Thursday, 24 March 2016

Having it All

It will come as a surprise to absolutely no-one, that it is not actually possible to "Have It All" when it comes to motherhood* and a career. I cannot be both a brilliant, involved, loving, relaxed mother and a brilliant, involved, creative, productive employee. Instead I can be a bit rubbish at being a part-time mother, who is tired, crabby, stressed and torn; and a part-time employee who loses focus, leaves early, can't undertake site visits and misses meetings.

I'm feeling particularly grumpy about this at the moment, partly because I'm feeling particularly grumpy generally, due to the cumulative effects of failing to be either a full-time mother or a full-time physicist and getting exhausted trying to be both in only as much time as exists to do one or the other.

The rest of my grump come because of the asymmetry of the Having It All issue. BigBear's employers don't seem to stop and wonder what his childcare arrangements might be if they send him to the other side of the world for 9 days. Nor do they stop and ask if having an early-morning conference call with Japan once a week might cause a problem when it comes to getting LittleBear up, dressed, fed, tooth-brushed and driven to nursery. Nor do they question whether having two evening conference calls to California every week might make collecting LittleBear from nursery, getting him home, fed, played with, bathed, read to and tucked up in bed an issue. No, because he's still the same employee he was before becoming a father.

There is no question of how BigBear will manage to juggle fatherhood and a career. Instead it's assumed that he simply has to miss out on parts of his son's life. It's assumed he's living in the 1950s and has no interest in being involved in the day-to-day care of his child. It's assumed he has a willing and able partner who will "deal with" all of the inconvenient parts of childhood - illnesses, vaccinations, doctor's appointments, dentist's appointments and injuries at nursery that require immediate parental attention. A willing and able partner who will ensure that, even if he is sent hither and yon, or asked to stay late or come in early, his child is fed and clothed and bathed and loved. And if he does need to leave work a little early? He has to take half a day off - there's no gentle flexibility or understanding that actually, the work gets done, the hours get put in, the commitment is there. If he wants half an hour, he has to take half a day. Because that's how to run a modern, family-friendly company that appreciates its employees regardless of gender and assumes they have a life outside their work... oh no, my mistake, that's how to run a giant multi-national that chews people up and spits them out.

Meanwhile, I am distinctly not the same employee I was before becoming a mother. I am extremely fortunate to work for a much smaller, much more flexible, much more understanding employer than BigBear does. They know that if the phone rings, and there's something wrong with LittleBear, I will drop the hot soldering iron, abandon the meeting, or abort the experiment and run out of the door to be with him. They know that if LittleBear is sick, I will stay at home with him. They know that on the day of the Nativity Play, I will disappear for an hour to watch my baby be adorable. They know that I will arrive on the dot of 9 and leave at 5, irrespective of the state of the project, because I have to collect LittleBear. They know that they can no longer send me on site visits, or expect me to take clients out for dinner, or stay late when our backs are to the wall. But they also know that if they phone or email me on any day of the week at home, I will answer. And they know that when push comes to shove, I'll work at home, because I will not be the reason a project fails. And I know that I'm incredibly lucky to have a job where that works, and where my colleagues accept that way of working, and where my contribution is recognised as being worth enough to accept the limitations I impose. 

Motherhood has had a fundamental and detrimental effect on my professional life, in a way that it hasn't on BigBear's professional life. And that's not BigBear's fault. Some of it's actively my fault, which is probably another reason I'm grumpy. It'd be much easier if I could blame someone else. I chose to take a full year of maternity leave. I chose to have LittleBear in a nursery 200 yards from my office and 20 miles from BigBear's office, so it's hardly surprising that I'm responsible for his transport. I chose to return to work part-time and not full-time. I chose to attempt to be a cross between a stay-at-home mother and a professional physicist.

But I'm still pissed off. I'm pissed off that nobody wonders how BigBear is going to "have it all". I'm pissed off with myself for attempting to do and be all the things that my genuine stay-at-home-mother friends do and design five mass spectrometers. I'm pissed off that I never have a choice to "just" stay an extra half hour at work to finish what I'm in the middle of. I'm pissed off that trying to do and be everything is leaving me so tired that I'm turning into BitchyBear and no longer managing to be the mother I want to be for my LittleBear. I'm pissed off that the result of attempting to "have it all" actually feels more like having the rump end of sod all. I'm pissed off with trying to keep so many plates in the air it's only a matter of time before they all come crashing down and I sit in the ruins weeping.

Did I mention I'm pissed off?


* I am aware that there are a minority of fathers also attempting to undertake this particular juggling act, of which BrotherBear is one. Since this blog is about me, and mothers like me outweigh fathers like BrotherBear, I'm going to talk about me. Sorry BrotherBear.

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