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.