I changed my mind...

posted on: Tuesday, 7 May 2013

There is incredulity in our family; for years I said I would never get a dog. I was resolutely a cat person and had no understanding or empathy for dog lovers. The smell, the hair, the slobbery chops. Didn't get it. Then one day I did a complete and utter U-turn. My kids could not get over it. And before I could change my mind, within days we had our puppy. I did the unthinkable in parenting; I went back on what I had originally said. I gave mixed messages! I changed my mind.

But...getting that puppy was an enormous life lesson to me. It changed our family - without wanting to be over-dramatic - it was like that moment in 'Anne of Green Gables' where Marilla Cuthbert said that the reason they were sent an orphan girl was because He knew they needed her. We didn't know we needed a dog until he became a part of our lives and now - we are richer for it. And I love him. As in LOVE him.

via elsa may, photograph by william waldron
And so to changing my mind. For years I staunchly defended being a working mother; in much the same way as I staunchly declared that I would never own a dog. I knew my arguments for and against and I was sticking to them. This is what I thought (in no particular order):
  • Being a working mother meant I was a good role model for my kids; particularly my daughter (I suspect this was a feminist notion; I studied feminism at University but I wonder if I have a slightly warped idea of how it can apply in real life).
  • I would have interesting things to talk to my husband about.
  • I would maintain my career and achieve professional progression.
  • I was using my education.
  • I was using my brain.
  • I was financially independent; I had the ability to earn money.
  • It got me out the house.
  • My mum did it (I think this is a crucial point...)
  • It meant I didn't have too much time on my hands.
  • I was not 'just' a housewife....eeek!
The final of these is the most controversial as I realise now that I was so clueless about what it actually means to run a family properly. I thought if I skimmed the surface of everything then it would all fall into place. It took me a really long time to realise that there is so much more to it than that. Being there - being present - being reliable and 'in the room'; that is what it's all about. And if that bears the label 'housewife' then so be it. It's a noble profession.

I saw absolutely no reason why I shouldn't work, albeit part time, after my children were born. I cherished my job, I worked tirelessly year after year, getting promoted and keeping up a professional reputation in my field. I rushed everywhere as I was always on borrowed time and got so used to living this way that frankly, whenever anyone questioned me I would be defensive. In early posts on this blog I write about how much I enjoy working and I can sense the defiance in my voice; I would have gone to the ends of the earth to protect that status quo.

So fast forward a few years. What changed? What gentle persuasion formed a now opposing view? How is it that now I look back and think: what on earth was I doing all those years?! Was I brainwashed? Was it naivety? Is this an age thing? Does approaching forty mean that life starts to make sense in a way it never did before? Or is it that underneath it all, I realised that there was such a cost to my choice of working. Women can do anything and everything; it's just that in doing everything you exhaust yourself to the point of delirium. And who gains?

Of course there is a financial reality and in many cases there's no choice. I look back on career counselling at school and wonder how we ever thought it was so easy as choosing a career and pursuing it. For me it was a series of little things that finally led me to working with the law and I look back and realise I never really chose that path. It chose me.

I definitely don't regret it, I'm just curious that I never really understood the drive in me to work. Even when working stopped working. One to ponder. Funny how life goes...I am not sure that in years to come I will follow a life choice that has such far-reaching consequences without giving it more thought...



9 comments :

  1. I've always worked too. I worked full time and then part-time. I've come to the realisation that you can't have it all, something gives.
    I also think that children need you more as they get older. Or at least you need to be there more, even if you are only there quietly in the background.
    The other important thing to remember is that in the last 3 years of school, first there is getting them through GCSE's, then AS choices, then AS's, then A level choices, uni applications, then getting them through A levels then off to unt and then they're gone! When they come back, it's never the same, they are adults and your child had disappeared. So cherish all the time you have them.

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  2. What a good post Lou. It's so interesting to hear you speak like this....I've heard you come full circle in many ways just during the time I've been reading & you've been writing this blog.

    I don't think you can have it all, something has to give....although, I have realised that "having it all" means different things to different people.

    I've been at home full time since I had my son 7 years ago....but, whilst dealing with issues at home recently, I have found myself thinking on quite a few occasions that I should never have given up work. Would my children have done better if I actually hadn't been home. I guess my point is that I'll never know at & the time we make the choices we deem to be the right ones.

    At the the time work was right for you for lots of reasons, including those you listed above....I think.

    I am pondering going to work although even being at home all the time, I never seem to manage to accomplish all that needs to be done....and my children, my daughter in particular, seem to need me more not less. It's a hard one. I can only conclude that, for now, I need to be at home.


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  3. PS I cannot believe you never wanted a dog!!? You two are made for each other ;) Xx

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  4. PPS I also think it is partly an age thing too, it is that time when people take stock for any number of reasons...and your jaw/dental pain must have forced you to do that, amongst other things.

    Thank goodness you did take a break from work & were able to get some clarity on these things though.

    Okay, I think that's it for my comments....for now ;)

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  5. I'm not even sure where to start here. I have so many of these same thoughts, and I haven't articulated them this clearly on my own blog, because I'm not certain I could express it the way I truly mean it. But let's start with...

    Our paths to our careers were the same. Meaning, I did not choose to go into consulting/project management. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, and I figured consulting would give me an opportunity to see into different companies, where I could find a path. And so the people with whom I worked, and the cities where I lived, determined my career path more than I did myself. I don't regret it either - It's been a good career, and it's a job I'm good at - but I am incredibly envious of those people who knew what they wanted to do and worked hard to achieve it. Having that known goal at the end of it all would've been nice I think.

    Next....my reasons for choosing to be a working mother are of course the same. I think I'd potentially add one more, although maybe it's just an extension of having financial independence, and that is that if, god forbid, anything should happen to my husband, or if he lost his job, it seemed like the responsible thing to do. I should be in a position where I could support my family if I needed to. And then there is the financial in general...as in, we couldn't afford to have me not work at all from the beginning. I also definitely agree with Simone that there are pros and cons to both sides of course, and if we started out the other way, I'm sure we'd still be second-guessing ourselves. It's impossible to know how things might have been. All we can do is make what we believe are the right choices at the same, and then make adjustments along the way.

    I think the reasons you're going through this reflection are that you've taken some time off, seen 'the other side'. Perhaps age is a factor too - I find I am more introspective than ever lately, and I wonder if it's because 40 is around the corner. I think a lot about what my legacy in life will be, what have I accomplished, what do I want to accomplish still... And then I get really overwhelmed and go have a drink.

    Because I've been fortunate enough to take this break from working, I know how it can be. My days can be relatively relaxed, I can cook for my family every day, I can go to doctor appointments, I can exercise on a regular basis, I can get enough sleep... That said, I will admit that there is a part of me that still believes I can't stay out forever. It's that nag in the back of my head that says I need to contribute more, that I need to be able to support my family, that I want to give my boys an example so they support their wives no matter what path they choose. Big deep breaths. So I keep my fingers crossed that I will find something that allows me to do both. I'll keep you posted.

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  6. Whoah! Longest comment EVER! ;-)

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  7. Hello Lou - really interesting and thought provoking post which I really enjoyed reading.....I think this is one we as women and mothers all struggle with.....my children range between 37 and 23 and I still haven't worked it out (not sure that's any consolation though!!!!!). We all do what seems right at the time - that includes what seems right for us - I totally agree with jo - childhood is short and we never look back when our children have flown the nest and wish we had spent more time at the office ( to coin a phrase). However, being at home isn't the right thing for everyone.....it's a juggling act and only you can decide on how many balls are in the air! I think the main thing is to accept that we can reflect and 'change our minds' - things change, we change, circumstances change and life changes - it's all good! Best wishes x

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  8. This is really interesting to me. I always said that if we had children I would need to work but as that draws closer and becomes a possibility I think I would only work if I had to. Total switch. That maybe a job at my level of seniority and responsibility would not be compatible with being an engaged parent, that climbing the career ladder might not, that it might just be a shortcut to stress. So hearing your thoughts has continued this debate in my head for which I thank you. x

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  9. i loved this post lou. it is always so so interesting to hear your perspective on work and motherhood :) especially since george and i are always talking about our future kids haha.
    i have this dream in my mind of how I would love it to work out for my future family. I now know what i want to do and work towards it every day. so eventually i would love to run my own business, which would allow me to work from home/bring kids with me to work. Which i think would be a pretty cool way to bring kids up - they see you working hard day in day out but it doesn't mean you have to be away from them. George will obviously have the more traditional job (which he lovess) and then down the line after he reaches a point where he doesnt want to get promoted any longer (as that will mean more time away from the family) he can leave and be the finance director of my future company haha. these are the kind of things we chat about daily. it's totally the dream i'm working on. let's see if it happens :)
    my mum didn't work until eddy was 6 or 7 i think. I was 8 or 9. it worked perfectly for eddy and i, and i'm pretty sure mum loved it too and didn't want to go back to work haha. but now shes an inspirational woman who runs her own business. so i think she did well! and has inspired me to work hard but also not too hard so that you forget about your family.
    so yeah, there's my future family dreams and what worked for my family when i was growing up. but i know it's different for every family. my twin best friends mum never worked and they wished she did because she was/is just bored all the time and is pretty judgemental on what they do with their lives as she is kind of living through them in a way.
    love you lou!! xxx

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