I never thought being a grown up would be like this: the constant constraints on your time, the requests, the pressure, the guilt when you don’t get it all right. It never ends. The enthusiastic view from the children constantly bubbles out, “When I grow up…” they say with such delight, with such awe and excitement in their voices. How wonderful to be in that world. A magical fairy-tale place where things are the way you imagine them to be.
When Shaun and I had children, we didn’t realise how defining the roles we chose, would be. The world was still a place where, in part, things were the way we imagined them to be. We lacked the knowledge that comes with age, with experience. I wanted to stay at home with the kids, I wanted to give them my full attention; Shaun wanted a good balance of both work and dad time. In theory our choices were simple, and easy. They were made before we realised that no parenting decision is ever simple, and easy.
I dived into my choice of roles with vigour. I revelled in every moment I got to spend with Lola after she was born, and even more so when my friends with babies were going back to work. I made conscious choices about her diet, her activities and her nap times. When I fell pregnant with Lincoln I poured as much of me as I could into those same decisions with him. As hard a parenting two children one year apart was, I was thankful that I had the opportunity to do it.
Shaun poured himself into his work with equal vigour, he enjoyed his thinking time, and then he came home and enjoyed his children time. The balance wasn’t always there, but we were always striving for it. We knew what we were aiming for.
Fast forward 6 years; through buying a house, starting a company, travelling overseas for 6 months and all the in between, and the roles we started off choosing have become as much a part of us as our finger prints. Despite being responsible for all internal functioning, budgeting, admin and being general dogs body in our company, my primary role is still with the children. So much so that when I have to try and fit a few hours work into my day I struggle to find the headspace. Between remembering what extra murals are on, who I’m lifting where, school outings, what I’m cooking for dinner, if there are enough groceries in the house, what home maintenance needs doing and general family admin, my mind is all a blur with mundane chores. Since having children I’m not sure I’ve experienced the focus and clarity you can put into your work when you are allowed to relinquish the humdrum of daily life. When I’m with the kids I have half a mind on work and when I’m working I have half a mind on the kids and the house. I feel I am never giving anything my full attention. Always checking my watch, always racing somewhere. I find myself envious of the amount of work Shaun fits into his day.
I know the balancing act isn’t reserved for moms, on the other side of the spectrum, Shaun, who carries the work flag, is plagued with pressures at work while trying to manage his own desire to ‘just be with his family’. This isn’t helped by the kids questions of, “Why are you always working? Why can’t you spend more time with us like mommy does?” The guilt hovers around like flies in a summer heat. When he is at work his mind is focused entirely on the pressures and demands of running a company. This is a good thing. It is, however, primarily his responsibility to make sure the work flows in, so when it’s not he spends his ‘family time’ worrying about it. He can’t leave work at work and I can’t leave home at home. We carry around the weight of our seemingly simple decisions with us no matter what role we are trying to fill.
Some of the added baggage I have just lumped onto myself is the guilt of having a daughter who now thinks that women don’t work as hard as men! The issue of woman working has come up before and I have explained that women do work. Some have full time jobs, just like men, and they work just as hard. Some women choose to be at home after they have children, not all women are lucky enough to have that choice however. Although she understands at the time, it is still a recurring theme.
We had two woman at our house the other day doing a quotation for window blinds, Lola looked confused and later whispered rather loudly in my ear, “but mommy, why are they women?” I blushed a desperate shade of red. What must they have thought? That I teach my daughter that woman don’t work? Lola knows in theory that I work in the morning when she is at school, but she never sees me doing it because when she is around I am almost solely available for them, they come first. I can’t explain that looking after a family and a home is work, because it’s a different kind of work. It’s first and foremost, a love.
I hope as she gets older she comes to understand the different roles women play, but at the moment she is happily oblivious to the pressures and the guilt that plague most moms, possibly all parents. The roles we choose going into parenthood define us in our children’s eyes. They also define us in our own eyes. I know most ‘stay at home’ moms don’t feel of enough value when being judged by society’s yardstick. The position of woman in the home is sorely undervalued. The position of women, or more particularly mothers, in the work place is equally sorely disrespected. The pressure and expectation that work will come before your children and your family is crippling our society, putting unnecessary pressure on moms and making the choices we are faced with when we have children even harder. We have enough parenting guilt without corporates loading on an extra dollop for good measure. Moms aren’t the only ones having their portion sizes increased either, dads are taking it in equal share. The fathers who want to be home in the evenings to tuck their little ones into bed are laughed at when they dart out of company drinks early, or looked down on when they excuse themselves from ‘voluntary’ overtime.
Tonight as I tried to sneak out the room while the kids where falling asleep, Lola asked me why I don’t sit with them until they are asleep, “like daddy does”, she says. “Daddy works harder than you do, but he can still sit with us”. It was like taking a punch in the gut. I was trying to sneak out the room to finish drilling holes in the shower wall to hang the toiletries rack, clean the kitchen after dinner, sort out the notices they brought home from school, and then finish some work at my computer. I’m pretty sure if I talk to her about it in 30 years time she would have quite a different opinion on it. If I ask my mom about all the insensitive things I said to her this was probably right up there on the list too.
I can’t expect my 6 year old to understand the complexities of what I juggle, that is the beauty of childhood. Her turn too, shall come. At least I hope it will come, because as challenging and draining and pressure filled as being a grownup is, I get to kiss those cheeks goodnight before bed, even if I can’t always sit and watch them turn a rosy pink as they drop off to sleep. Being a grownup can suck at times, but the love you feel for your little people and the joy that they bring, that is the beauty of adulthood.