Hello, Double Standards

Growing up, I was raised to believe that I could do anything – that women could do anything.

Up until very recently, I interpreted this as meaning that my mother’s version of success, for me, was to get into a decent career that I could be proud of.  She never pushed me into what career I should have.  Yet, from as far back as I remember, my vision of myself when “growing up” would be to finish highschool, go straight on to University, get at least a four year degree, and go from there into a career.  Marriage and babies was always an option, but really only a possible to-do once I’d done the career thing.

Life, and fate, intervened, though, as it tends to do, and I met my now-husband online when I was merely in highschool, and for inconvience’s sake, he lived in New Zealand.  It was only logical, at the time, that if we were going to seriously be together, we needed to be in the same country.  Thus, after high school I got married instead of going straight into a four-year degree.  At that time, my mother and grandmother’s biggest fears for me would be that I wouldn’t get the degree at all.

I did, though.  I had to wait a couple years simply due to immigration purposes (at least, it was beneficial for me to so do financially).  But I did most of my degree pre-children, whilst working at the same time, and in my final year, promptly burned myself out and got pregnant.  I had that baby, then another one 21 months later, and only then did I go back to studying – but I finished my degree, despite having two children under 3 at home.

I’ve yet to settle in to a true, traditional, “career”.  I’ve tried a couple times, but with more than one young child at home at any given time, it’s frankly not worth it – child care eats up most of the money I bring in, plus the loss of the family tax credit means we come out worse off instead of better.

Recently, I was thinking about my own daughters’ futures, and what I would like for them.  At the same time, I was feeling very proud, and grateful, that my children had more options than just getting married and having kids.

That was when it hit me – my mother’s wish for me wasn’t that I had to have a successful, out-of-home career, but that I could.  Her wish for me was the same as my wish for my daughters – that they grow up to do whatever they want rather than having no other options than to get married and pop out babies.  It was a true lightbulb moment.

That aside, double standards are still everywhere.

Right now, we’re seriously considering the option of me doing a year of post-graduate study.  That in itself is fine.  But the course I have my heart set on, that will (with any luck and a bit of hard work) lead straight into my ideal industry, and possibly in a more or less direct line to my dream job (or one of them) is a course based in Wellington.  Although there is a different form of the course offered that’s online only, the more digging I do, and the more reading I do, about the two options suggests it would be far more beneficial to do the Applied course, which is very hands-on and includes plenty of industry experience.

But, of course, it’s in Wellington.

The husband is pushing me to do it anyway.  To more or less live in Wellington during the week, and come back to Auckland for the holidays, and ideally at least fortnightly if not weekly on the weekends.  Financially, it’ll be a huge stretch, reliant in no small part on a student loan, and then some.

My heart’s telling me to go for it.  My husband is telling me to go for it.

But at least half the people I’ve told about the opportunity say that no, I should wait.  Wait til the kids are all in school (another 4 years or so, or 5 if I want to wait until the kids are all settled in school).  Then it should have less impact on them, they’ll be older, better able to understand the circumstances.  The children need me now.

There are several things about this that bother me.  One, is the fact it just doesn’t seem to be true.  The husband and I do roughly equal work in terms of parenting and hands-on childcare – if anything, he does more than I do.   He’s the one that gets up to them at night.  He’s the one that gets them sorted in the morning.  During the days, now, we have Rose, our au pair, who is wonderful – but she’s the one doing the brunt of the childcare when Don’s not in the house.  Even when I’m there, I take a backseat role.  I get cuddles, and play the odd game with them, and certainly am kept abreast of all the major happenings.  Now that it’s the school holidays I’ve been taking the big girls out once or twice a week, both to get out of the house, but also to have some time with them.  So, I’m involved.  But I don’t know if my physical presence is truly critical to the family.  How damaging would it really be, if I primarily lived elsewhere for 9 months?  Keeping in mind I’d still be in frequent contact, I’m not leaving through any great time of distress (i.e., not a separation or abandonment or what have you).  And I’d really like, and hope to, and plan to, come back at least fortnightly anyway, to still get that physical, can’t-be-beaten time with them.

Still, the societal resistance to a mother leaving her children is huge.  Fathers can do it all the time.  Fathers travel regularly for work.  Fathers work in the military and are gone for months and years on end with much less contact than I’d be able to have.  Parents split up, and almost always, the mother gets the custody and the fathers get fortnightly visits, or less.  People don’t blink an eye.  But a mother wants to do any of the above, it’s a big deal.

I guess the difference is, mothers aren’t supposed to put themselves first.

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7 thoughts on “Hello, Double Standards

  1. Are you seeking opinions lol? To me, waiting til the kids are all in school makes more sense, but not for any touching reasons, just because your plan sounds horrifically expensive 😉 but if you’ve costed it all out & it’s manageable, then sweet.

    Though having experienced being on the shortchanged side of fortnightly custody, it does suck, quite a lot, you do become kind of a visitor in your kids’ lives; just getting the cliff’s notes and what little they can be bothered recounting. And they aren’t necessarily interested in quality time when you’re around, awkwardly. But you’ll notice that we haven’t moved up north to avoid that 😉 cost/benefit and all that..

    Rofl I discovered *after* doing my super dooper applied, hands-on, industry experience course that most people in the industry have no quals and just do it. Doh. Don’t think that is usual though!

    • Yeah, yours is a different industry than mine 😉 Although strangely one I would love to be in…. but not ‘quite’ as much. Mainly because while I love theatre… I’m not terribly good at any one aspect, either on stage or behind it. Anyways. Part of the ‘do it now!’ push is that we have a touch left in savings… not enough to make the whole thing comfortable, but enough that it’s a cushion. I worry that if we leave it 5 years, knowing us, there won’t even be that much, and it will be completely unfeasible financially. Though that IS the glass-half-empty side of it, but that’s how I roll.

  2. If you want to commit to your study then do it. If you want to put yourself first, and know you will have no regrets in the future in doing this then it is the right thing for you. Be fully aware and mindful that every day your children grow is a day you do not get back. I have worked full time for almost 2 years and I regret all those moments I have missed. I regret that my children have missed me missing their moments too. I know there is time for me to do what I want later in life if I choose, but right now I choose to be their Mother. Having a choice is a powerful thing! xx Jen

  3. If you want to, then do it! It’s not a long course. If I was closer to Welly we could even offer you a very small sleepout, but might be a bit too far away. Good luck with making a decision.

  4. I agree that the double standards exist, but don’t think you are slave to them. My experience with parental absence was my dad – he used to work for an insurance company, and travelled around the country (and the world) frequently. Later on, he worked long hours, or nights. For many years, my father was a fantasy man, we tiptoed to avoid waking him when he was on nights, and were shushed or smacked when we kept him up when he was on earlies. At the time, I didn’t understand why Mum and Dad didn’t have the same job, why Mum could pick us up from school but Dad couldn’t, or even why Mum decided to go to work and we had to stay with a family friend during the holidays. Not all of my friends had parents who worked. But as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to deeply respect the sacrifices my parents made. I understand now that Dad’s insurance job was one he loved passionately, but it hurt him not to be around us, and he missed Mum terribly. That he sacrificed things to be in that job, and then sacrificed the job he loved when the family couldn’t cope. That he worked long hours of hard labour when he was in crippling agony from his arthritis, and he still picked us up from school. For us, at the time, Mum was enough. Later on, when Dad was with us in the afternoons and Mum was working more ‘awake’ hours, Dad was enough. In between, we knew what mattered, that we had parents who cared for us deeply. To put it in perspective, this is the story of my life from age 4-12. You are talking about one year. One year where things will change, and then a career where things will find their own equilibrium.

    Whether your children mind or not in the ‘year apart’, they will come to understand later. They will appreciate it, and appreciate how you needed to grow as a person and become fulfilled in yourself. Maybe that won’t be until they themselves are adults, and start seeing you more as a peer and less as the iconic parental figure, but they will get there. You have a chance to do what I wish my Mum had the chance to do, in upskilling and grabbing the life you want (for yourself and your family) by the horns. Whether you take it or not is up to you, and when you do it is up to you. But think about it – when is the time when your children won’t need you? When is the best time to be absent? You will always find people who aren’t interested in you doing what you need to do, or who don’t understand. You should take the leap. There will never be a perfect time, but you can make the time that suits.

  5. I think you should do it. At the end of the day, it’s what you want and what is best for you and your family. You have said that your husband is for it and he can handle it. Never limit yourself based on what other people say or think. Think about if the tides were turned and your husband wanted to go do a course in Wellington. People would probably accept it more. Reach for what you want. You don’t have to wait just because you’ve started a family. You can do both at once. You guys are strong enough. Oh, and you deserve it. ❤

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