When you first become a mother, it’s pretty easy to forget about yourself. This baby comes into the world and suddenly the focus is no longer on you.
I can no longer remember what used to preoccupy my thoughts in my twenties. Once you have children, it’s almost impossible to recall the life you used to lead. All I know is that I must have had a lot more time on my hands and better clothes.
By September, both my children will be at school, and I can feel the pendulum swinging a bit more towards me again. And suddenly I find myself thinking a lot about my career, that crucial money-making thing which has pretty much stalled since having my first child.
I’ve come out of the baby years feeling like I have given up a huge part of myself. I knew having kids would entail a lot of sacrifice. I’ve even heard it said that it kills your ambition. But until you experience it yourself, it’s very hard to know what kind of impact it will have on your life.
It’s no exaggeration to say that it feels like my career has pretty much ossified. I’ve put a lot of my energy somewhere else and it has taken a toll on whatever ambitions I had for my professional life.
Before I had the Chatterbox I was already thinking of moving on from my job and doing something new; I was relatively young and anything still seemed possible. Seven years later I am still doing the same job. It has also gone from being a full-time contract to something I only do on a freelance basis. Technically, I am making less money than I was seven years ago and I have no benefits or stability.
If I’m looking for an excuse for my failure to find something else, plenty abound. I made less money than my husband, so I was the one to go part time. The job gave me flexibility, which I knew I wouldn’t find somewhere else.
I hear it from other mothers too. They were working, but gave up and now can’t find any part-time work to fit around their children. They were in high-powered positions, but could no longer do the hours. They were no longer interested in their jobs and couldn’t justify the time away from their child. The childcare costs were prohibitive and didn’t seem worth the sacrifice.
But then you have people like Sheryl Sandberg, who just published Lean In. The COO Facebook has not only managed to combine motherhood with a high-flying, lucrative career, but she has also miraculously found the time to write a book about women and leadership. I’ve no idea how she does it.
Maybe if I read the book I’d have a clue about what it takes to live like Sheryl and emulate her success. But I suspect I’d never have the motivation to be like Sheryl. She probably gets up at 4am and checks her emails before she goes to sleep; she undoubtedly can afford the very best childcare, with nannies who make meals, pick up the kids from school and bathe them.
I’d rather take my inspiration from The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. While this might sound like a weird choice, it’s not. I completely related to the protagonist, Macon Leary, who robotically coasted through life, making the minimal amount of effort and refusing to adapt his curious, but deeply engrained, habits.
But then his life slowly starts to unravel and he is forced to re-evaluate the path he has chosen. At the end of the novel he begins to wonder if it’s too late to start again: ‘He reflected that he had not taken steps very often in his life, come to think of it. Really never. His marriage, his two jobs … all seemed to have simply befallen him. He couldn’t think of a major act he had managed of his accord. Was it too late now to begin? Was there any way he could learn to do things differently?’
So that’s what I have to ask myself – Is it too late to start again, to make the effort to forge my own path and not let things just happen, to feel accidental? Because I’ve often felt that I didn’t so much make my own destiny but let it just happen to me. I became complacent, a bystander in my own life.
Motherhood is an excuse for a stalled career, but for how long? Maybe I should spend less time making excuses for myself and more time seeking solutions. I hold myself back, more than anyone else holds me back.
I’d highly recommend The Accidental Tourist if you haven’t read it already. I know it was written many years ago, but there’s something of Macon in all of us.