.  Oh, for some other option! Where is the village?

But don’t hold me to anything yet.  Next week I will no doubt change my mind again… about a million times.

p.s. I have just realised that Arwyn at Raising My Boychick has linked to here. I am so grateful for that, but somewhat embarrassed that it has come at such a low point. Apologies to any readers who may have come from there.

So I was thinking, maybe after 2 years it was time for me to go back to work.  Turtledad used to talk (before children) about how he wanted to be a stay-at-home-dad, and has recently made the odd passing comment about when was it time to swap?  Add to that, he has recently started encouraging weaning (grr, more on that later).  So I thought I’d see where he really stood, and open it up for discussion.

Me: So honey, I’ve been thinking about going back to work. How would you feel about quitting work or getting a job with less hours?

Him: Oh, well, I couldn’t do it for another year and a half, because I’m on a 3 year contract, remember?

Me: A 3 year contract!? Oh, no, no, honey, you’ve been duped. It’s not a 3 year contract which means you are bonded to them for 3 years; it’s what used to be a permanent job, but is now a ‘contract’ because they don’twant to guarantee employment for more than 3 years, to save them paying redundancy costs, but we all know they’ll probably just keep renewing the contract.  You can leave anytime – it’s just a matter of whether you want to?

Him: Well, I’m not sure. Why do you want to get a job anyway?

Me: Oh, I just think it’s time I focused on something other than Wren for a while, I think I have a bit more to offer the world, and I think it would be good for you two to spend more time together.

Him:  Do you want to work full time? What job do you want to get?

Me:  Oh, god no! Not full time!  Three days a week, max. I’m not sure what, I’d have to see what’s aroundIt would have to be something interesting and meaningful, I’m not doing any old job. [I have no ‘career’ or ‘profession’ as such, having faffed around at university for too long, doing odd jobs, but I’m very capable and motivated and … oh, this isn’t the interview…]

As the conversation went on, I became less sure about paid work and the possibility of finding something within my desired hours, which would also be fulfilling, enjoyable and not at all stressful.  Was it worth giving up my mornings at playgroup, drinking tea and chatting with other mums, my afternoons walking the dog and playing the park?  And isn’t my volunteer and activist work fulfilling enough?  Atleast I can set my own (very limited) hours and choose exactly what I want to do.  I began to think that all I really want is for Turtledad to work a little less, so that I can have more time for my personal pursuits. Paid work was only looking good because I’ve been out of it for so long. I think the main benefit would simply be to make me appreciate my time with Wren more.

And then Turtledad started talking about investigating more childcare options (our previous attempts at childcare ended badly).

Hold on a minute!  Didn’t he realise how generous I was being, offering to go to work so that he could enjoy his son more?  I think I must have pitched this all wrong. He seemed to think the aim was to offload Wren. No, no, no! I’m not going to work so that I can worry about how my baby’s going at childcare.  The point is for dad and son to have more bonding time!

A couple of days after this conversation, this post by bluemilk directed me to this great article by Sandra Tsing Loh. It made me feel like less of a bad feminist for staying out of paid work. Paid work is rarely as rewarding as it’s made out to be. And I sure as hell don’t need money for more appliances. Stayin’ right away from that capitalist consumerist cycle for now.

Conclusion:  Paid work can wait. But I’m still disappointed Turtledad didn’t say YES. More negotiations to come…