Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Why do I do it?

Cross posted

You would think I'd learn. But seemingly, I don't, because I keep on doing it. Getting into paid employment, that is.

I've taken on a temporary, part-time job, doing some interesting policy work. But with the work comes the attendant problems for me, notably insomnia (which is however, very good for blogging) and stress-related back-aches. The back-ache is a beauty. I get a sharp pain that starts in my upper back, then translates into my chest, and can leave me breathless with pain. In a good attack, the pain can spread up into my jaw, and in the very best attacks, from there into a band over my head. I haven't had one of those attacks (yet) this time around, and hopefully, I will avoid them. And yes, before you leap in with helpful advice, I do sit correctly, I have had my desk and chair properly assessed, I do take micro-breaks, I do stop and stretch, I periodically swap my mouse hand, I swap between working with pen and paper and working with a screen, I do all the right things. I'm fairly sure that the back attacks come on because when I am stressed, like many other people, I tense all the muscles in my back.

It's not the work itself that's stressing me - it's well within my capacities, given my education and my previous experience. I learned how to do policy in a hard school - a very rigorous policy shop. It's the juggle that's doing me in. Get up early, have something to eat, get the girls fed and dressed, get their lunches made, get a load of washing through the washing machine and into the drier (no time to hang it on the line), get myself flossied up for work (not very flossy, BTW - just standard business wear), get everyone organised and out the door. All with Mr Strange Land of course - I'm not in this alone. Work hard until 3pm, taking a brief lunch break, then leave the office in a frantic rush in order to get to the girls' school on time. Come home, more washing-cleaning-cooking, help the girls with their homework, make beds, fold clothes, pay bills, all that rigmarole. Do my best to make sure the girls don't miss out because I am working, so make time to read to them. If things go well, they will be in bed by about 8pm, and I will have some time to sing, to read, to watch a little TV, before heading to bed and hoping that this night, I will sleep all night. (Not tonight though.)

I could make some different choices, such as putting the girls into after-school care two afternoons a week instead of one, but that means they would have only one afternoon at home a week (the other two afternoons are taken out by ballet and drama lessons - one set of lessons per child, but in order to get one child to her lesson, the others must come with me, because they are far, far too young to be left at home alone). I think the girls need down-time at home, just space in which to rattle about and be kids. I could pay for someone to clean the house, but the job only lasts for a few weeks, so that seems silly. I could drop the tutoring work I will be doing this semester, but that's on-going employment, and it will probably lead to more tutoring and maybe more lecturing work next year. Or I could drop my own singing lessons, which I am enjoying enormously, and which have been one of the things which have kept me going this year as we settle into this new country.

The money of course, is very nice. It pays for the extra things we like to have, such as the aforesaid lessons, and it contributes to our household, and it will help us to afford a trip home at the end of the year. But we could probably manage all those things anyway, with a bit of juggling and very careful budgeting.

So why take on paid employment?

It's partly about not just living off my husband's income, and expecting him to provide for us. The provider-pressure that many men experience is real, and if I am to believe that my feminism creates chocies and a better way of living for me, then I also want to do my best to ensure that Mr Strange Land doesn't have to wear this aspect of the patriarchy. (NB: I'm not about to worry about him being oppressed - read this interesting post about patterns of oppression at Feminist Philosophers for more on the difference between experiencing one sort of oppression, and being subject to oppression.)

It's partly about being able to support myself, and my children, in good times and in bad. I don't know what chances of fate may befall us, and I know that even if something rather bad happened, our families would help. Nevertheless, I want to be able to provide for my children if necessary. And that means that I need to keep my hand in at work, keep myself match-fit, ready and able and willing to earn a living.

And it's partly about modelling how women can live for my daughters. I want them to grow up seeing that women can and do support themselves, that they can and do live independently, that if they do, then relationships with other adults, male or female, are a matter of choice, not a financial necessity.

On the other hand, given the stress this is creating at present, I think six weeks will do for the current bout of employment, and I will look to spend the remainder of the year nurturing family and partner and myself and home, before trying to find a less juggle-intensive job in the New Year. That could be a very good thing to model too.


Anna McM said...

I completely empathise - I felt like I could never leave the workforce after having babies in case I was called on at some point to be the 'breadwinner'. I didn't want to compromise my earning ability in case I suddenly needed it. I've also found that, much as I would like to be a stay at home mum, I'm just not that good at it. My skills lie somewhere else (like you, I do policy work).

The stress of working and being a mum is at times quite awful, but it seems to work better for me than being at home - which is just as well, because we have no choice financially but for me to work.

I have sometimes had the unpleasant experience of people thinking I'm a bit greedy for trying to work and be a mum, or implying that if I'm stressed out it's my own fault for trying to 'have it all'. Which irks me even as I laugh at - 'having at all' in our case means being able to pay the power and phone bills. Opulent!

Violet said...

I've never been comfortable with being the non-earner in our partnership. Even though I earn a fraction of what he does, I feel more like I'm paying my way (and don't feel guilty for spending money on myself). It would be different if I had 2 or more kids, but with just the one I felt a bit like a slacker and a not-very-good SAHM.

stargazer said...

your life sounds so much like mine, with the insomnia, the rushing around, the stress etc. i put additional pressure on myself by doing all sorts of out of work activities as well. it does help that my kids are older so can get their own breakfasts and lunches, and they walk to school. i also save myself trouble by paying someone to get the housework done, and by cooking quick and easy meals (burgers, steak, roast, pasta etc). if it takes longer than half an hour to prepare, i just don't make it. cos it's time i could have spent blogging, or writing a letter to the editor, or just plain resting! but the truth is that i'm always tired. and i really mean always.

as for financial independence, i found that i just couldn't ever give it up. i couldn't bear to ask someone else for money, even if i was married to him. it seemed to me that this would be a submissive position i wasn't prepared to take. i was lucky though that i had (& continue to have) support from my mum in terms of childcare.

i remember changing jobs from a very flexible one to an inflexible one. i said to a friend that i was losing my freedom, and he said "nonsense, money is freedom". it's so true, money gives you so many more choices.

on the other hand, deborah, you do need to look after yourself. no point in being financially independent if if leaves you so stressed out and unable to enjoy it anyway. believe me, your kids will benefit so much more from a relaxed and happy mother than a stretched and stressed out one. and there is another message that it would be useful to give your kids: that unpaid work is valuable work. just because you don't get a regular paycheque doesn't mean you're not pulling your weight.