End of radio silence.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been interviewing for new jobs. I realise now that I was a little bit bolshy when I quit my job two months before giving birth. In my defence, the baby inside me was taking up a lot of the energy I needed to power my brain. As a result, I’m not only returning to work; I’m having to find a whole new position. As if stepping into the role of ‘mother’ wasn’t daunting enough, I now have to also find a paid and respected career that complements it. I included the word ‘respected’ in there to make clear that I am not willing to become a sex worker or stripper. Again.
Each of the five roles I interviewed for over the past two weeks has both pluses and drawbacks. One was really well paid (K’ching!) but required working five long days a week with no scope for flexitime or working from home. Another was part time but would force us into deep poverty as a result of paying most of the prorated salary out for childcare. One had a great title (Director, which sounds fancy and stuff) but limited opportunity for development or promotion. Another was super family friendly with lots of benefits, but was as dull as Mary and Marina’s banter on Gogglebox. It has since become apparent that finding the perfect role that suits my new lifestyle is far more challenging than I had believed.
I didn’t think I was asking for too much: I can’t afford to pro-rata my salary so it needs to be a full time position, but 37 hours max with a lunchtime finish on Fridays. No early mornings, no late nights. I also want to be able to be home with Whoopsy more than two days a week so flexitime and working from home are perfectly acceptable in order that I can do part time childcare. I need to be able to afford the same outgoings I had pre-baby in addition to half of the childcare costs. As a result the salary needs to be at least 10k more than I was on in my last role. And it needs to be easy enough that it doesn’t cause me any stress since looking after a child is all the stress I need in my life. Oh, and I want a free cafeteria! Preferably filled with baked goods that I can take home and pretend I baked myself.
Positive discrimination surely means that, as a new mother, I should be handed roles like this without so much as an interview. But apparently I am asking for too much because the elusive positions that would allow me to ‘have it all’ are just that – elusive. The experience has led me to that inevitable, disgustingly cliched question of ‘Can you have it all?’ I assume ‘all’ is defined as a hot man who can keep it in his pants, some adorable rosy-cheeked babes, a powerful career, a three bedroom cottage with a country kitchen, a mostly designer wardrobe and a photogenic pet or two. I was one of those women who rolled my eyes every time a magazine interviewed a female celebrity and concluded “She is proof that, yes, you really can have it all…” God, I thought, how hard can it be? Hurl a kid or two out, stick them into daycare, go back to your well paid job and live solely off ready meals and take out. I pitied the women who reported that it didn’t make sense for them to go out to work because of childcare costs so instead they opted to stay home and bake cookies. Clearly, I thought, they were just lazy and using the opportunity of having procreated to spend their days eating baked goods and getting too fat to fit into their pre-kids designer clothes.
Apparently it’s not just money that becomes as issue for new parents. I was talking to another mother – my neighbour – today about my struggle to find a role that meets my seventy-four basic criteria. She is at home with one young child whilst her husband works and their older child is at school. She told me that, having completed her PhD in philosophy (she did tell me in detail what she researched but it included lots of foreign names and long words so lets stick with ‘philosophy’), she was given her dream job at a university. After she had a second child she decided to leave her role. Not because she couldn’t afford to put him into childcare, but because “it was very competitive, with lots of young men who didn’t have families who could stay up all night writing papers”. She said that she couldn’t do a good job of being a mother whilst also trying to work in an environment that didn’t accommodate women who had other family commitments. Having spent the day feeling like an inadequate employee, she would then go to collect her son from nursery who, having formed stronger attachments to the nursery staff than his parents, would howl and cry when he saw her arrive. Unsurprisingly, she she opted to be a great parent rather than feel like a crap worker and a crap mother.
Some might point out that there’s a new co-working space in London designed especially for working mother’s that has a creche attached to it. That, surely, is evidence that the working world is becoming more amenable towards women. Absolutely. Because now, not only can you be reminded that you’re a shit mum whilst you’re trying to work, but you can also add to your daily joys ‘doing the rush hour commute with a toddler in hand’.
I’m starting to believe that it really is impossible to have it all. Not, at least, without a husband who works in the City (whenever I read one of these interviews with women who started their own business hand crocheting eco-nappies whilst on maternity leave I find they always, suspiciously, have husbands who is a banker). And to be honest, even for those women, I strongly suspect that their banker beaus are probably shagging the hot HR manager on account of their wives being too shattered to have sex by the time they’ve put in a full day’s work, kissed the children goodnight as the nanny shuffles them off to bed and drank half a bottle of Chardonnay.
My question has changed from ‘how do I have it all?’ to ‘what do I choose to sacrifice?’ Being an involved parent from Monday at 8.00am to Friday at 6.30pm? A comfortable lifestyle that allows us luxuries such as holidays and drunken Ocado shops for £120 worth of cheese? A job that fits into my wider aspirations and offers opportunity to climb to the next rung of the ladder? Or perhaps a job that has any meaning beyond prostituting my time for shareholder profit. I don’t have a hopeful, upbeat conclusion to this blog post unfortunately. My only hope is that there are enough of us fat, tired pissed off mums that we can overthrow the patriarchy and create a new world order.
We rebel at dawn. Bring cookies.