Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Working Mums and career women

I was at the gym last night with a good friend, trying to convince myself I wasn't pregnant and can still pull decent splits on the ergo. During one of our chats while I was swinging a large weight around my head, she mentioned that she was becoming increasingly annoyed with the term "career woman". Nobody defines a man in such a way, "career man" sounds faintly ridiculous. This got me thinking about how I will be defined come January when bump comes into my life.

I intend to head back to my job after I have spent the pitiful amount of time at home that HK law demands. I actually rather like my job and the people I work with. Most mornings I look forward to going in and find it intellectually and socially stimulating.

However, it has been increasingly worrying me lately that once bump comes the whole definition of who I am will change, I will become what is defined as a "working mum".

This term annoys me for the simple fact that it implies a deviation from the accepted norm, the need to qualify the statement of "mum". The Boy will not defined as a "working Dad" although he will take less time off when bump is born, and most likely spend less time with the bump than I do purely because he tends to travel more for his job. So, why when I am being (in terms of time) a parent for more of my time than he is do I need the qualification and he doesn't?

I am increasingly grappling with society's perception of me going back to work. Unlike the UK, where almost everyone I know has to go back to work for financial reasons, the ridiculously low tax rate in HK means that I do actually have the choice of not working. Quite a considerable number of expat Mums here don't work when they have children and although most of my Chinese friends do, they have their extended family to help look after the children and cultural norms are different.

About a year ago I was out with some expat friends of different nationalities. The two other women in the group had small children and still work, but in part time or flexible jobs. They, without any thought for the judgements they were making, were happily criticising women who work in law firms and banks for working full time and long hours. They seemed to think that doing so is bad for the child and means you love your child less. This really hit me, what if my child grows up to be unhappy or have problems, will I always link this back to me working when she was small?

Of course there is a huge amount of guilt around this issue, and almost exclusively directed at women. Rarely, if ever, does someone criticise the father for working longs hours and travelling. Indeed most of the men I work with hardly see their children but little blame is laid at their doors. Much as I try to tell myself I am as responsible for this child as the Boy is and these are choices we make together, I can't help feeling that society puts a huge amount of pressure on mothers leaving the fathers largely unscathed.

The issue was finally resolved when I spoke to my mother-in-law, who I expected would be the first to judge me because she is of a generation where women stayed at home. She happily informed me that being at home with her boys, although lovely, had her climbing the walls by the time her youngest was 3 and she dashed, nay, sprinted back to a job as soon as she could. She also told me that if work is important to me then I should quite happily get some additional help in the form of a nanny, because I can’t do it all.

So, I guess this is where I have come to. Everyone is different. The Boy is not fundamentally less well adjusted than me because his Mum went back to work and his Dad worked long hours and travelled a lot. Although I was very lucky in that Dad was always at home by 5 and Mum didn’t go back to full time work until I was aged 9, I don’t think I would have felt less loved had it been different.

I also look at the twins to whom I was a nanny for three years, whose parents both have senior jobs and work long hours. They are two of the most well-adjusted, lovely, polite and clever 17 year olds I have ever met.

So, no more guilt… well, until next week.


LottieP said...

Quite right, enough with the guilt. My mum had three children under the age of 6 by the time she was 30. She was at home with us until my brother, the youngest, was four and she started working part-time as an art teacher. As a direct result, she went a bit mad in her thirties... and that's why we are where we are today. (-;

I wish my mum had had more choice, because it seems to me, from this distance, that she subsumed herself in to being a mum and lost sight of who she was. When she rediscovered herself, all hell broke loose.

The best way to have a happy child is to be a happy mother. Whatever that means for you. And it's your choice.

Mummy said...

Hear hear. My mum, when I was in my teens, managed a full time job and doing a law degree. Then she did a masters when I was at Uni, in women's and family law nonetheless. Quite inspirational. However, I always wondered if she had been able to do the degree when she had just left school, or when I was younger, what law firm or legal charity she would be running now - if not the Lord Chancellor's department itself!

Our generation has choices, and we are very lucky.