By Karen Charlton
Our six year old son is acing grade one. Dropping him off in the classroom yesterday, his teacher stopped me to tell me he was nominating Louis for an achievement award at the end of term. He was also elected to be his class rep on the student council (which oddly enough, Louis failed to mention at home).
Louis has already done more in his school career than I did in my entire time at school and university. Not that I was ever a bad student, but Louis is thriving in ways I could have only imagined. We’re so proud. When I think of him and how well he’s doing, my mind goes clear and happy like a reggae song. For now, my work here is done. Time for early retirement.
After chatting to his teacher I came home with his brothers, ate an entire packet of fundraising easter eggs and stared at my computer until lasers came out of my eyes. What do I do with myself? I have an honours degree, a once-upon-a-time golden career in university administration and ovaries that won’t leave me alone. I stay at home for my kids, but it leaves little at the end of the day for me. And I don’t just mean – oh dear, no time for mannies and peddies and shopping trips with the girls; I mean, how do I give my days more purpose? These boys just keep growing, bless their tiny faces, but the longer I stay at home, the more I seem to retrograde.
My husband has just resigned from his senior position in a building company to run his own business from home. When he handed in his notice, his colleagues (mostly men) joked that he was taking an early retirement. It’s funny because it’s also kind of true. Mr Karen has worked two jobs from the moment Louis was born, securing our financial future, working long hours in the office, and then coming home to run building jobs ‘on the side’ of his full time job. Me? I fold socks like nobody’s business.
When Ruben (our youngest) was a baby, I was determined that writing would be a good fit with our family, but as time goes by I’m beginning to realise it’s tough. Super tough. You could hardly call it a career choice, unless of course you’re referring to the careering of one’s life into oblivion.
And while I can accept the rough and gruff nature of writing and the media industry – because no one asked me to create anything, and the world owes me nothing – what continues to frustrate and defy logic is the way the world shuts down after you have children. Because school hours and work hours are grossly mis-matched. Part-time work, particularly in our regional area, has no substance, and often doesn’t justify putting your children into care in the first place.
Sure, I could pretend my kids don’t exist, put on my Don Draper suit and stride into the middle distance back into the corporate world. But living in a man’s world has never floated my boat. And anyone who thinks nannies are suitable full-time replacements for mothers needs to watch Mary Poppins. Heart strings, they were pulled.
I’d like to feel useful beyond my home and family and make a contribution to the world. I’d like to contribute to my family’s and my own financial well being. I’d also like to have a job that is satisfying.
Elizabeth Gilbert writes about this very dilemma in Committed. If you’ll excuse the long quotation:
“… an awful lot of my advantages as a child were built on the ashes of [her mum’s] person sacrifice. The fact remains that while our family as a whole profited immensely from my mother’s quitting her career, her life as an individual did not necessarily benefit so immensely. In the end, she did what her female predecessors had always done: she sewed winter coats for her children from the leftover material of her heart’s more quiet desires.”
The world doesn’t seem to fit mothers very well at all.