This evening I had a surprise phone call from a good friend who recently took on a very full-time job in a town far away. We spent a little time catching up, as you do, talked about our children and other bits and pieces and she said, "So, are you teaching at the moment?" I patiently explained that no, I am on maternity leave because Lillian is only 6 months old and I don't plan to go back to work outside the home until Feb 09 at the earliest. The tone of the conversation suddenly changed, and it has thrown me somewhat out of kilter this evening. Suddenly I felt like I had disappointed her, and I had nothing of interest to talk about.
I found myself trying to justify my non-teaching life by explaining that I have a commission that I'm working on. But an hour or so earlier I happily talked to my husband that even though our children have been sick for the past five days, of course I enjoy caring for them even though it's hard exhausting work. That's my "job" and my first priority at the moment. Who else is going to do it, and why should they?
I certainly don't intend to criticise working mothers because I am one even though I work at home and in the evenings. I think it was the sudden assumption that, because I'm at home with my children, doing the kinder drop-offs and pick-ups, taking care of my baby and not going out of the house to work, I'm not really doing anything productive or meaningful.
I believe that despite what the government wants (more women in the work force), there is a cultural swing towards women staying at home and caring for their families while their children are very young (under 2 or 3). Whether that means they restructure their lives so, like I do, they juggle work and children without losing their career, or whether they even put their paid work on pause while their children are young. I do believe it is happening a lot more than is being talked about in the media. Perhaps it's all part of the generational change. The median age for a woman having her first child has risen, and many women have already reached significant career and financial goals prior to starting their family.
Of course there are also many women who would go insane if they had to stay home full time with children! If you absolutely love your job and the people you work with, you're lucky - whether or not you have children. In recent years I haven't been as fortunate, so I'd rather stay home and work on what I want to, rather than beat my head against a brick wall at a place where I'm not appreciated or taken advantage of, in the best sense...
Recently I read an interview with the composer Liza Lim, who said that she did no composition at all during the first year of her son's babyhood. I completely understand how she felt:
There was the period beforehand – gestation – where I really felt my creative power go somewhere else. The tide really went out a long way, and I wrote a couple of crappy pieces where I just couldn’t get it together. I was just in La-la land. I had my child, and I didn’t do anything for the first year of his babyhood – I didn’t even try to. Then there was that whole thing of trying to rediscover my creativity on the other side, which I think lots of women have. ‘Am I the same person in some way, on the other side of having had a child?’
Composition is such a mentally draining activity, that by the time you get through the day's work caring for small children, if you have any brain cells left to write music it's probably happening in your sleep. But I digress.
If this subject interests you, go and read this book, which I found a revelation when I read it a couple of years ago. Not everyone will agree, and that's fine. But do we need a Queensland or overseas holiday every year? Do we need those giant 4WD tractors mowing everyone down in the city streets? A giant-screen plasma TV? A new wardrobe every season?
Whatever. We are lucky that we really can choose what we want to do. The main thing, for me, is that our children are happy and healthy.