Work & Motherhood

Now that I have a child, I am rather worried about what I should do about work. There are a variety of questions floating around in my head:

  • Should I go back to work at all?
  • Will I be able to do part-time work?
  • Should I put my child in childcare?
  • Can I get a place in a childcare facility some time in the next millenium?
  • Does one’s job actually matter at all in the long run?

I’m sure the some women will consider me as a traitor to the sisterhood and to the situation of working women for even admitting I am worried. There seems to be a trend of howling down anyone who raises questions about children, career, childcare etc (eg, Steve Biddulph, Virginia Hausegger). I wonder if the howls are so very loud precisely because women are worried in their heart of hearts about whether they are doing “the right thing” and those who respond angrily don’t want to hear anything which might cause them to reconsider their point of view. I expect all kinds of vituperation in response to this posting if anyone reads it, but I still want to discuss my thoughts.

The current workplace trend seems to be that:

  1. Your job is your identity and your raison d’etre;
  2. Anyone who does not spend long hours at work is not committed to their job and is not working hard;
  3. In the end, however, your workplace is quite happy to toss you on the scrapheap if necessary (reasons for this include a person being too old, the politics of the workplace suddenly changing, “downsizing” etc). Do not expect loyalty from your workplace.

Is work really the raison d’etre of life? When I was young, I was very ambitious and intended to power up the career ladder. However, now that I have mellowed and have a family, I wonder how important it really is. What am I trying to prove? Work can be fulfilling and mentally stimulating, but in the final analysis it’s just a way of paying the bills. As one of my bosses often said to me, who wants to think on their deathbed “I wish I had spent more time at work!”

However, that being said, I would like to have a job for mental stimulation and to have interaction with the adult world, and so that I can later go back to full-time work when my child is older. I would also like to keep my experience up. I would prefer not to go back to full-time work with a young child. I wonder how open law firms really are to the idea of part-time work. Firms say that they provide opportunities for parents to work part-time, but it all depends what area you work in. And if you take too much time off, you are right down the bottom of the ladder again. So parents put their child in childcare if they want to keep their spot in the rat race (and try not to think about it).

In addition, as I have said in an earlier posting, one progresses more easily in a law firm if one maximises one’s hours at work, which means that part-time work or flexible work is more difficult. As I have argued, quantity of time at work seems to be equated to the way your performance is assessed. In some workplaces, it is a badge of honour to work insane hours:

– “Oh, I routinely work until 10pm at night, and often eat dinner at work, hah hah hah!”
– “Well, I have had to work until 3am for the last four nights, including Saturday, but I still went out and got pissed afterwards, hur hur hur!”

This is not a working environment for people who want to spend time with their partners, children, extended family, friends and/or pets (pick appropriate relation).

And I have worries about putting my child into childcare. I should say at the outset that I don’t criticise others for their decisions, whether it be to stay at home with their child, or to put their child in childcare every day from 7am to 7pm or anything in between on the spectrum. That is the decision for individual parents, and the question is so difficult I don’t feel comfortable judging anyone else when I don’t know the answer myself. And some women have to go back to work out of financial necessity and/or because they are the sole breadwinner.

But, speaking for myself, I wonder what the point of having a child is if I never get to see her except when I’m absolutely exhausted and at the end of my tether after work. Secondly, as I have already indicated, I am a control freak, and am not really comfortable with delegating responsibility to others, let alone delegating the responsibility of raising of my child to another person. So I worry about leaving my child with someone else for long periods of time. After my child turns one, I think I will be prepared to put her in childcare for short periods of time, but even the prospect of putting her in for a whole day alarms me.

Often, in arguments on this topic, those in favour of childcare cite the fact that in Aboriginal societies everyone looked after the children jointly, and in centuries past, older children, aunts and other relatives looked after children. The problem with this analogy is that there is a big difference in my head between leaving my child with a relative (or even a member of my extended “tribe”) and leaving my child with someone who is paid to look after large groups of unrelated children.

I guess some of my fear of leaving my child in childcare comes from the fact that I was sometimes not very assertive as a child, and that in the situation where there were a large number of children, I would be overlooked or bullied without anyone noticing. The benefit of childcare in “socializing” a child is often cited, but there are positive and negative aspects of living in a social world. On the one hand, there are opportunities for one’s child to make friends, and to learn how to share and play. On the other hand, there are opportunities for one’s child to be bullied and to be exposed to unpleasant behaviour earlier than is ideal.

In any case, childcare is very difficult to come by anyway. It was suggested to me that I should book a place for my child when I was 6 months pregnant. This seems ridiculous. Also, when I did the sums, I would end up spending a large amount of the money I would earn on childcare.

What I would really love is some kind of balance between work and family, where I could work a few days a week until my child is older. Once I get back to working full-time, I want to be able to see my girl and have some flexibility if she is sick or really wants me to come and attend something at her school etc. I’m sure I’m not alone. Perhaps you can’t have it all when it comes to work and family, but it would be nice to have a happy medium.

I should say here that these are broader concerns and don’t just concern mothers (or fathers). People who are single or childless should have the same opportunities for balance and flexibility as well. There is a lot of stuff said about “work-life balance” but as far as I can see, in most cases, it’s all just so much hot air.

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Filed under feminism, law firms, morale, motherhood, politics

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