Over at bluemilk (my mac doesn't seem to let me make links but go there - it's such a great blog) there's a post about the opportunities work presents and the constraints we face in taking advantage of them. There are also some comments about the mummy track - the career path women end up on when they have children and find their organisations don't take them seriously as workers anymore. One of the commenters suggested concern about this is 'ego', and that things change over time. I think it's true - things can change - but the point about ego is stinging a little (and I acknowledge this response is about me, and not the writer's intent), so much so that I'm writing this instead of dealing with some work stuff that Needs To Be Done Now.
Ego. It's such a dirty word, and doubly so if you're a woman, and triply so if you're a mother. After all, motherhood is presented to us as the suppression of ego, as a state of sacrifice for the good of our children and our family (and the country's economy if the Treasurer had his way). Worrying about the state of one's career can seem a little off topic when we are trying to raise kids under all sorts of pressures, with all kinds of hopes and fears and caught in emotions so deep and complex - it's overwhelming and beautiful and frightening and there is absolutely nothing comparable in my paid work life. But I'm pretty much on the Mummy track at the moment, and I'm not always entirely comfortable with this, even though it is the best solution for balancing our family’s emotional wellbeing with our financial needs.
I don't like that in the professions, there is only one legitimate way of being a worker. So many organisational structures and cultures expect the total devotion of mind and body, in ways that disadvantage people who are trying to be parents (and in particular, mothers, upon whom the caring tasks most commonly fall). But more than that, I'm frustrated that I can't shine in my career when I'm shining as a mother. This strikes at the core of my identity: I've been a professional for much longer than I've been a mother and I've worked really hard to be respected and to get all the necessary letters after my name. My life was directed to success in my field; motherhood came late(ish) and the desire for children was absent for decades; Kris-as-mother is a pretty recent and unexpected character. That earlier sense of self was not sloughed off when Lu and then Nell came along; it lives side by side - often uncomfortably - with 'Mummy'. And there's ego in it too, I miss feeling that I am (or have the potential to be) a player, someone who's going somewhere.
Work might be vanity, it might melt in the air, but it does matter to me. The work-family balance is usually presented as a question of the fit between hours worked and hours spent with family, but for many women it also a question of balancing the different elements of who we are and what we focus on: worker and mother and partner, ego and sacrifice. These ideas are written as separate, and contain an implicit dichotomy (trichotomy?) but perhaps they should be presented as workermotherpartner, egosacrifice because they're all mixed up together.
I'm lucky that my work lets me write this from home, and that home is where work is currently happening. I'm lucky that I don't have to make a set of hard choices about career and family. I’m on the mummy track, and in terms of what my family needs, this is the right track. I've been telling my friends I have little ambition, and I'm comfortable with its absence. And I am, sort of. But there's still a part of me that wants to travel not the back roads of the mummy track, beautiful and quiet though they may be, but the great boulevards of a successful career, in a motorcade, with tickertape and a marching band and, sure, the key to the city (yes, my ego is that big). I may get there eventually but in the meantime, I'm sometimes going to feel sad and frustrated that and resentful that I can't be seen as a great mother and a shit-hot leader in my field. Because I'm proud of being both.