Thursday 14 April 2011

Work / Life

On Friday, I had a really bad meeting at work. Well, bad for me. I'd done some work for a senior member of staff, and he loved it, which was great. Unfortunately, he loved it so much that he wants to roll it out further, which means it has to be handed over to someone else. Because I'm part time. And I felt really frustrated that I wouldn't get to complete the project I had spent so long working on.

Work is a funny old thing. I'm not one of these crazy lucky people who has a job they adore, a job they would do for free, but when I try to think of something I'd rather get paid for, I can't. (Except maybe hot air balloon attendant. And I'm not entirely sure that's really a job). And the less I'm there, the more I think about how getting good feedback for doing my job well is a fantastic feeling. Work, when it's all working, is an amazing adrenaline rush. Pouring myself into a project, thinking it's never going to get done, then finding a solution and suddenly seeing it all come together? Magic. Pure magic.

There are big downsides, of course. Those great days come along with a lot of bad days, a lot of frustration, a lot of, well, work. I'm not doing a grass-is-greener thing here about working full-time, I know how difficult it is to get up every morning and go to the office, again, then again, then again. But it turns out that not being there every day really does make a difference to how well I can do my job. I'm less committed; I have to be, unless I want to be working unpaid on my days off, a toddler under each arm, typing on our tiny netbook with my nose. So I can't promise to get something done by tomorrow, because I'm not going to be there tomorrow. It used to be the case that when something needed doing, if it was my kind of thing, people would come to me. But then I was off for a year, and now I'm hardly ever there, and instead I sit in the corner and most of the excitement passes me by.

Which means I'm not the go-to girl anymore. There's a new go-to girl now. This stings*.

A few people have told me that working part time is the perfect solution. These are not usually people who have done it. At the moment, I feel like working part time gives me an unparalleled opportunity to fail at two jobs simultaneously. Sure, I get to do two things, but it's not very satisfying to do two things badly.

I guess I could go back full time, but that's really not what I want. And yes, I know we can only make this choice because we are fortunate. (Although from another perspective you could replace 'fortunate' in that previous sentence with 'willing to stay in a small house'). It's not what I want because I really, really do value all the quantity time that I am able to spend with Pink and Blue.

Sometimes it's easy to talk about making sacrifices for our children but in the same breath we talk as if what we're missing out on isn't that important, actually. This is one of the reasons I'm not keen on talking about motherhood as The Most Important Job In The World®. This implies that sacrificing all that other stuff, like having a job where people take you seriously and you get to flex your brain and hey, they pay you, is just a nothing, a cipher. It's not important, so it's doesn't really matter if you make that sacrifice.

But the thing about making sacrifices is: you have to give something up. And that only matters if the thing matters. I'm really realising that making compromises at work for the sake of family life is no small deal. Accepting that I'm only going to be able to tread water in my job for the next few years is hard. J is having similar difficulties.

And then I went home after work and J was there, and the babies were freshly washed and had just eaten their dinner. We decided to go for an evening trip to the park, since it was still warm and sunny. I took off my work shoes and massaged my sore feet, while J put on some music and danced around the living room with Pink. Low evening sunlight streamed through the window, hitting her curls and lighting them up like a corona. Then we went to the park and Blue walked all the way home, even though it's a third of a mile. He's getting so big, and finally he's worked out how to use the momentum in his little-boy body so that his steps flow and he has lost the plodding gait of an early toddler. He was so pleased with himself. By the time we were at the end of our street, he was so tired that he was weaving like a drunk man. I picked him up and carried him the rest of the way, inhaling the smell of his sun-warmed skin. And I didn't wish that I had made my life's choices any differently.

But I still felt sad about work.

[Update, August : I've just linked this over at Tortoise Mum's 'Opportunity Cost' blog hop].

*Can I please say, for the record, that the new go-to girl happens to be one of my favourite people on the planet. Just in case you ever read this, H, you know I love you, right?


  1. I get it.

    At the moment I'm at work (6.25 pm) because I'm supposed to be doing a presentation and finishing a busines case.

    I'm fried - I haven't worked late since the babies were born and I can't seem to concentrate.

    I have a friend (the one I mentioned to said to just survive the first few months) who works half day who tells me she always feels like she's missing out at the office (she is highly driven - worse than I am :)).

    I have no answers just that I know it's hard.

    PS I like the new look blog!

  2. First of all, I love the new look on the blog.

    Secondly, I can imagine that working part time DOES feel like not being able to give your all to either part of your life. I have often thought about going back part time, but as my former boss said (and I know with my personality it would be true), I would simply be making half as much and doing the rest from home. Can't bear to do it now, so I will have to settle for life at home with the kids and make peace with the fact that I will never be able to afford new clothes.

  3. I don't know what it's like with kids in tow, but I imagine that I feel rather similar. Everyone dreams of working out of the home.'s just not a dream. I can't work well and keep my house well at the same time. One must suffer (and it's usually housework, because I get so stir crazy that I need to just walk around department stores with no aim in site, just for visual stimulation.) Hate that feeling of not being able to give 100% in every individual sector of life.

  4. by the way, so glad that you "finished another chapter" if you did! :) hardy har har

  5. I think I'll be getting this post on a cellular level very very soon.
    I'm glad you had a nice time at the park.

  6. Sometimes I feel like I need to take notes when I read your posts. Every paragraph or two there is something I want to respond directly too. I am one of those non-working mothers who believes working part-time would be the perfect solution. But, as I have said many times, I can't find a job that pays well, gives me a small amount of responsibility but total authority. And really, the bottom line is I don't necessarily want a job, as much as I want to know on somedays I am doing something well (which is not a feeling I get from parenting).
    So, Universe, in case you are listening (or reading Claudia's blog because everybody does it) what I really want IS - a standing appointment three days a week for a massage, a great lunch, time to read, a good conversation, and then someone to thank me for all I have contributed to the world, hand me a $50 check and I will be out the door.

  7. This has given me so much food for thought. Having been a nanny before our daughter came home, I never had to transition from doing one kind of work to doing another (and in fact find it so much more satisfying to be doing it for my own child), so I haven't thought too much about what it might be like to leave something behind that I was very good at, or to divide my time between mothering and a different profession. I feel like you explain this well, and it helps me better understand my friends who are in similar situations.

  8. Love your writing, Claudia. Can I post you under my Resource page on my new blog? (

  9. I get this, I do. I wouldn't do my job for free, but I do really enjoy being there. And I feel jealous of the people who are there so much and get to be on top of everything in a way that I cannot. One of the main things I like about working is that it creates that little tension that I think is essential to parenting. When I leave to go to work I typically am fine to leave my son and husband (we work alternate shifts so that one of us is basically always with him), but by the end of the day I fiend to see them both. It's perfect, I'm so happy that I miss them!

    Can I say a pet peeve here? That whole 'Most Important Job in the World' thing annoys me. To me, it goes without saying, of course one's family is the most important thing. It's as if when one works her family is not the most important thing. And this distinction is exclusively directed toward women. There is a bit of "thou doth protest too much" that pervades the whole thing and it annoys me to no end. Were you trying to just avoid this whole topic? Probably. Sorry, not trying to hijack.

    Great post, as usual, lovely. Love the new look to the blog ;)

  10. From my perspective: my work was my lifelong passion. I loved (and love) it. It makes me proud. I would do it for free (part time) if I could afford it (preferably for a non profit.) I work full time because I have to. Since so much of my job I'd day to day, there aren't tons of projects that require lengthy daily continuity other than being up to date on whats going on. And I still feel like I do too many things, none of them really well. So maybe it's just the nature of the beast. Right now I worry more about not being the best mom. Maybe if I worked pt, it would be the other way around. But I'm kind of a singular life passion sort of gal, and right now work is no longer it. I like it, but I really do feel like 20-30 hrs a wk would rock. Plus right now I only have one family day off and often work holidays. That would be different at pt. Then again, maybe the grass is always greener.

  11. My main pt was, I still feel mom stuff takes away from work Barb and work robs me of being the mom I'd like to be (like when he's still feeling yucky but I have to send him to daycare anyway) even though I'm full time.

  12. Can I just say 1) Semiferal Mama cracks me up. 2) I work 2 days per week and I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I work soley for sanity (umm, errr, I mean health insurance). It gives me a "break" from the toddles, gets me out of the house, makes me feel "important" and smart, and makes me appreciate them more when I am with all 4 (soon to be 5) kids. But, I job share with another mama and we are good friends and communicate a lot, so it's like we are one full-time person. And, we are the only people who do what we do, so there's not really any "competition" if you know what I mean.

    Hang in there. This time will pass too quickly.

  13. thanks for the reminder that nothing is perfect. i totally have fantasies about part time work. positive feedback? what? i don't know the meaning of the word.

    i have no insights to offer except that I love the new header and layout, and you're wonderful.

  14. Plan A of having babies thwarted by my wonky ovaries and then the husband. Plan B of working part-time when babies arrived thwarted by Claudia. I think I need a new gig. (-;

    Somehow I find it hard to believe that you are really doing both things badly. Remember the kudos the boss just gave you? And how about the way those babies look at their mama? You are doing beautifully my friend. Beautifully. Hang in there.

  15. ps "My life is not actually fascinating at all. But by the time I figured that out, it was too late to change the url." made me LOL. Too perfect.

  16. Great post! I work FT. During the particularly harried weeks, I think about PT and what that would feel like. Thanks for your line "I feel like working part time gives me an unparalleled opportunity to fail at two jobs simultaneously." Ha! There is no perfect is there? Except maybe for semiferalmama's proposition to the universe. :)

  17. SFM: how is it that you only made that request for YOU? What about the rest of us, huh? HUH? Don't we get massages? So selfish.

    Barb: I'm absolutely sure that you're right. I'm sure those of you working FT also feel sawn in two! I guess I have just been surprised by how irrelevant I feel, now, and I wasn't really prepared for that. (Although fortunately had one friend who was very straight with me about the realities of PT work, which was helpful). I don't think there's any way to 'win' on all of this - there are only 24 hours.

    Christine - yeah, the whole M I J I T W thing really irritates me. Didn't go into it any further because I was trying to write a post in under 10,000 words for once :) I read a book that cracked me up (but had very serious things to say) called 'The Mommy Myth - how the idealisation of motherhood undermines all women'. They hit a lot of nails on the head - the whole M I J I T W thing definitely devalues nonmothers, makes FT working mothers feel guilty, PT mothers feel torn and FT home mothers feel 'well if this job is so flaming important surely it shouldn't need saying all the time?' Like you say, protesting too much.

    Shonda: Okay, your job really DOES sound perfect :)

  18. I can completely relate to this post. Thanks for writing it. I'm thinking of going back to work (I will have to eventually) and am dreading it and am excited about it at the same time.

  19. I can so so so relate. I am not working now, but I worked part time mostly from home before Z came home (and was still the full-time caregiver for my other 2 boys). It was HARD. Like you said, I often felt like I was just failing at both my jobs. Then again... I'm learning that failure is not a bad thing. It helps me get to the end of myself, which is exactly where I need to be to let God do his thing.

  20. After spending the weekend working on how we are going to manage work/family in the distant, murky future when we have family, I found this post particularly interesting--I guess it always seems like working PT would be the perfect solution, but I don't actually know how it would work in the real world. Darn American health insurance...

  21. I really enjoy reading your blog, Claudia. I love your honesty, especially. I've nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Awards. You can check out my blog to pick up your prize badge and keep the nomination train rolling. :)

  22. You know, I read this post at the time and I don't know why I didn't comment but I'm commenting now. I. GET. THIS. More completely than I could ever have thought. Maybe I didn't comment back in April because I'd only been back at work part-time for six weeks and the true reality was yet to fully hit me. When it did, I wrote about it here:

    I can just imagine that lazy evening in the sun and I know that when TT and I have the same sorts of joyous moments that it all falls into place in my mind. Sort of.


Over to you!