“What’s that on your car radio?” a colleague asked, as I yelled an order over “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”. What he thought it was is puzzling, as it’s difficult to mistake the voices of twelve 2-year-olds trilling out the words at the high end of their limited range. I am steering with my knees (women can do that) while mixing up a bottle of formula and taking the off-ramp at speed. The music can’t go off or my child will scream and that’s worse than any infant choir. I am sweating and it’s midwinter.
“Look let’s just confirm this all via email,” I cut the conversation short. “Battery going. Mail me if you didn’t get any of the details”.
Multitasking is a woman’s domain. But when you combine baby and work it is hilarious, that is, if you have time to laugh. It never crossed my mind that having a baby would change my work or ambition in any way. I would pop her out and be back to my old self four months later when my “leave” was over. I anticipated My Return with a frenzy usually only reserved for baked cheesecake or high end brand slingbacks. In fact, so focused was I on my return, that I did not quite as appropriately plan my leave.
WHEN IT CAME TO MOTHERHOOD, I SAW MADONNA AS MY ROLE MODEL. I ignored people who told me my life would change or that I might not want to spend every waking hour in my office or hovering over a skinny latte at the patisserie below.
I listened closely to people who said things like: “This baby must fit in with your life”, or “Get out there quickly and get back to work. You will need to re-establish your life”. Madonna did that. She was on set six months after having little Lourdes. There’s something faintly sexy about having a dangerously busy life with multiple roles. It’s a glamorous image really, one hand on the Graco stroller, baby bag slung over shoulder, laptop, crisp Malcolm Klûk suit with a low-cut top hinting at a woman who has a soft side. You arrive home after a busy day, slip into a silk embroidered tunic and spend a lazy evening with the family, looking tired but radiant with love for the children and your blissful life.
It never crossed my mind that I would be raiding my “donate” pile for tie-dyed pants and a voluminous button up shirt for six months, nor that the waistband on my favourite pair of Klûk pants might never meet again. Nor that I would be dashing across town to a meeting in a pair of sweatpants with the “Wheels on the Bus” drowning out my daughter’s screams from the back seat. Glamorous it was not.
Neither glamorous nor much fun, which is why some months on I found myself spending less and less time at the office and more time at home. There is a rising trend for millennium moms to stay at home and be done with nannies. Does this mean they are doing less than their Eighties counterparts? Quite the opposite. They are doing more. Stay at home does not mean lounging on the lawn with a cup of Earl Grey and wheat-free biscotti. Not only do we need to run a home-based business from our cellphones and G4 PowerBooks, we are downloading forty gigabytes of infant development information, stashing it on our iPods while packing in an evening course on baby massage and infant reflexology. We are steaming a batch of organic baby food with one hand and tapping out emails with the other while we sing “I’m a Little Teapot”. And it’s a song that demands performance.
We are in an age of technology driven work. It’s changed the world and the nature of work. We live on a new digital frontier. It’s the new millennium and women are wired, hip and not threatened by men at work. Why would we be when men have handbags, wear concealer and have regular facials?
The more level playing fields does not mean women have become the new men. Fortunately shoulder pads and Melanie Griffith stayed in the Eighties. Hip new moms are relaxed, self- assured, big income earners. They know that a briefcase, boxy jacket and flesh-tone stockings mean dated, not serious.
Annual leave. Paid. This is twenty-one consecutive days, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is twenty-one working days. It is actually fifteen working days plus three weekends.
Sick leave. Paid. You are allowed thirty days within a three-year cycle. Sorry, this does not accumulate so if you don’t take it annually, you lose it.
Maternity leave. Unpaid. Four months. If you miscarry in the third trimester or deliver stillborn you are entitled to six weeks maternity leave effective from delivery date.
Family responsibility leave. Paid. Three days a year for any justifiable event or family trauma for either gender. This is often taken as “paternity leave”.
Unpaid leave. Ummm, unpaid. This one you discuss with your boss.
Remember these are the basic and minimum leave rights. However, in certain industries where a sectoral determination applies, these allocations may have been increased by negotiations between unions and employer.
Money does matter
Losing one income is a daunting prospect, no matter how much you are raking in. It’s daunting because it means a whole new era of budgeting. But it’s more daunt- ing because it means that someone is going to have to support you. Not easy for a wild working girl.
Even if you have been married for many years, it’s common that you have actually been running your finances separately. “You pay for that and I will cover this” is usually how it works. And what you have left over after a facial, full body massage, three pairs of kitten-heels and a splurge at the Mac ounter at at the local department store, you lob into the bond.
Stopping work has less to do with money than power. You have moved from an independent and successful earner to a dependent and clingy wife. It is a tough shift to make.
Cindy gave up her well-paid job in advertising to raise her son Cameron. “Tovay makes a good salary, and we did the sums and agreed he would support me. What we did not bank on was the feeling of powerlessness and dependency I felt. From an independent woman pulling a salary on par to his, I felt reduced to asking him for housekeeping money.”
Meryl was an investment analyst and said losing her income almost cost her, her marriage.
“I giggled with girlfriends about being a kept woman, but the reality was that I felt like one. Without my financial independence there was a shift in the balance of power that left me feeling insecure and petty. I felt I could not buy any luxuries and would attack him if he came home with CDs, clothes or anything I deemed an unnecessary expense. Mike made a packet. I just could not spend what I saw as ‘his money’.”
From a generous spender, Meryl became a penny-pincher who watched her family’s finances like a miser.
To help ease the stress financial issues put on your marriage, face up to the facts early.
Ditch the guilt
· Be flexible. If you need a dual income and have to work, then acknowledge that that is your path right now.
· Acknowledge yourself. If you are the breadwinner, good for you. Instead of feeling resentful that you have to work, acknowledge your ability to earn good money. It’s a talent. Stop wanting to be somewhere else.
· See your own need. Your child is actually fine. This child chose you because of who you are. It did not arrive expecting you to don an apron and give up your life for it. That would be horrific.
· Get rid of the guilt. What payoff are you getting from feeling guilty? Your perceived pressure to produce home baked goods for the school cake sale or stimulate his fine motor skills with handmade beads come from you, not other moms and not your child. Do not fool yourself that it makes any dif- ference to your child or anybody else whether you send a lopsided carrot cake or donate money to charity. It only makes a difference to you.
· Change it. The sheer energy wasted by the guilt, anger and gossip is not serving you. If you want to make a change, make it or get on with your life.
· Ignore the comments. You are going to get them and they are never gonna stop. Do you really care what a complete stranger thinks of you? Where is your sense of self? Remember: if something someone says hits a nerve, then it has an element of truth for you. You may choose to use it or ignore it as you wish.
Know that there is no right or wrong. How absurd to think there is a right way to raise a child or live your life. There are endless choices presented to you every moment on earth. Make peace with the ones you take and stop aiming for perfection