Sometimes it’s not meant to be

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.

potentialdemotivator

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.

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.