a new chapter

I began this blog, as the name would suggest, after I became a mother. For those six years and two more before, I have worked for a single employer and been afforded the luxury of paid maternity leave (twice), flexible working hours and a decent salary.

When my first child was born, I wanted to do my best to be a committed and nurturing parent, but I soon realised that I had more sense of achievement and personal satisfaction from work. I was lucky enough to fall into a career that I enjoy and is creatively and professionally rewarding. I didn’t enjoy as some mothers do, being at home when my children were first born and was eager to get back to work. I often wonder about the psychology behind all this.

On the one hand, I feel guilty that I have focuses on myself to some extent instead of devoting myself more to my children. On the other hand, I want to show my children that my career is as important as their fathers and that the assumption shouldn’t always be that a woman should make all the sacrifices for family life.

Woman in the workplace are at an automatic disadvantage once they have children. Periods of leave while nurturing infant children, and then the entitlement to work part-time once they return (if lucky), means they miss out on opportunities. Many mothers I know work part-time. There is always a sense of needing to prove themselves. They overcompensate on the days they are there by fitting far more into their day than most.

A woman who returns to the workforce too soon or who devotes herself too much to work, is looked down on by society for being selfish. Instead of supporting each other and celebrating the freedom to make these choices, women often judge other women who make choices that are different to their own.


All this is going through my mind right now as I reach the end of a chapter in my life. After much deliberation and inner turmoil, I have decided to take up a new position where I will be working full-time. I have been through the pros and cons in my mind many times and have come to realise that the decision is made most difficult because of what it symbolises. I currently work four days a week, and have done so since I returned to work with both my children. Why then is it so hard to imagine working five days? Why has there been an assumption that I would (or should) request to work part-time at a new workplace?

Is it because it means that I am choosing to think of myself first above my children and family? Should I wait a few more years until my youngest is at school to see if another opportunity like this comes up?

I have made the decision to start a new chapter in my life because it is right for me and because I am important. My husband and children are also important, and decisions that impact on their future happiness and success will also be made with the same consideration.

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work not working

Today I am home with a sick child (who doesn’t look all that sick but has had a temp on and off for the past 5 days now).

It has allowed me the time to reflect on my current situation at work which I have been reluctant to think or talk about until now.

Not that long ago, I was lucky enough to work in a supportive, compassionate, happy work environment. Our small team rarely had any troubles but if we did, it was quickly resolved my a manager who was acutely aware of the needs of each team member and how to appease them.

At the time I recall thinking how lucky I was to have a person I could confide in about work and family without feeling vulnerable about my position.

All that has changed in such a huge way that it has left me really struggling to want to go to work some days. When my manager was called on to work in another office within our government department, a new (male/childless/career driven) manager was temporarily given the job of overseeing our highly capable, highly knowledgeable and cohesive team. It was supposed to be a short term thing, but that was over six months ago now.

This said manager seems to be part of a new male dominated leadership team that has come about through a series of retirements, secondments and bad luck. I began to feel very conscious of the disadvantages I am faced with as a part-time working mother.

As a formerly well respected, highly accomplished team member, I have had to endure being sidelined and embarrassed on many occasions. It seems that said manager appreciates the company and adoration of young people – especially those who are a little naive – and has taken it upon himself to mentor such people by handing work to them that they are neither qualified or capable of doing.

After suffering inner turmoil for some months and taking this out on my poor children and husband, I decided to confront said manager to tell him how I felt. Of course he was most sympathetic on the surface, but it seems to have done little for my situation.

For someone who was so happy in their job just a little while ago, I’ve actually been looking at job ads. That in itself is depressing as any professional wanting to work ‘part-time’ with any ‘flexibility’ knows. I find myself wanting to set aside my usual capable, efficient self and do the bare minimum as a kind of protest, yet I can’t do that. I will not tarnish my reputation as a valued staff member only to make a point (which will probably not have the desired effect anyway).

I am still at a loss as to how to accept the situation and keep my sanity. Luckily I have an extremely supportive partner who listens to me and gives me considered advice. It’s obviously something I need to get off my chest…

piggybook

The kids arrived home from a shopping trip with their dad yesterday with a book each. I was completely chuffed with ‘Piggybook’ by Anthony Browne in particular.

I’ve always been fond of Anthony Browne’s work – especially his books which portray animal cruelty in a way that is easy for kids to understand. His book Zoo has had a big impact on my daughter particularly.

You can see from the cover of Piggybook what the book if all about. The mother ‘carrying’ the whole family.

It’s a great book that I hope will help my children (and husband) think about gender inequality in the home and encourage everyone to pitch in a bit more and not to simply expect everything to be done for them.

Having both a daughter and a son, I’m quite aware of the example I would like to be setting in our home, but unfortunately it is mostly not such a great example we are setting…

flashbacks

Today I visited North Sydney for a work event and was taken back in time when I visited an old workplace.

It had always been a very male dominated work place (in the publishing industry) and from the lack of females there, it seems it still is.

Being the only female and most qualified person in the production team, I was often humiliated when I was asked to fetch coffee for visiting clients. I was grossly underpaid, over worked and would go home crying often. The whole environment was very stressful and unrewarding.

Today as I sat in the managing director’s office having a chat (I was warned he was on a bad mood before going in), I wondered what my life would be like had I stayed there.

If I had decided to have children I would have had to resign or come back to work after a short period of unpaid leave. I would not be afforded flexibility in my work arrangements and I would not have any compassion when having to take weeks off work for a sick child.

All this was going through my head as we exchanged pleasantries, then he thought he’d ask me (always thinking of his business and how he can exploit people) if I had any ‘spare’ time to do extra design work. I felt like laughing at him and telling him that I wouldn’t work for him even if he made me a partner in the company.

Business people (particularly men) like him can’t see the need for work/life balance. Even if he did, he would still trade it off for profits.

So why on earth would I visit if this was the very place that made me vow to work in the public sector? Well my dear friend Zav who I have kept in contact with all these years is my only reason. Seeing him and having a chat and a coffee made it worth all the ill feeling and contempt I feel for the place!!

princesses

It’s not secret that much to my dismay, Scarlett is obsessed with fairies, princess and wearing dresses. My mother warned me that dressing her is black/red/non-frilly attire as a baby would come back haunt me later, but I thought it would be much later on.

She chooses her own clothes (most of the time), makes up her own games and decides which books we are going to read at bedtime. I’ll give her that since she doesn’t have much say in anything else. Inevitably, it’s frilly dresses (many of which were hand-me-downs from my 8 year old half sister who Scarlett adores), fairy weddings and ridiculous fairy tales. Sometimes it drives me batty.

Thanks to this post from Adventures in Boogieville, I have found some new books to subliminally sway Scarlett’s thinking. The first of three books arrived from The Book Depository yesterday.

Any new book is an exciting book so it wasn’t too hard to ‘help’ her choose this one for bedtime last night.

A modern fairy tale with a feminist theme. The princess wants to remain single, but is bothered by a series of annoying suitors, in order to eliminate them, she sets a number of impossible tasks. The final suitor, who actually succeeds in all the tasks, is rewarded by being changed into a toad by a magic kiss. Review from here.

She was very fascinated by the idea that anyone – let alone a princess – wouldn’t want to get married. She’s a cheeky little bugger, because as I was telling her how great it sounds that Princess Smartypants gets to do what she wants, when she wants, she said “but you’re married Mummy”. So I had to tell her that that’s only because her Daddy is the most wonderful man in the whole world so I had to marry him!!!

This morning as I dropped her off at daycare, she was telling the teacher about the new book and how she turned the prince into a toad. She even wants to take it in to share it with the other children (I wonder how that will go down?).

Tonight at bedtime while talking about what a big grown up she is, she said she had some more growing to do before she could be a Tooth Fairy Mummy Doctor. She’s sticking to her guns.

an early start to gender stereotyping

Recently Scarlett has been playing ‘getting married’ and being the only male willing to follow orders in the house, she enlists her father as her groom. One time he was busy so I told her I could marry her. She said I couldn’t because I am not a man and only men and women could get married. I tried to explain to her that (while not legal just yet) two women could get married if they wanted to. Later that same day she told me she was going to marry two girls!

This morning when I dropped Scarlett off at day care, there were three boys playing in the room already.  For some reason, the topic of conversation turned to what they want to be when they grow up. One boy said he was going to be a rescue worker or a fireman (which he told me could be a very dangerous job) and another boy told me he was going to be a V8 driver and a rally car driver (and others along the same theme).

When I asked them if they knew what Scarlett wanted to be one of them said “a princess”. She said she wanted to be a doctor, and the toothy fairy and a mummy. To this another little boy replied “you could be a nurse”. I was quite amazed that children of 3/4 years old already have a sense of such things. It’s scary.

the snip

It seems that many men think that vasectomy is scary, painful, inconvenient, detrimental to sexual enjoyment and testosterone levels, and wouldn’t want to discuss it with their partner let alone their GP. In light of this, I feel quite lucky.

Just after Xavier was born on one of the visits from the community nurse, our discussion turned to contraception post baby (as it does) and I told her I didn’t want to go back on the pill and didn’t like the idea of implanting a slow release hormone in my arm but knew my OB would ask me about it at my 6 week check up.

She asked me how my husband would feel about a vasectomy. To be honest I had never discussed it with him so really had no idea what he would say. Knowing him, I thought that if any guy would be open to it, it would be him. He does not hold too many macho male qualities, and I know he believes (in theory) in equality and would be open to a discussion about it at the very least.

When I did ask him, he immediately said he had no problem with it. I was actually a little surprised. Since making the decision, it became quite the topic of conversation at work. I was surprised to hear that several 30 something males had been turned down or discouraged by their GPs. “What if one of your children died?” or “What if you split from your wife/your wife died and you met a younger childless woman?” I couldn’t help but notice that both of these GPs were men. Our OB and GP are both women and neither of them had any hesitation in referring us for a vasectomy. We have two children, are in a long term, stable relationship and definitely do not want any more children – the same situation for both other males I spoke to.

I can certainly see these doctors’ point of view, although did they stop to consider the woman involved in this decision? Should she have to take hormones for the rest of her reproductive life? If she split up with her husband or he died, would he be terribly concerned that as a single mother she would probably find it hard to get a date let alone a long term partner who wants her to have more children? I guess I kind of find it offensive.

So eighteen months after we made the decision, it’s done (my husband is not the most organised person). I was surprised that even the nurse prepping my husband at the hospital, was asking him how I convinced him to go through with it because her husband of a similar age wouldn’t even discuss it.

I didn’t need to convince him at all – although apparently we are going to be having a lot more sex from now on…