I was reading something the other day about ‘having it all’ (and marveling at having the time to sit and read something. And drink a cup of tea, a whole cup. It hasn’t happened since, btw). Yup, that old chestnut. You know the one, the idea that for women life is just one big balancing act as we attempt to manage the inevitable tension between motherhood and career, while also daring to try and have a life. It is a problem that the media would have us believe is very rarely encountered by men who apparently, implicitly, already ‘have it all’, just by way of being men. Lucky bastards.
I digress. What struck me was just how different this particular person’s concept of ‘having it all’ was to mine, and how much my idea of ‘it’ had evolved over the past few years. I suppose it’s pretty tough to conceive of juggling kids with your job until you actually have them and need to, you know, juggle.
Flashback to three years ago and I was on a proper career path, earning good money, and dating the man who’d finally convince me to stroll up the aisle (except there was no aisle and the wedding was essentially just a massive party, as all wedding should be), something which had never really interested me before. And even though I was pretty unhappy in my job, I felt secure in where I was going. I worked in politics – a world in which women are still just as likely to make it into the papers for their outfit choices, as they are their opinions, a world in which informing a women she should ‘calm down, dear’ is still seen as appropriate. It was a world that challenged me daily.
Feminism is a very important part of my life. It gets a bad press these days, but if you agree that men and women should be equal – which is what feminism boils down to, remember – then it’s hardly the bastion of radicals. It’s difficult to see why anyone would have an issue with it in this day and age unless they’ve completely got the wrong end of the stick. Like these guys.
When I imagined myself with a family the image I conjured in my head looked pretty darn similar to the life I had, just with a kid squeezed in. I imagined myself continuing to work full-time (although not necessarily in the same field. I’d pretty much had enough by this point), sharing the parenting equally with my partner, and yeah, ‘having it all’. Then stuff happened, as it has a habit of doing, and pretty much everything I thought I knew about the way I wanted my life to go turned upside down.
Here’s one example – the wedding? I thought it would just be a massively enjoyable way to celebrate being in love, because it’s pretty ace, and have a huge party. Which it was. I was very certain about what I didn’t want – no church, no ‘giving away’, no overwrought vows and meaningless traditions. What I hadn’t counted on was just how special it would feel to say those special words to my special person, and to really really mean them. It was one of the best days of my life and I loved every second of it, not just because everyone got rip-roaring drunk and had a wonderful time, but because I love every little bit of him and it felt amazing to celebrate that with my favourite people. I even changed my name. Yup, what a bad feminist I am. Don’t get me wrong, I agonized about it. I even blogged about it for the online feminist mag Vagenda. In the end my decision had nothing to do feminism/or ‘signing’ myself over to a man, and everything to do with a fresh start. The few years before I met my partner were, in terms of my personal life, completely bloody awful. The wedding, the entire relationship in fact, felt like a chance to start again. And I liked the idea of building something with my partner, of creating something from new – a family – our own exclusive club.
Then along came the boy and all hell broke loose. As my maternity leave ticked on by and the day I had decided to return to work drew ever closer, it began to dawn on me just how impossible I would find it to leave my little bundle of joy and occasionally vomit, and get back into the swing of things as a full-time commuting working woman. I didn’t want to spend ten hours of my week on a train, when I could be with the kid. I didn’t want to spend hours and hours trying to solve the latest ‘crisis’ in the office when in my head a voice was screaming ‘I don’t care’ on repeat. But here’s the thing, I didn’t want to stay at home and be supported. I didn’t want my son to grow up with little respect for me because I didn’t have a career to be proud of (although if he turns out to hold the title on a business card in higher esteem than a person’s moral and personal qualities, I think I’ve gone seriously wrong somewhere). As you’ve probably gathered by now, I don’t like to make things easy for myself.
As a new mother I’d gravitated towards a gentle/attachment style of parenting, and try as I might I just couldn’t square that with the inevitable pressures of a full-on career. So I made a decision. I’m lucky I even had a choice. I stepped off the ladder. I have a job – it’s nothing to write home about (although I love it), and it’s certainly never going to buy me any swish holidays, but I have enough of an income to cover my share of the bills. I’m also able to be there for my son and continue to parent in the way that feels best for us. I suppose my point, after all that, is that there’s no template for having it all. It is whatever you want it to be.
This blog is going to grow in a few ways – as a means of charting my attempt to align my feminism with my new role as a mother, and as an outlet for the anger I quite often feel towards the world around me. Apologies for that. I hope it’ll be a stimulating read, and I hope it allows me to contribute something to the debate that still rages on around issues of equality, even in a minor way.
Hold onto your hats, folks.