WordPress Virgin

Before I had my son, I had a Good Job. We’re not talking six figures and a Canary Wharf penthouse here, but it kept me in unlimited free DVDs and all the film premieres I could want. And I am a big fan of film, so this was a Good Thing. And yet, when my crumpled little beauty of a son arrived, I took everyone, myself included, by surprise, and decided not to go back to work.

I was proud of my decision, and I stand by it – I love being able to spend every day with him, watching him discover and experiment in his own ways. And yet. Every so often I have a feeling that maybe I am somehow letting the side down, that I should have at least tried it out, and perhaps I gave in too easily. I was in the extremely fortunate position of being able to choose not to go back to work, and although it was a difficult decision, it really didn’t take me too long to make up my mind.

A few months ago, I went to a university reunion (I know, more fool me really) I was persuaded to go along against my better judgement by my best friend, and decided to take it at face value – an opportunity to meet up with friends in London and be out sans fils for once. We dutifully mingled and sipped our drinks, and waited politely to be routinely questioned by our old tutors, who we hadn’t seen for 10 years or so. Second in line, I waited patiently for my friend Mark to give a full life and work history of his path to becoming a successful sound engineer in the computer game industry. Suitably impressed, my tutor turned to me. Confident that she was going to be similarly impressed by my own sojourn in the world of film marketing, and my recent efforts to finally become a writer, I began with the proud words: “Well I recently gave up my job to stay at home with my son.” Before I could wow her with detail of my budding literary career, or bore her with highlights from my previous one, she interrupted me. “Oh how lovely,” she said. “And Liz, how about you?” That was it. My moment was over. I had been unequivocally and summarily dismissed.

But why? Surely it’s not just my own hackles that rise at such behaviour. Female emancipation is, in my perhaps flawed understanding of it, all about women having the freedom to choose the lifestyle they want for themselves, without being pressured into it. Well I have chosen to be at home with my son: so why do I feel so guilty about it?

Women in today’s society can have it all, and God forbid we don’t try to have exactly that. If we’re not juggling 4000 things then we’re obviously not working hard enough. It seems like we are living in the shadow of some giant, unspoken judgement that looms over us all. We have a collective chip on our shoulders the size of Mount Rushmore, and quite honestly, we need to cut ourselves some slack. We say the words but do we believe them? “Being a stay at home mum is a full time job.” There, I said it. And yet, do I believe it?

Well, my son certainly fills up most of my time, but because he doesn’t pay me a salary, set me ridiculous targets and assess me on a quarterly basis, I find it hard to take him seriously as a boss. The very fact that I am writing this might suggest that I am not entirely comfortable with the sole role of “stay-at-home-mum” just yet. Since university I have been entirely, proudly self-sufficient, and why should I give that up? I’ve worked hard to save up enough to maintain some degree of financial independence even now, without a salary. Women have fought so hard to be taken seriously, to stand on our own well turned-out feet that it rankles to take on a role associated with a much bleaker time of inequality. Most of my friends say they’re jealous that I can be at home all the time and I don’t doubt that in some ways that is true, but we all make our choices based on our own situations, and I’m not sure many of them would really be too comfortable with it either.

So was my tutor really blanking me, dismissing my status as unimportant and unworthy of input? Probably. But the fact that it bothered me reflects only on me, not on her. She has her own issues, her own filters through which she sees the world, and I have mine. Having children really does change your life, your perspective, and everything else. I for one am grateful that I have the opportunity to spend the first years of my son’s life with him, and I know that thousands of women out there will be envious that I can do just that. Maybe it’s just that the expectations we lay on each other and even on ourselves are so high that simply being one thing in life seems too simple to be truly rewarding. As most mothers will say, becoming one is the most empowering, memorable and unique moment in their lives – it seems that being able to focus on it for longer than your average maternity leave just seems too good to be true. But the time will come around all too soon when my son wants his own space and freedom, just as I need mine from time to time, and then I will look back on these precious years with longing and fond nostalgia.

It was actually my old boss who put my mind at rest. He knew I was struggling with my decision – as Free so memorably questioned, should I stay or should I go? He said, “Listen. If you leave, and decide in 6 months time it was the wrong decision, you can always go out and get another job. But if you stay and realise in 6 months it was the wrong decision, you can’t ever get that time back.”

Being a parent is a biological function, one that many will argue is the mythical Number 42 of life. Other people have their own raison d’etres; for some it is a career, travel or another passion. Many women decide not to have children at all, and are fulfilled in so many other ways. As long as we are comfortable with our own choices and understand the big things in life that makes each one of us happy, maybe just one identity is enough. Just because we CAN have it all these days, doesn’t necessarily mean that we always should.

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~ by DelightingintheDetail on April 7, 2010.

One Response to “WordPress Virgin”

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