Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Labels and denial

Only the other day, I realised something. In the twenty-six months since I was last employed, I haven't once referred to myself as a Stay At Home Mother (SAHM). 

When I meet people and they ask me what I do, I find myself saying that my field is teaching English to foreign students. Which is true, but it's been a while now. Why not tell them I'm a SAHM?

I guess I dislike labels, for a start. It's not like I grew up with rose-tinted visions of one day being a domestic goddess, patiently dispensing all that my children need, while maintaining an immaculate home and spending hours in the kitchen as I prepare dinners that would make Nigella Lawson proud.

Nope. I know that's not what being a SAHM is about, and that the reality is far more grotty. I'm living it.

However, I never held a desire to spend a large chunk of time at home, raising kids. I always wanted kids,  but I also have no problem with the concept of the kids being minded by family, or in day care, while I work an enjoyable, fulfilling job and contribute financially. I've never held lofty career ambitions either - I've only ever wanted a job I enjoy, even if it doesn't pay that well.

In the time between having the Faery and Miss Pie, I returned to work. Mostly, it was 2-3 days a week. I was very fortunate to work for a school (one of the few) with a flexible timetable, and one that job-shared. Initially (when the Faery was ten months old) my mother-in-law minded her. Close to her second birthday, when my workload increased and I began working more days, we put the Faery into day care.

In those days, I didn't view myself as a working mother. I'm not sure why, but I think I viewed the label of working mother as belonging to those who had the hard slog of working full-time. I had it easier than that... but I definitely wasn't a SAHM either.

I loved having 2-3 days a week with the Faery. For me, it was the perfect mix. Some days for the park and mothers group picnics, and other days for adult interaction and using my brain more.

I planned to do it similarly when I started (unpaid) maternity leave with Miss Pie: a year or so at home, then off to day care, while I work part-time.

Then J was offered - for the second time - this job in Los Angeles. We decided to accept. Not long after making that decision, just in case we'd had any doubts, the (Japanese-owned) school I'd been working at went bankrupt and closed down... just weeks after Miss Pie was born.

My plans for returning to my old workplace eventually? Down the gurgler.

Yet here I am now, dragging my heels about becoming gainfully employed. In my defence, it's been a little complicated - not being able to legally work when we first arrived, applying for social security numbers, work permits... accidentally leaving behind my entire CV and proof of qualifications in an unknown box in storage in Sydney (yeah, smart move, huh?).

And I'm still to admit that I'm a SAHM. That title weighs heavily around my neck, and one that I suppose I don't feel I deserve. That if I admit it, then I have to start doing a better job of that designated title.

But labels or no labels, I know one thing. I'm incredibly grateful that - unlike so many mothers - it's not a necessity for me to work. My little family's survival does not depend on it. The extra dollars would be more than welcome, and I'm sure my self-esteen would be better for it, but I've been incredibly lucky that we've been able to get by on one income - that in itself hasn't been easy, but it hasn't been impossible.

For now, just humour me with this first world problem of mine. I'll get over myself... eventually.


  1. I think in a way, we're in a very similar place. I feel like neither one nor the other. Or perhaps in my case, it is a feeling that I don't belong rightfully in either camp because I'm doing an equally shithouse job at both. Again, a common feeling I'm told by those trying to straddle the fence.

    I know what you mean - I didn't call myself a SAHM either and it wasn't from lack of solidarity with my fellow travellers.

    The thing is, for women with children, this is how life is. Some of us have to work full time. Some of us don't. Some of us can only manage a few days a week. We're all trying to balance this with caring for our kids and when we're not there, making sure that the care they're getting from others meets their needs.

    If we're lucky, the support is there from at least one direction and we don't feel as if we are carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders.

    I hate it when I see public spats between women over these issues - again, we are fighting each other instead of fighting what is wrong. And what is wrong is the fact that any of us see any need to justify or explain ourselves for our choices. We don't see men doing this. They just do what they do.

    Maybe in order to be more kind to ourselves, we first have to be more kind to each other.

    Sorry for the long rambling comment - again. ;)

    1. You're so right. Nothing makes me sadder (and madder) than reading spats between working mums and SAHMs, each justifying their way, and in the process, completely writing off the others' way. I lost all respect fro Anderson Cooper recently when he had a bunch of mothers on his talk show one day, all effectively slamming one another ("lazy" vs "uncaring") and he basically enabled that whole nasty discussion. It was ugly, and his charm no longer works for me.

      I'm glad I haven't personally been on the receiving end of anyone's harsh judgement (at least, not to my face!) but until we accept that there isn't one 'right' or 'better' way of doing this, we have a long way to go.