Why do I do it?

Cross post

You would think I’d learn. But seemingly, I don’t, because I keep on doing it. Getting into paid employment, that is.

I’ve taken on a temporary, part-time job, doing some interesting policy work. But with the work comes the attendant problems for me, notably insomnia (which is however, very good for blogging) and stress-related back-aches. The back-ache is a beauty. I get a sharp pain that starts in my upper back, then translates into my chest, and can leave me breathless with pain. In a good attack, the pain can spread up into my jaw, and in the very best attacks, from there into a band over my head. I haven’t had one of those attacks (yet) this time around, and hopefully, I will avoid them. And yes, before you leap in with helpful advice, I do sit correctly, I have had my desk and chair properly assessed, I do take micro-breaks, I do stop and stretch, I periodically swap my mouse hand, I swap between working with pen and paper and working with a screen, I do all the right things. I’m fairly sure that the back attacks come on because when I am stressed, like many other people, I tense all the muscles in my back.

It’s not the work itself that’s stressing me – it’s well within my capacities, given my education and my previous experience. I learned how to do policy in a hard school – a very rigorous policy shop. It’s the juggle that’s doing me in. Get up early, have something to eat, get the girls fed and dressed, get their lunches made, get a load of washing through the washing machine and into the drier (no time to hang it on the line), get myself flossied up for work (not very flossy, BTW – just standard business wear), get everyone organised and out the door. All with Mr Strange Land of course – I’m not in this alone. Work hard until 3pm, taking a brief lunch break, then leave the office in a frantic rush in order to get to the girls’ school on time. Come home, more washing-cleaning-cooking, help the girls with their homework, make beds, fold clothes, pay bills, all that rigmarole. Do my best to make sure the girls don’t miss out because I am working, so make time to read to them. If things go well, they will be in bed by about 8pm, and I will have some time to sing, to read, to watch a little TV, before heading to bed and hoping that this night, I will sleep all night. (Not tonight though.)

I could make some different choices, such as putting the girls into after-school care two afternoons a week instead of one, but that means they would have only one afternoon at home a week (the other two afternoons are taken out by ballet and drama lessons – one set of lessons per child, but in order to get one child to her lesson, the others must come with me, because they are far, far too young to be left at home alone). I think the girls need down-time at home, just space in which to rattle about and be kids. I could pay for someone to clean the house, but the job only lasts for a few weeks, so that seems silly. I could drop the tutoring work I will be doing this semester, but that’s on-going employment, and it will probably lead to more tutoring and maybe more lecturing work next year. Or I could drop my own singing lessons, which I am enjoying enormously, and which have been one of the things which have kept me going this year as we settle into this new country.

The money of course, is very nice. It pays for the extra things we like to have, such as the aforesaid lessons, and it contributes to our household, and it will help us to afford a trip home at the end of the year. But we could probably manage all those things anyway, with a bit of juggling and very careful budgeting.

So why take on paid employment?

It’s partly about not just living off my husband’s income, and expecting him to provide for us. The provider-pressure that many men experience is real, and if I am to believe that my feminism creates chocies and a better way of living for me, then I also want to do my best to ensure that Mr Strange Land doesn’t have to wear this aspect of the patriarchy. (NB: I’m not about to worry about him being oppressed – read this interesting post about patterns of oppression at Feminist Philosophers for more on the difference between experiencing one sort of oppression, and being subject to oppression.)

It’s partly about being able to support myself, and my children, in good times and in bad. I don’t know what chances of fate may befall us, and I know that even if something rather bad happened, our families would help. Nevertheless, I want to be able to provide for my children if necessary. And that means that I need to keep my hand in at work, keep myself match-fit, ready and able and willing to earn a living.

And it’s partly about modelling how women can live for my daughters. I want them to grow up seeing that women can and do support themselves, that they can and do live independently, that if they do, then relationships with other adults, male or female, are a matter of choice, not a financial necessity.

On the other hand, given the stress this is creating at present, I think six weeks will do for the current bout of employment, and I will look to spend the remainder of the year nurturing family and partner and myself and home, before trying to find a less juggle-intensive job in the New Year. That could be a very good thing to model too.


16 responses to “Why do I do it?

  1. You need massage. I’ve narrowed all my headache problems down to fairly much the same thing – stress related headaches from sitting at my desk like a tense little monkey – and painkillers don’t work! So if I feel one coming on I nip down to the mall and get a 10 minute shoulder massage and put some antiflamme on it. Also find that vigorous exercise helps….

  2. Sometimes don’t you find, that you really need to give yourself a break. You are doing an amazing job- so leave the washing and get it done every two nights- not every night. It is OK your Mum (or whoever) is not there to critise your housekeeping!

    I work full time and try my best to raise the family- and in some ways it is easier than part-time work- I do have a cleaner (once a week) and I leave washing and ironing to the weekend, (it REALLY piles up) but we cope. Sort of- the homework is the thing I find difficult, I am really tired at night but I do it for them, and to make sure they get some Mum time….and reading is great. Also I love to cook so I do the dinners and that makes me feel better as a good mum, and we sit and eat together as a family and talk….

    Don’t give up your singing lessons- they are so good for your soul as well as your body (the posture you need for signing is great for your back). And I so agree with donnasoowho- go get a massage. I go to a lovely lady physio who is sympathetic but no nonsense and I feel safe wtih her (very important as you take your clothes off in front of a complete stranger).

    You can have most of it, (no one can have it all!)and you need to compromise a bit. Everyone’s compromises are their own business- mine are washing (have these great laundry baskets that hide all manner of dirty clothes) and I catch up on housework in the weekends. But don’t give you up- that’s the thing you need to focus on- and kids are adaptable- one extra day of after school care if it helps for six weeks may be good- after all it is not permanent. Your girls know you love them more than anything and you are a great Mum. Give yourself some give!


  3. Your post shouldn’t make me feel bad but it does. I am a stay at home mum with 3 small children. I want to “model how women can live for my daughters. ” but at the moment it would cost more in childcare than my take home pay to work. Also the job I do requires either shift or on call work which isn’t compatible with childcare and if I don’t work for 3 years I need to retrain.

    I was a working mum with 1 then 2 children and the juggle there was hideous. I felt like I wasn’t doing my job well or parenting well.

    I am in total admiration of those who work outside the home and raise children. I couldn’t seem to get that balance right but staying at home is a pretty hard road (for me). One thing I hate is women saying the other has it easy (home or work) and I just hate those sorts of mummy wars. Why can’t we just support each other and acknowledge the trials and tribulations of any choice?

  4. try yoga for that back. i’ve had back trouble all my life, and starting a course of yoga (with emphasis on stretching vulnerable muscle-groups) has made a very real difference.

    and maybe shed some of the jobs you seem to have convinced yourself you need to do. can someone else collect the kids, and they can let themselves into the house?

    i know for a fact they’re smart, capable kids. they can probably be trusted to look after themselves for an hour or so each day.

  5. I very much agree with you on kids needing down time to just be at home. That’s what I had as a child and what I most associate with the happiness of childhood. It’s what I try to provide for mine too, so it means me only working part-time. On the occasions that I do work fulltime for a block of weeks, life is literally a whirl.
    I second the yoga idea, though that requires time too.
    And drop the daily washing, if possible.

  6. My laundry basket has regular ant investations, and I’ve been unemployed for months. I’m starting four weeks fulltime in a couple of days and that means tomorrow, while the lad is at my Mum’s, I will be tidying, because we’ve gone beyond the pale in the last couple of weeks, and it will be another four before I do any more tidying. I try to keep the front doorway clear, so we can get in and out of the place, I realise this isn’t considered a ‘standard’ that most people aim for.

    Good luck.

  7. Your standards sound just fine to me, ICG!

    Children getting themselves home from school – maybe… but not just yet, given that two of them are only just seven. I know that I was walking myself home from school at that age, but that was in Hawera, and there were only three cars on the road.

    Daily washing – it’s more the sheets so I change only one set per day, plus maybe a load of school clothes, depending on what state of filthiness the girls come home in.

    Yoga massage relaxation – yes yes yes, but time time time.

    I think the real problem is being a casual worker – will try to get a post up about that tomorrow… depending on time time time.

    Art and my life – I have come to the realisation that no matter what I do, it will be wrong! Or rather, if I choose to emphasise one aspect of my life, then another will suffer. That’s why for the most part I choose my children rather than a job. But if someone wants to make a different choice, then that’s fine by me, because I am very, very aware that what works for me won’t necessarily work for other women.

    Overall, I think it’s grin and bear it for the next few weeks, and then think again about what to do.

  8. “notably insomnia (which is however, very good for blogging)” Seriously, hands down.

    I think its great that you feel that you don’t have to only depend on your husband’s income. I mean a woman should be independent too. And I am liking the way you are thinking.

  9. Deborah – I hope you didn’t think I was getting at you for your great post or that you were attacking anyone else. Like I said I am full of admiration and everyone makes their own choices that are rigth for them

  10. Not at all! I think we are probably paddling the same canoe here – wanting to look after our children ourselves, very aware of the tradeoffs, knowing that we could be working but worrying about the financial and intangible costs. It’s a minefield, and I haven’t yet found a solution. If I do, you can be sure that I will broadcast it to THE WHOLE WORLD!

  11. thing is, you’ve put yourself in a catch-22. your health is declining due to stress, but you’re stressed about your health declining.

    it’s at that point that you conduct your own intervention and *make* and hour a week to ensure you get to a close yoga class (many workplaces have yoga groups, so there’s no travel time to speak of).

    failing that, cut out all TV altogether. you’ll be amazed how much time the sh*tbox accrues.

  12. Haven’t watched TV for about four weeks…. and don’t watch it much anyway. It tends to be a DVD on Friday or Saturday evening rather than weeknight watching in any case.

    I don’t have an hour during the work day, because I can’t just casually decide to leave work 20 minutes late today, or get there a bit earlier tomorrow to make up for it. The children are, well, children, so they need to be cared for. And I hae cleared out some time for myslef – my singing time. But having taken that time, I don’t have other time available.

    Believe me, it really is the juggle that’s doing the damage here.

  13. Thanks for this post Deborah.
    I have just picked up extra work at my uni, while I am trying to finish my thesis and raise my 2 and 4 year olds. I am wondering about the school next year thing because the hours are shorter than daycare (where they currently go two days a week). The casual work thing is a catch, as I will want more work once the thesis is finished so I can hardly say no to the work being offered now, but the work eats into the days set aside to complete the thesis. Anyhow it’s juggle, juggle, juggle and I know that I will sort next year out when it comes.
    Anyways, thank you for sharing your reasons for the juggling I really identify with where your coming from.

  14. hmmm… we might be experiencing similar problems here.

    second chef was doing ironing the other day (her own), and looked at me and said very matter of factly, ” i think we need a wife”.

    i thought it very ursula le guin.

  15. Found this post through the carnival (although I read the Hand Mirror regularly). . . I recently blogged about how intense provider-pressure can be (I was supporting my husband while he was looking for his first post-college job, and it was intense). Now he has work, and while he makes substantially less than I do, the pressure is nonetheless more or less gone. If a family can afford to live off of one income, great. But wow, it’s difficult to support another person.

    Of course, if we had kids (which we’re not going to, but if), I would choose to work full-time even if we could afford to live off of one income. My husband could be a stay-at-home parent if he wanted, but being a full-time parent would drive me up the wall. I would need my full-time career to sustain me.

  16. This post is a refreshing change from the “women who work just want a plasma screen and a bigger house, huh, in the olden days we lived in a paper bag in the middle of the road” trope.