If you know me or have read about me, you’ll know I love travel.
With all that’s been going on recently, I’ve started to consider ‘travel’ as the more complex cousin of ‘change’. And it’s true: I do love change. I love the excitement of taking on new terminology, embracing new fashion, and interpreting new social norms. Nonetheless, there’s one aspect of change that’s emerging as more of a challenge than I had initially imagined.
We’ve been here in Silicon Valley for almost three weeks now. After days of errands, odd jobs, and trips to the bank, the time has finally arrived: Cam starts work on Monday (tomorrow!). Unsurprisingly, this means I’ll be flying solo with all three girls. To say I’m anxious is an understatement, for it seems that America, on the whole, doesn’t quite seem to ‘get’ part-time or flexible working arrangements for working parents.
For me, this is the ultimate conundrum.
I am the first to defend a woman’s right to choose the nature of her role in the home. In our family, Cam and I choose to maintain roles of fairly equal labour-related output. In the past, we’ve both worked fairly regular hours, juggling the advent of three under four with equal parts enthusiasm and caffeine-fuelled gusto. I’ve loved it. I’ve relished the top-notch configuration of our incredible team-of-two, each with one eye on the other; always watching, always ready to leap in and help save the day.
But sometimes, the environment changes and the team is forced to alter its modus operandi.
In t-1 days, from the hours of 7-til-godknowswhat, Cam will be traded to another team. And I will, for the foreseeable future, take up a new life as a stay-at-home-mum (SAHM).
For working mothers, this is well charted territory. I know these issues are big and bold, and very much present in the lives of women the world over. And yet, ‘t-1’ is a situation that I face with a very real and unmistakable feeling of intense trepidation.
This post is far from a condemnation of, or value judgement on SAH motherhood. No way. This post is about my personal struggle with role change. It’s a written attempt at solving what’s emerging as a very complex philosophical situation for me and my brave little family-of-five.
So, where to begin in solving it? Perhaps with an explanation of context.
After finishing school, I headed to university where I graduated with two degrees: a Bachelor of Arts (with majors in Latin and Mathematics), and a Bachelor of Laws. Having decided against becoming a lawyer, I found myself edging closer to the world of Banking.
‘Banking?’ I hear you say. ‘What a bore’.
Well, let me tell you: it’s been anything but.
On top of the Banking world’s being responsible for my meeting Cam and some of the best friends I could ever have asked for, it’s offered me the opportunity to work in many varied roles, manage teams, and contribute to my workplace a great deal of my passion as an individual. I was afforded a job that took me to London where I worked with a talented and diverse bunch of incredible colleagues for two of the leading global investment banks. It was a bank that hired me to start work when I was 34 weeks pregnant with Clara, and it was that same bank that afforded me three periods of paid parental leave in three years, accompanied by the opportunity to return to work between each child, flexibly and in a part-time capacity. For me, being able to work and parent at the same time was a dream come true. It felt right. For us.
As an individual, I’ve been very deliberate about the path I intended for myself: I studied and worked hard, building a career that I would cherish and want to evolve. Sure, things seemed to stagnate a little when I fell pregnant, but as a passionate and unflappably dedicated mother, I promised myself that the path would soon again show itself.
Fast forward a few years, and we’ve landed ourselves in the United States. With hindsight (and a healthy dose of foolishness, in retrospect), I’d figured that here I’d be able to find an awesome job and negotiate something along the lines of a 0.6 or 0.8 workload. Little did I know that the more I’d look and talk to people, the more I’d discover that working part-time – at least in a role of a certain skill level – is nowhere near the ‘done thing’. I’m starting to piece it together: if I want to maintain the challenge, the pay, and the career progression, I’ll need to pop ‘full-time’ back on the drawing board.
Okay. Rant alert.
To be quite honest with you, this strikes me as being absolutely ridiculous. I honestly believe that part-time employees are more productive than their full-time counterparts. Besides, employers would get a lot more for their money if they embraced the benefits of supporting employees to work part-time as needed. When one views it like that, regardless of whose rights are at stake and why, it’s clear that flexibility is a workplace issue and not one destined for consideration by women only.
I’ve taken a bit of time to consider the landscape. It would seem that many mothers return to work very soon after having their babies. It’s not unusual, for one, for people to have kids as young as four weeks old in full-time care, either with a nanny or in a childcare centre. I repeat: it has to be each family’s choice as to how these situations are managed. For us, I’m not comfortable with it. For starters, there’s no way we can afford it, and though I know Clara would manage just fine, there’s no way Cece and Coco would do so with the same levels of grace and aplomb.
‘So, Clare’, I hear you ask. ‘What are your options? How about part-time childcare?’.
I believe the expression is ‘lol’.
To be deadly honest with you, this is hardly ‘a thing’ in Silicon Valley either, at least from what I can tell. In Australia, like many parents, our girls would be dropped off twice per week, and we’d pay a daily rate for the care of our choice. Committed to equality, Cam and I sought to share the workload and undertook a solid co-parenting routine that while we know may not have worked for all families, completely worked for us.
Here in America, however, if you ask for less than five days per week, the staff are likely to stare at you blankly. It’s full-time or bust, people. Although there are rare circumstances in which three or four days of care per week is permitted, it’s no secret that you’re actively deprioritised and placed at the bottom of the waitlist. The centres also try to actively dissuade you from part-time care by charging almost 90-95% of the full-time rate!
I’m staring down the barrel of SAHM life. I’m staring it right in the eye. And truth be told, I’m terrified.
Maintenance of my mental health is close to the top of my priority list. Why? Because if I’m not sane, grounded, and clear, how the hell am I meant to be a good parent? It doesn’t take much for me to feel unbalanced on a day home with the kids; those tantrums, that complaining, the unshakeable clinginess. And when there are three of them screaming all at once, it’s nothing short of hell. With three under four and being *this close* to reaching the milestone of four years since my first child, it’s no secret: I’m at risk of breakdown.
I am envisaging texts to Cam during his working day; asking what time he’ll be home, counting down the minutes until he arrives back at the house, begging him to come home and help me. We both know that he’ll no longer be able to access that trademark Australian workplace flexibility. He was, in a past life, able to work from home up to twice per week, leaving early for childcare pickups and any other situation that arose as part-and-parcel of his life as a working Dad.
But here? Here, Cam will work five incredibly long days per week, year round.
It’s not that I’m scared he won’t pull his weight. In fact, this is what scares me least. I know for a fact that Cam will burst through the door at the end of a frantic day, scoop the girls and me up into his arms, and continue on as the incredible human we know him to be.
But this isn’t about him. This is about me, and my peace of mind. It goes without saying that I love my kids. I just need a lot of ‘me’ time and healthy variation in order to be a good mum. And that ‘me’ time – for the near future – is not going to be something I get.
But what can I do with this knowledge? I find myself asking. Surely there’s a silver lining or something I can do to better adapt. Well, while it’s not the only path to success, many women find inspiration in post-baby entrepreneurial activity.
When it comes down to the wire, however, is there any point in worrying too much about a future I can’t quite see just yet?
I guess I should take comfort in the fact that sometimes things have a funny way of working out.
P.S. We did do something fun this week. It wasn’t all life admin and worrying, I promise! Check it out: we went to the Museum of Ice Cream, San Francisco. The pics littering this post are from our day out.