I didn’t get into the course I’d applied for, the one that would have me primarily based in Wellington for 9 months.
Though to be honest, I’ve been suspecting as much for the past week. Just doing the actual application process – with C.V., cover letter outlining both my ambitions and experience, and official transcript – was eye opening to me, looking at myself how a stranger would see me, when looking to judge me or rank me amongst my peers.
I’m 31 years old. I’ve had, in my life, two full time jobs – for a grand, combined total of 2 years. I’ve had a handful of part-time jobs, each at entry-level, slightly-above-minimum-wage office assistant / office junior rolls. This, primarily because I can type, and when required, I can use my brain and edit or proof what I’m typing rather than being completely mindless data-entry.
I guess I should be thankful.
Really though, this sums it up pretty perfectly for me.
I’ve worked a full time job for two years – and the most recent one ended in 2006. I have a BA, but no industry experience, in much of any industry. The career I most want has limited prospects, is hard to get into, has a course designed to ease entry, but to get into the course, it’s recommended to have industry experience. I have four children, and had to quit my last job simply because my childcare costs significantly outstripped my income – making both me, and my children, a liability. Even my University transcript doesn’t read great, as I burned out (and flunked out) in my third year. I did end up taking a break, then finishing on a much better note, and with two kids under three at the time – but extenuating circumstances don’t show on transcripts. I have no real references.
Women like me are meant to be mothers. Truly, I know lots of women relish motherhood, and the full time job of being a full-time, hands on mother.
Myself, it’s more of a default, accidental occupation.
Children – at least the first – weren’t accidental, or unwanted. But things happened, more children came (with varying degrees of surprise) and this is the ‘occupation’ I have made for myself. Even now, even being fairly certain I’m quite happy with our family size, happy to stop now, not feeling particularly clucky (though I still think newborns are beyond cute, but better when you can hand them back). Even now, when faced with no real prospects, and no exciting or forseeable career future, the default seems to be ‘have another baby’. Not that I want to, or that I’m planning to… but right now it seems the only thing I’m able to do. I think I’m a pretty lousy mother, but I seem to have real talent for conceiving. I don’t enjoy pregnancy, but in the scheme of things, mine are fairly uneventful, so you could say I’m good at that too.
In the past year here in New Zealand, there’s been a strong push against beneficiaries, and specifically solo mums. Solo mums who, instead of being seen as a mum stuck between a rock and a hard place, trying to support her child(ren) whilst also dealing with the break up of a relationship, or unexpected events, are seen instead as people deliberately working the system, carefully plotting to get pregnant and pop out another baby every year or two, simply to live the lush life on the taxpayers’ dime. I’m not a solo mum (and am thankful for that!) but I can see the trap as plain as day. When your CV reads more like a liability list than a way of adding value, when any income you could earn wouldn’t total the cost of childcare, let alone rent, power, or food, when you have no skills to speak of, no referees, and no experience…. what can you do? Motherhood becomes the default choice, even if she – even if we – don’t want it to be. It becomes the only choice society will let us do, and will then moan about how we shouldn’t be allowed to just be mothers.
Perhaps, then, more needs to be done to help empower women to have actual skills, experience, and professional support – and possibly a helping of self-esteem as well. Perhaps we can encourage employers to see mothers re-entering the workforce as (life) experienced, hard working, do-what-it-takes employees that will be grateful for a chance, rather than an inexperience liability. Perhaps then women would feel – and be- capable of working and contributing both to society and their lives, and the rest of society can stop the hand-wringing over what to do about the beneficiary problem and instead focus on something more important.
Perhaps, if we want mothers to act like hard-working, taxpaying, contributing members of society, we should start treating them as such.