Children or Career?

I was in my final year at university and I was taking a Family Studies class.  With  my carefully crafted essay (read: I was printing it at 3.30pm, when it was due at 4pm), I made my way to the classroom on the ground floor, crossed the semi-circle of gathering students, and sat myself at a desk under the windows.  We had written our essays on traditional versus modern roles of males and females and were preparing to argue our points.  When you become a parent, who should work and how should they do it? Should anything of the traditional role be maintained?  How do we feel about fathers staying home with the children instead of mothers?

I sat listening to my cohorts and I mostly agreed.  Why should both not be able to work?  Why should both not be able to chase their ambitions?  Why should women be expected to hold their spatulas instead of their briefcases, don their aprons instead of their business suits?

But then I started to think back to discussions that had taken place over the course of the last few weeks when we had been talking about children, rebellion, and why they behave as they do.  I collected my insight and opened my mouth before my good reason had a chance to stop me:

If we say that, we cannot complain about how our children behave.  We cannot expect to chase our ambitions and dreams first and to be parents second, to work in an office in place of spending that time investing in, nurturing and caring for our children and then act surprised when they won’t listen to us.  

I held my breath as silence filled the room.  It’s not what my paper said, but common sense was screaming that we can’t blame a teacher, a peer, the neighbours or TV for the way our children behave or treat us.  We will either cling to the primary role we are given in this life to lead them or someone else will lead them instead.

Cherie Blair (Tony Blair’s wife for those of you not from the UK) was recently criticized for publicly challenging the attitude of “Yummy Mummies” who stay at home to raise children instead of working.    I haven’t read the transcript of the event, but I do know that the press will always gun for a reaction.  Having read the article, I think this provides a decent summary:

“One of the things that worries me now is you see young women who say: ‘I look at the sacrifices that women have made and I think why do I need to bother, why can’t I just marry a rich husband and retire?’ and you think how can they even imagine that is the way to fulfil yourself, how dangerous it is.  

And yes, I agree.  Partly.

I agree that if your view is to marry rich, then your view is distorted.  Businesses fail.  Economies shrink.  Companies cut back.  We know that.  Marry because you long to commit your life to loving that person, not because you think this partnership will enable you to retire and rear children.

What I don’t agree with is the implication, should you be fortunate enough to be given the option, that if you feel your greatest fulfilment will be found in being a stay-at-home-parent to your children, that this is less worthy than being professionally ambitious.  What is more ambitious than leading your children?  What is more challenging than pouring your life into another human?  It will be the most disciplined, hand-wringing, heart-warming, gut-wrenching, rewarding work you do.  And choosing to do it is hard.   I often wrestle with my professional ambitions, ambitions that would certainly require me to be full-time employed, and my personal desire to be with my daughter.  I am positive that most parents wrestle with the same and we  might come to different conclusions based on our circumstances.  But I know that I am not setting a bad example for my daughter by choosing her.   I am not just telling her that I think she is important.  It is a way for me to show her that she is and I honestly believe she will be better for it.

And here is the other thing:

Even good men could have an accident or die and you’re left holding the baby.”

It is foolish to need someone.  It requires humility.  It requires reliance.  It requires trust.  And last time I checked, people are not permanent.  They will let you down.  They will leave, in one way or another.  They will also affirm you, support you, hold you, and they will absolutely fill your life to brimming.   I could make a list of what-ifs about our lives, about what would happen to me, as a wife, mother, and expat, if my husband died and I was left with a part-time charity sector job that would barely pay the rent.  I could spend my life building my professional house, in case my husband’s crumbles, but we don’t make decisions from fear.  Neither do we make decisions assuming that each member’s self-sufficiency is at the core of what is best for our family.

Our family has holistic needs in the way that individuals have them.  If I were to argue that I needed to pursue my career ambitions to be happy, but it overlooked the needs of my family, I’m not setting an example for my child, I’m being selfish.  We make decisions that account for all of our family members in the hope that spiritually, relationally, financially, emotionally, and mentally we will be the ones to lead our children.  And respectfully, Ms Blair, that might just mean putting my ambitions to the side for now.


10 thoughts on “Children or Career?

  1. Meg Fenn

    Sometimes it not about chasing ambitions, it’s about providing for your family. It doesn’t have to be an either/or question/answer. Millions of women do both – have children (and raise them well) and also work. I don’t think the only children who do not behave badly or rebel are the children of a stay at home mother only. I know plenty of kids who behave badly and their mother’s don’t work. I also know plenty of children who behave very well whose mother’s have careers.

    I am a working mother and I also believe I am setting a good example for my children, especially my daughter. She loves that I am passionate about what I do and I believe I am providing her with a strong role model. I do not feel that I neglect my children in any way because I work or that their behaviour is bad because I work.

    I like what you say about leading your children is the most disciplined, heart-wrenching etc. thing you will ever do and choosing to stay at home is NOT setting a bad example for your daughter. You are in a great position that you can stay home and not work and focus on your child. She is a very lucky girl to have you as her mother.

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      Hi Meg, thanks for commenting. I agree. And I overlooked the point that being with your child more doesn’t make them angels. You’re right.

      I’ve worked part-time since she was 9 months old. My choice was about helping to provide for the family and it is a job that I can find hugely rewarding. I’m glad you said what you said because my point, I hope, is that doing it for self-fulfilment and sufficiency (which it seems she is arguing) ignores that you have a whole family. I think over the years and at different stages of our child’s development, we’ve got to revisit what is the best decision for our family. That could be work. That could be to stay at home. But I think it’s a choice we should always make with the whole in mind, rather than one part.

  2. avicarswife

    thanks for this! i’m lucky enough not to have really properly started on my career path (save for a lot of education that may or may not be useful for me in the future, depending on what i decide to do) so have time this year to decide which way i want to go. i have come to the conclusion that the best job would involve pinterest. i am far too addicted. 😉

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      You’re lucky to have that time to weight it all up. It’s a constant battle that I fight with myself. I often wonder about going back to university to get a Masters. I dream of climbing the career ladder. And I’m not writing those options off. I am deciding that right now, they come second to time with my daughter. And so I work part-time and there’s not a lot of climbing you can do in a 3 day week. But to us, in this very developmental stage, having more time with her than away from her was important. I’ll be interested to know what you decide to do when that time comes.

  3. samanthamcgarry

    I have so many thoughts in my head upon reading this and other articles that have been circulating these past weeks about whether Mums can “have it all” and the choices we make in the process. I chose to work. I think I am setting my kids a good example about responsibility, earning potential, ambition and so on. Does my work get in the way of their needs. Yes sometimes and it’s usually my fault when that happens. Do they suffer for it. Maybe, not sure. But they know 100% that they are loved and cherished and that each of us has a role to contribute to our household and the world at large. I see my job #1 as bringing them up to be good people. Whether I work or not is a factor in this but not the be-all and end-all.

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      And that’s it, isn’t it? I don’t have to prove something by working. Sure, there are lessons she can learn from having parents who work, but just as you say, it’s not the be-all end-all. Both of my parents worked and I don’t look back at ,u childhood and wistfully ponder on time that we lost because it’s just what I knew. But I do hope that I am making a decision now that will mean that she looks back and loves the time that we had because it’s what she knew. (I also realize it is up to me to make the most of it!)

  4. Pingback: The Problem with Having it All: Mommy Hair « Keeping the Glass Half Full

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