After my last post, a friend asked on Facebook whether I’ve read Lean In. Disclaimer: I haven’t (I did watch that ted talk a while back). Random annoyance: Wellington library doesn’t have the audiobook. So this isn’t a review of any sort, it’s just a list of things that are at the forefront of my mind in this whole merry dance of being a parent desirous of maintaining a career, and also the child of a woman who did the same dance. This perspective is not one that I’ve come across in any of the public discussion about these issues. Women like Sheryl Sandburg and Anne Marie Slaughter offer a first generation perspective, and I don’t find it especially useful to hear from them because I’ve grown up living with that. My mother wasn’t quite in their league, but I’ve met only a tiny handful of people my age whose mothers had more impressive, demanding, or high-paying jobs while they were children. At high school, I oscillated between three and a half conflicting emotions: pride that my mum was a real genuine Career Woman; satisfaction that she was also a totally awesome mum, leading to wistful longing that she wasn’t around more; and self-consciousness in the knowledge that her career could have been even better, had it not been for the joyful and wonderful surprise of my lovely self.
I’ve learnt from her experiences, because they were also my experiences.
- Small children accept whatever you present as normal. I didn’t know or care that my mother worked more than other mothers when I was three, because everyone I knew also went to daycare.
- When at primary school, children judge their parents based on their peers. I didn’t wish that my dad worked less, he was more involved than many of the other dads. I wished my mum worked less. Is this fair? No. Will your adult child cling to that view? No. Will it still be tough on the little kid whose mother isn’t there on school trips to the museum? Yes.
- Teenagers have their own agenda for time spent with parents. I think this is why I prefer what I’ve read by Anne Marie Slaughter to what I’ve read about Lean In. Sheryl Sandburg might not know it, but the hardest part is still ahead. The hardest part is when your teenage kids say “yeah, but you choose to work those hours, we don’t need this much money, you could just quit.”
- Childcare isn’t generic. Kids can tell whether they are being looked after by someone who loves them. My mother couldn’t have had her career without her own mother being on hand to look after me and my brother, especially when we were sick. This “tertiary caregiver” role is super important, whether it’s a relative or a regular babysitter who becomes really close to the children.
- Life is all about the little crazy moments. Kids get this, a good day is just a day where interesting stuff happens. It’s not a day where productive things get done. Do not make the mistake of thinking that life is about efficiently doing lots of stuff! It’s not a marathon, it’s one of those crazy mud run obstacle course things. Something that is really really annoying at the time might become a cherished memory. Here’s an awesome story: one day in fifth form, my brother had a friend round after school when no-one else was at home. He and the friend dragged the kayaks down to Pt Chev beach, and paddled out a bit. Then, PLOT TWIST, they got caught in a current and ended up coming ashore somewhere around Home Bay, in the private backgarden sand strip of a posh house. My mum had to leave work early to retrieve the two wet, shamefaced boys, who of course weren’t actually allowed to go on independent sea voyages when no-one was home. But how great is that story?! I would have told a cool story about myself, but the most dangerous thing I ever did with a friend on Pt Chev beach was sticking my tongue in a sea anemone. And that was only because our science teacher said it would sting, and we wanted to test it (yeah, it stings!)
- The anecdote was a bit of a derail (worth it though right), but the efficiency thing goes to the core of parenting. Splitting care is efficient. If you’re looking for an efficient solution to your caregiving dilemma, that’s the one to go for. But it’s usually more fun to do stuff together as a family! Not necessarily all the time, sometimes it’s great to do things separately too, one-on-one time is really valuable. Yet, if both parents are important attachment figures, the child is going to want them to both be there for all the important milestones. IMPORTANT POINT COMING UP: having fathers be equally involved won’t halve the burden for mothers. “Dad came to my school prizegiving, so I didn’t care that Mum wasn’t there” said no child ever.
- Children are resilient, and they cope with what life throws at them, and then they grow up into adults, and unless you have kids later in life you will spend more time as the parent of an adult than as the parent of a child. Take from this what you will. Treasure the child years? Delay career advancement until they’re all grown up? I’m not sure. Just remember that you won’t get to dictate the terms of the parent-child interaction forever.
- Your child does not know how hard your professional peers work, and nor does your child care. Your child does know how much time you spend at home, and your child does care. Your child loves you and wants to hang out with you.