Mother-in-law was asking me earlier this week about work. We'd just finished eating and I was still tired from two sleepless nights with a teething toddler, so I was only really half listening. Initially she asked if I had given up working and I said yes. Then she asked if I was going to look for another job and I said I wasn't sure, but I'd probably look for something that fitted round my boy's busy schedule. She then went on to tell me how it's so much nicer to stay at home with your children and it was simpler in her day as you could do that.
This morning there was a discussion on the radio about women 'having it all' and whether or not it was possible or preferable to work or be a full time mum. As I was driving back from an aerobics class while Hubbie and toddler were out doing father and son activities I only caught two soundbites. One was a woman saying that women should never give up work. The other was that men can have it all because they have women to do the other stuff for them.
I stayed at home with my boy for the first year of his life and that was a bare minimum for me to feel ready to leave him. Then I went back to work - ostensibly full time, but with flexible hours and a lot of leave to use up. I hated being at work while others looked after my boy. He was with family members as my sister and Hubbie did the childcare so he was always with people who love him very much. I missed him so much and my work just didn't appeal any more. When the offer of voluntary redundancy came up we discussed if it would work for us and Hubbie agreed that we could manage if I stayed at home. I loved being with my son every day and took him to playgroups and activities every day.
Then a few months ago I found myself feeling fed up. My life seemed to be about waiting for my boy to nap then while he was asleep preparing for him to wake up. I cooked most evenings and my son ate home cooked food every day. He got so used to me that he would greet Daddy enthusiastically and look disappointed if it was just me - AGAIN.
A job came up locally which I decided to do a few days a week to see how it went and if it would suit me to work as my boy was older now (although still under 2 and increasingly cheeky - of course). I did the job a few weeks and just knew it wasn't for me. I was in an office alone and the work was pretty soul destroying. What had started out as a way to have some time for myself and to spend time with other adults became a long walk at lunchtime sandwiched between massive boredom either side. Another discussion with Hubbie about the pointlessness of doing a job that was making me so miserable led to my deciding to give my notice.
This brings us right up to date with my conversation with MiL. Women of her generation do have a different perspective on how to raise children. It took me and Hubbie a long time to have our son so it was important to me that I raise him and care for him as I didn't have him to farm him out to childminders. My mother didn't have any choice and had to work despite having four children. Her perspective is broadly the same and she encourages me to stay at home if I can while understanding (a lot better than MiL I suspect) how hard it is to work and raise a family.
The phrase 'having it all' is misleading:
Women work because we want to or because we need to
We have children and raise them because we want to or can do
We try and do both because we have to or because we are led to believe we are supposed to
The messages we get about being a Mum are:
Being a Mum is not enough to be 'a job'
Working and trying to raise your children will mean you are not doing a good job of either
Being dedicated to your work makes you a poor parent
So I find myself once again tackling the thorny issue of whether to work or not. If I work we can have a few nicer things and maybe a holiday. It means the pressure is not on Hubbie to bring home the Quorn bacon so he can still have some family life and not be a wage slave to support us all.
If I stay at home I get to raise our boy with our values, our boundaries and to watch my little boy grow into a confident and engaging little man before my eyes. I can look at him and beam with pride when he says "bless you" for someone who sneezes or does all the actions to Incy Wincy spider, or strokes the cat gently after weeks of being told not to pull his tail. It also means I get all the tantrums, the throwing, the refusing to do as he's told and hearing the word "no" so many times I cannot tell you.
I've said before that I don't want to have it all. I just want to have a son who feels happy and secure. A Hubbie who is happy and feels appreciated and loved. A family who feel they are part of my son's life and valued. Oh and if there is room for one more wish I'd like this body in a size ten please.