Wednesday, 26 May 2010

action stations

The morass has sufficiently frustrated me that I have taken action.

Action I may yet live to regret - action that certainly will be neither cost or pain free.

Despite all the good reasons I had back when I made this decision (my train of thought goes something like this, this, and this), I have taken steps in the opposite direction. On paper perhaps it's not such a big thing, but it's a real shift internally for me.

I went through the paperwork to increase the number of days I work a week at the spanner works, thereby taking away the one day a week I had kept in reserve for my job as domestic manager. My day for doing the shopping and filling the freezer and paying the bills and doing the washing and making the beds and making a creative space for myself and my kids to be inspired, at least a little to get out of the rat wheel.

So why did I do it?

Because while everyone of us who has been a mother or a wife or carer or householdkeeper understands how big a job that is and why historically this was a clear and delineated full time role in every family, in the end for me, I just couldn't handle feeling so marginalised and invisible. I'm not totalising here, I'm not generalising and commenting on other people and their choices, I'm simply saying I reached a point of realising that for me, in my world, I wanted something different.

And it is irrelevant whether that's just in my head or what other people or institutions say to me about my worth as a low end marginalised part time worker who puts family responsibilities first. In the end I can't quiet what I know to be true.

But I've also been really struck by a couple of conversations I've had with other bloggers and commenters as a result of these posts (and I thank all of you who took time to write, to say thank you, to engage in conversation with me over email - it has been incredible). They have reminded me of a few things I used to feel strongly about, but somehow seem to have gotten lost in the last few years.

The first of these was this notion of equal and shared parenting and working. I know there are two sides of this coin, and I'm not speaking here about my partner's actions or motivations, but by stepping into the domestic role I've backed away from rejecting the idea that just because I have a uterus I was born to keep house. I know there's a whole raft of factors that work against achieving this kind of equality, but goddamn knowing it's an uphill battle and perhaps an unachievable goal isn't the same as rolling over and playing dead. I want to hear again the reasons why the solution to the collision between our family and work commitments is for me to give in, to take the bullet for us all, accept a totally compromised place in the workforce and spend the rest of my life trying to work around the things other people think are important. To devote my emotional energy to pretending I don't mind when I absolutely and completely do.

The second of these has to do with really thinking about what I'm teaching my kids. Is the extra time I get with them compensation for teaching them that it's my job to make their beds and cut their lunches and fold their washing, while daddy goes out in the world, on aeroplanes and away from us because his work is really important? Do I want Wil growing up expecting that the most important thing he can do for a family is earn a living, and be there 'when he can'? Do I want Amy to know that all the education she gets and aspirations she has about employment and her place in the world are fine so long as she's prepared to give it up when she has children? For either of them to believe that mummys write shopping lists for daddys or that mummys carry mobile phones so they can always be found, that mummys look for, find and treat nits, that daddys teach you how to play football and build lego and mummys buy your clothes and change the sheets on your bed and bake cakes for afternoon teas with your friends.

What I would like them to see as obvious, normal and completely expected is two parents who balance things equally. Who both willingly (and without having their arms twisted) place limits on their work lives to be with their children, to manage (rather than 'help with') the domestic burden and support each other in what they want to achieve. Who both take responsibility for planning, organising and executing the jobs, who negotiate on the basis of what's fair not just what's easiest. Who both accept that the balancing act of having a family in an era where all adults, regardless of their gender or family status have the same rights and obligations to be self sufficient and self interested and where procreation is seen as a 'lifestyle choice' means fundamental compromise about the way they can participate in the market and workforce. [I hope their solution isn't for both parents to run to self interest, to both work full time under some spurious notion of economic need because neither is prepared to compromise more than the other because I think this just shifts all the compromise to the kids and they don't get a say in it]. I would like them to be angry about that, to agitate for change and expect more of their workplaces and governments when it comes time for them to try the balancing act, but I want them to feel absolutely and completely like the burden and the fight is shared.

So I have taken a step towards this. It might be a small step or it might be a big step, I'm not sure yet. I'm pretty sure that as soon as this change kicks in (at the start of next school term) there will be consequences, and they won't be pleasant. I will be tired and feel stretched. There will be more mornings in which just getting out the door on time will be a challenge and more nights in which there is not a healthy home cooked meal waiting to be had when Wil and I get through the door. There will be more shopping and chores on weekends and less time or inclination to be tidy or relax. There will be some sadness and most likely a bit more sickness and a harder time recovering from it. There will be more decisions based on convenience rather than preference and there will be more conflict when family needs run counter to work commitments. There will be less creative time and perhaps over time, less creative work (what I do on that other non spanner works, non child caring day). And those weeks were I do my day job and have two days of teaching, or deadlines for books or patterns or other creative work will be very stressful. The times when David is away for work will be harder to manage and will chew up my leave from work and I am sure I will resent them much more.

And while all this flows back my way I will try and keep in mind that it may be hard now, but the choices I am making today are an investment in my future, and my ability to be a part of the family on terms I can live with. But it is also an investment in the future I want my children to have and a vote for a future I want for all women and mothers and children and fathers. Not because families should not be able to choose to divide their roles and labour as they see fit, but because until things are truly equal that choice is not really free.

Edited to add - I forgot to say anything about this, but it is important. My decision is not about money. Increased earnings are not what I am seeking - either now or in the future. What I want is work I feel is worth the time I devote to it, work I care about, work which connects to the things that are important to me. A stronger attachment to the workforce is more likely to give me these things, just as it gives them to my full time working partner. It is also an important insurance against future financial problems should one or both of us experience job loss or incapacitation.


Anonymous said...

great post. :) April

Cecilia said...

Thanks for writing such an eloquent makes clear alot of my thinking,and gives me some more ideas of what to do about the frustration of feeling sidelined by my gender

lisette said...

bravo susie - the parenting/working thing is always going to be a hard trade-off but you have to do what is best for you and your family (not anyone else. it's 'easy' in the sense of less effort to be the default parent - i'm always amazed that school/creche will ring me first to come and pick up a sick child.

it's ongoing compromise, every day and the demands change as your kids gorw older - teenagers need parents just as much as toddlers but in very different ways. i think one of the fundamental lessons kids need to learn is that you have needs too and everyone has to compromise. i was just thinking this morning of all the things i am 'supposed' to do (work/do half the cooking/laundry/ grocery shopping/mothering/partnering/drinking 2 litres of water/exercise (hah!)/pelvic floor exercises/back exercises/creative time/helping with homework/me time.... and there are more things but i just can't fit them all into 24 hours, it's impossible :) so i just have to do what i can when i can and hope it all works out in the end.
thanks for the thought provoking posts - i might turn this into a blog post of my own :)

Jodie said...

Quite aside from all the big issues you have been raising here lately,I am glad you have reached a decision.
I have been worried about you.

frog said...

Brava - on making a decision that works for you and for writing about it. I think we all know that these types of decisions aren't easy, they involve risks and cares but - they have their reward too. Internal fulfillment and demonstrated commitment to the values we want to demonstrate to our children make for brave decisions and living.

Stitching At Stone Cottage said...

tough decision, but you nailed it in dynamic equilibrium.. change is the only constant....nothing has to be permanent and you can go into your new decision knowing you are still in control, to change it, if you start living in a pressure cooker....women have been lamenting over the balance for generations...good luck...i hope we still get to see your fabulous crafting skills on-line!

Kate said...

I think, often, it is as much about who is in charge of thinking about the work as who does that work. The 'help with' bit really resonated. I remember someone saying about sewjourn that it was the first meal in more than 10 years that they hadn't been in charge of - whether that was ringing for pizza or cooking a meal or organising to get people to a restaraunt or family event. It wasn't that she COOKED every meal, but she COORDINATED every meal.

It's exhausting, frankly. Penelope Trunk talks about her house manager all the time. This was not the post I was looking for but it explains it

Good for you for making a tough decision. Hope the transition isn't too painful.

Kris said...

This is a very interesting response: you seem to be engaging with patriarchal structures head on, rather than finding a way to work within them. (Will you be the woman who finally brings down the patriarchy? Wow - you'd get some kind of certificate for that, I think.)

Your posts have been so interesting to me because you have been articulating some of our challenges as we were living them. We came to a very different decision two days ago: my partner will quit his job and I'll go back to my career f-t. Our short term risks were fast morphing into certainties, while the long term risks remained just that. On the one hand it relieves the pressure, on the other our decision continues to buttress the organisational presumption that each worker has a wife at home.

Ren said...

Well done Sooz. Very proud to know you. I have just come home from playgroup, and once again, one of the mums asked me what Archie's dad does, and why he works part time. The assumption is that he is only half a man because he has chosen to work part time so that he can look after his son when I am at work. I think our culture does not yet accept the shared equal parenting caper. And of course there are financial implications to the way we’ve managed our household, with both of us working part time the impact on our super is pretty darn big. But we’ve made this decision, and it is good for us. I hope that when your kids and my boy are grown up, they will be truly free to make the kind of choices that suit their particular circumstances. Without all these cultural expectations of what it means to be a good mum and a good dad getting in the way.

Anonymous said...

I saw this in today's New York Times and immediately thought of your struggles keeping a household. Enjoy a bit of whimsy! Hallie

Clare B said...

My partner and I are thinking about having children in the next year and the issues you raised are my fears and were articulated so beautifully in this post. It still seems hard for women to say "I want work", "I want to share parenting", I want 'us' to have careers and be carers. Good-luck!

MildlyCrafty said...

Hi Sooz, I'm so glad to hear you made a decision to change things. It takes guts when you know that it could lead to further issues ahead. Good luck!

(and btw, I finished my skirt I was doing in the class at Tessuti's, it looks awesome! Thanks for your help with it. I'll take a pic as soon as I can.)

innercitygarden said...

I was on the verge of getting a bit serious, and then I read Kris' certificate idea. So now I'm envisaging you battling the patriarchy and the resulting certificate presentation ceremony. You could squirt champagne all over the audience.

Congratulations on making a decision.

Leah said...

Good for you! You sound very glad to have made a decision about this :)

Austy's Mum said...

It's a tough gig, filling the roles of wife, mother and career woman. I know, I've been there - several times struggling with hich plate to catch first. You are right about the way that our culture still has a long way to go. As a female engineer in a very male world, I too am thinking up ways to change my life for the better. Maybe not better for our pocket, but better for our family. Ther was a time when I thought I could be a mother, and keep a house a be a successful career woman in engineering. I wouldn't have studied a 4yr undergrad dregree followed by 5yrs part time (whilst working full time with a young boy and a bub on the way) to do a masters had I known then what I know now.

My career is apparently a full time role - there is no room for part time engineers, so as soon as my daughter turns 2 I have to be there every day and hope I can work something out so the children don't have to suffer long days in ca and at school. However on the other scale of things, since I have been on maternity leave twice, I have not been promoted like every other of my study mates have been and part of me feels that this is because they know that I am a mother and have beds to make, meals to cook, washing to sort and put away, cakes to cook for kindy cake stalls etc. It shouldn't make a difference and every policy states that it doesn't but in the real world it does.

All you can do is try and find a situation that works for you now and to try and bring your children up as best you can so that they can li in a fairer world. Be the best you can be, and they will thrive.

kris said...

'You could squirt champagne all over the audience.'

No, so phallo-centric! There'll be done of that in the new, soozs approved world, I am sure. Unless it's all done ironically.

And no under-paid woman has to mop up afterwards.

Or wear a bikini and high heels.

sooz said...

Though I think one small small step is not likely to signal the death knell of the old beast I do feel a certain fighting spirit about this. Should I have such an impact you know, I'd rather fancy they'd name a dessert after me.

Rachael said...

This resonates with me very much.

I am an engineer too but have been at home for six whole years now 'keeping house'. I worry about my children seeing me as a slave to domesticity. I worry about my loss of identity, skills etc. On the flip side I would worry about a bunch of other things were I working. I don't see an end to the way things are in the short term, but I'm hopeful in the longer term my role will morph into something more fulfilling.

I love my partner and he does a great deal (as he should), but there are so many things I would need to tell or beg him to do to keep the house running ticketyboo.

I see no solution or end in sight for myself.

Anonymous said...

good for YOU.

Suzy said...

This series of posts and comments has been so interesting. One thing that helped greatly in the domestic harmony stakes for us has been to have a cleaner come fortnightly and do the really grim stuff like giving the kitchen and bathroom a proper clean. It means that for 3 or 4 days afterwards the house looks great, and for the rest of the time we're just doing maintenance rather than the really boring stuff. And online shopping for the boring pantry / cupboard stuff is great (I don't trust it for meat / fruit / veg).
I always struggled with the idea of a cleaner because it seemed lazy, and sometimes I feel like everything I earn goes towards paying for childcare and cleaning but at least it's work that I enjoy and I don't feel bitter about doing, whereas scrubbing a toilet makes me feel very bitter indeed.

Catherine said...

I need some extra time to read all your entries about this - I've already found a lot to think about...
I'd already found myself thinking a lot about how I work (part-time) and how / whether I'm valued in the workplace lately, as well as juggling the "who does what at home" challenges too (and I'm probably lucky - my partner cares for our daughter on one of the days I work) - there are no easy answers or solutions, but thank you for making us all think a little more about this. Hope things work out for you.

kirsten said...

bravo, susie!
i don't think there is any obvious or 'right' answer to these huge issues - the day i had children was the day the guilt kicked in. no matter what i do, there is another way to do it. no easy answer and it really comes down to what is right for YOU and YOUR family. different for every one of us and i wish you all the best with the New Juggle.

and i'm sure they are already working on Susie's Sensory Sensation...

Gina said...

Heya. Still chewing through your posts and very grateful for your openness and ability to articulate. Unlike me, at this present moment. I hope this decision which you have taken so thoughtfully pays off even more than you hope it will. And I'm SO with Suzy who suggests a cleaner and whatever other domestic 'help' you can wrangle, if affordable. I'm at home and I consider that a plausible option!

Also hope the weekend away was good... I hear rumours it was...

Elizabeth said...

I think your series of thoughts on this subject is fascinating. It has made me really think about some of the choices I have made (so I hope you don't mind me commenting). At present I work school hours and my husband works long hours and occasionally travels. I had to make peace with being the more "domestic" one and on the whole it works for us. Your posts prompted me talk to my husband about how the kids see our roles. Thanks for posting your thoughts on this.

upfordebate said...

sheesh, this post was the final prompt that catapulted me into the blogosphere - my comment was getting longer than your original!

thanks suze for a well-written and thought provoking blog.

upfordebate said...,9171,875681,00.html

Suze that URL is to an article that may be interesting as a reflection of how a forward-thinking career woman in the 60s viewed some aspects of domesticity (I don't think she even had children, she was just focussed on getting thru her *own* laundry!)

For me I have decided the key is an overall lowering of domestic standards. Altho I think it is easier for me to say this (and maybe no coincidence that I am saying it *now*) because Matt is 15 - one is not judged as much when one's scruffy kids are teenagers. I guess people judge the teenagers instead, reflecting the perceived shift in responsibility for those all-important dazzling whites and brightest brights from the parent (mother) to the near-adult. And lower standards for teenagers are somewhat indulged - "ah, bless, the poor dears are still learning; and doing that weird living thing where the interesting fun bits are more important than the bits others judge us on".

Sadly, in many circles how you/your house/car look (not gorgeousness even, just washed, ironed, etc) bears direct relation to your credibility. This means that the most people getting the most credibility are those:

- whose thinking and attention are limited to (or at least exercised as a priority in the sphere of) issues like washing and ironing and cleaning; and/or

- who can afford to pay people to do it for them (self perpetuating cycle!); and/or

- have spouses or other household members (eg ageing parents) who stay home and focus on it for them.

The latter very likely relates to our animalistic sense of status and hierarchy (I am able to attract/support on my own - alternatively I have been chosen by a man who is able to attract/support on his own - a person who can devote their attention to our appearance outside the cave as well as the appearance of the cave itself).

This means that to a point our world is run mostly by rather narrow minded, small picture thinkers.

Fortunately the truly talented can eventually break out of that zone into a more meaningful intellectual space, with a bit of luck. They then begin to gain their credibility on the strength of their actual contribution. Einstein had a hard time gaining credibility up to a point, because he couldn't be bothered wearing socks (good on his second wife too for being willing to be judged via her husband's state of undress, as a bit of a slut in the original sense of the word!!!!)