The most important job

“How insulting is it to suggest that the best thing women can do is raise other people to do incredible things? I’m betting some of those women would like to do great things of their own.”
Why have kids, Jessica Valenti

If you’d asked me six months ago what I thought of the above statement then I would have probably said that I wholeheartedly agreed. If I had the potential within me for greatness in some field then I wanted to achieve that greatness alongside having a family. Gone should be the days where only men with families can be successful.

But now, four months into motherhood, I am a lot more conflicted.

Don’t get me wrong I still have plenty of ambition and would like to take over the world in at least some minor way. The trouble is that now I have a counter balance for any job I do – if I am giving up spending my time nurturing and supporting Elphie’s development, then shouldn’t what I give up that time for be really worth it?

Being fair to my job it did have an impact – I personally use the product of one of my projects so I know it made some difference. And work comes with its own benefits – an identity beyond “mother”; adult conversation; challenging problem-solving; and a bit of money coming in is always nice for those pesky outgoings like a mortgage.

The result of this is that alongside the standard existential angst I had about what I wanted to do with my life and whether my job was “the right job”, I am now weighing that all up against the opportunity cost for Elphie of “childcare” in whatever form we select.

Looking at the alternative, I have never understood why being a stay at home parent was so looked down upon – you wouldn’t look down on someone who was a nanny and in fact would likely believe that their job was quite difficult, but apparently if it’s your own children then you are taking the easy option. I think it may be that there are nice parts to staying at home, such as lunches with friends or activities like baby massage, but those high points have to be balanced against being stuck at home with a baby who constantly wants to be entertained and wails if you so much as look at a drawer than needs tidying; and woe betide you that you try and use a laptop – that is a red rag to the bull and guarantees a complete meltdown!

And why is raising a child not seen as an incredible thing in itself? Does a standard office job really count as doing “incredible things” relative to raising a child?

Realistically though, I cannot imagine myself not working – my mother brought me up to go against the traditional roles that she and my father inhabited, even failing to teach me anything about housework so I would be completely useless if left to manage a house as well as a child. And maybe that is the crux of the conflict – I would make a terrible housewife in the traditional sense, I am naturally messy and hate cleaning but I am good at my job. Before Elphie, it made sense for me to work and for someone to do the cleaning for me. But now, I have a certain jealousy around the job of bringing up Elphie and that anyone would be a suitable candidate for that particular role. Leaving her under the guidance of someone else for fifty hours every week seems a lot – almost a third of the week, and it’s likely she’ll be spending a lot of the rest of it asleep, so whoever takes on that role is going to have a significant influence.

When I go back to work I will be under no illusion that whoever Elphie is left with, they will be doing an incredible thing, the challenge for me is to make sure I am doing incredible things at work and not just go through the motions. Balancing the time spent at work doing my incredible things with quality time at home with her will be hard but necessary and I haven’t quite worked out how I will make that work yet. But maybe the trick will be to spend less time on the stuff that really doesn’t matter to me and perhaps that means accepting that our cleaner should pay us a visit more often (and as if by magic, this article in The New York Times turned up telling me to outsource the less value adding tasks in my life!). Beyond that, I guess we have to wait and see what it’s like back at work and in the meantime start the hunt for excellent childcare – easier said than done!

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