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.