Friday, 8 January 2010

Inbetween days

Whenever my son sees a picture of Big Ben, he always calls it 'mummy's office'. He's sort of right: I did used to have an office in the House of Commons, but of course it isn't mine any more, as I keep telling him to no avail.
I'm really reminding myself, of course. This week's been dominated by the failed coup against the prime minister. In my old life, I'd have been right in the thick of it all: even now I couldn't resist tweeting on it, and dabbling at the journalistic edges.
But it's made me realise how unresolved I am about my current multiple identities. Anyone attacking working mothers makes me bridle, because I still count myself as one: but then I sort of consider myself to be full time at home, too.
Because I don't yet have childcare (finally found a part-time childminder, but we're too snowed in to get to her) any writing must be fitted in when the boy's asleep -so I'm essentially fulltime mother by day and working mother by night. I'm neither fish nor fowl: I honestly don't know which side I'm on.
And there are a lot of us around. We all know parents at home who say that in their heads they're still working - either because they want to go back some day, or they're planning to set up a business from home, or still doing a bit on the side. Likewise I know people who've gone part time and count themselves primarily as being at home, because it's so different to their former career. Many of us don't see our current roles, whatever they are, as permanent.
The old labels don't seem to fit: too many of us are like gapyear kids who know they're going to university eventually (even if it's much more than a year out, and even if some of us decide to stay in our chosen land of home). We're inbetweeners, zigzagging between both camps: it's like being a second generation immigrant, no longer belonging entirely to your parents' culture but still a bit adrift from the culture around you.
Does it matter? Sometimes it's liberating to have multiple identities, to choose which world to be part of today. The element of surprise - not being predictable, or easily pigeonholed - is fun.
But there needs to be a better word for it, if it isn't to feel uncomfortably like limbo.


  1. Early days yet remember Gaby, but I do think you're doing the hardest thing by doing everything and with no childcare yet. Think you'll feel more settled when you have some "work hours". I've worked all sorts of patterns, in and out of the office and found part-time the hardest in a way. I could have asked to go part-time again during my minor work meltdown last year, but you know what I just threw in the towel and decided to do nothing except kids and family for a year or so. I've set a sort of deadline - end of December is when the youngest will have been in Reception class for a term, and should be settled. Currently I have a precious two hours a day and I'm not about to waste that working! It's been a huge relief and although I miss a lot of things about work, and still have to juggle, I don't have to juggle work and blackberry too. It's frustrating though, because I've been offered freelance work already, but I'm being really steadfast, I think I know my own physical and mental limitations and it might just throw me over the edge. Take care of yourself; "me time" is a ridiculous phrase, but even half an hour for a walk or a run outside or a bubble bath and good book is really important for your wellbeing and mental health.

  2. Gwyneth is right, I definitely think it's the me-time that suffers, and I think part of my problem, and certainly lots of Mums of our generation, is coming to mother-hood relatively late [I'm 33?!]. I had 30+ years of doing exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, and the biggest shock has been realising that I will not get that back for maybe another 18years! Of course I love my son and wouldnt change him for the world but its not having the space either physical, or mental, for myself anymore that I'm perhaps finding the hardest.
    I used to enjoy an hour of yoga a week, but as I'm starting the new business [similar to Gaby - Mum by day - working by night], and in the process of moving house, I can't afford the time or the money to spend on such a luxury.
    As I'm desperately trying to get my 1 year old to nap [pretty unsuccessfully at the moment], I'd better be off - no rest for the wicked!

  3. This is basically a long apology isn`t it because you feel that being a housewife is embarrassing , in fact you are faintly guilty at having betrayed the sisterhood by adopting a Conservative life style .Your political views ,as far as I can tell , include making it harder for less well off people to make the same decisions .
    Funnily enough you would amazed at how many women are not planning to “Start a business “ or agonise about their identities , but get kicked out into crap jobs because otherwise the mortgage is short and balance atrociously expensive child care in a red queens race to stay a few pounds ahead..

    I dunno Gaby you seem very nice and you are a smooth writer but I do wonder what world you have been living in. Not mine .

    How do you like that word " Housewife" ?

  4. Interesting Newmania, and nothing that hasn't occurred to me before - what a uniquely middle-class problem to have -[anybody read the piece in yesterday's Sunday Times Magazine about working Mums being made redundant?].

    I like the word 'housewife' just fine, but I think that our society hasn't valued that word for too long. I blame alot on the Thatcher-years and growing up in a society obsessed - like you say - with 'staying a few pounds ahead', so that being a housewife, just like many respected trades, was not seen as aspirational enough. Middle class kids were expected to go to university and women were too often told they could 'have it all'.

    Our generation of middle class women were given 'choices' something that previous generations [and alot of women still] didnt have the luxury of.

    So I do agree that while we dwell on what our next step will be in our career once our children begin school, and the house is left eerily quiet, alot of other women are doing unglamorous jobs they have to do because they don't have the luxury of 'choice'.

  5. Gabi - been trying to contact you but don't have your e-mail so have chosen unorthodox method of posting on your blog which is excellent by the way - i wanted you to come and talk to a course i am doing for press officers - please e-mail me

  6. "it's made me realise how unresolved I am about my current multiple identities"

    And resolving this is not going to happen until you settle on one of your possible futures. Am I one day going back to what I was? Am I going to have another child? Am I going to do something completely different? Should I really be worrying about any of this?

    It's funny, you expect peace to be there on the other side of your monumental decision. In a way it is, but there is also the flailing. You make decisions about how to use the little time that is really your own productively in the service of whichever of your future selves you are committed to at a given moment. I'ts really tough, and you don't really feel in control of yourself.

    Great article in the Guardian today!

  7. I see what you're saying Trace and agree with you up to a point, but I think it's a little unfair to expect anyone to decide on their complete future. It's also incredibly daunting. If I'd stopped what I was doing last summer and said I'll never go back to that work, it would have been a harder decision. Keeping a few maybes in the cupboard does give you options. Maybe with a small child deciding what you want to do and be for the next year is a good start, even if that's a mix of mother and freelance worker. It may be that the childminder works out brilliantly, and the child loves being with her so much that you're tempted into doing more work hours, and what's so wrong with that? Sometimes things just happen. Or a sudden instinct overrides everything, I'm particularly thinking here of getting pregnant.

  8. "It's also incredibly daunting."

    I'm sorry if my post came across as implying that you should just pull yourself together and decide what to do! The whole point is that you can't - it's beyond your power. Once you realize that you are not and cannot be in control of yourself it's a little easier do understand and live with your indecisive self. Trouble is that the contrast with what you used to be is stark in a way you had not predicted because you find that not only did you quit your job, but you quit a place where it was possible to be decisive. There's this extraordinary tension - limbo- between the necessity of letting go with all the concomitant risk of sliding into mediocrity and your obligation to yourself to not let go and make sure live up to your potential.

  9. hi trace, i didnt read your post as implying that at all! you're right about the flailing come what may, and the point about control is well made.
    newmania - yes this is a middle class dilemma: this is a personal blog, not a policy statement, so i don't pretend that it's applicable to any and everyone and i am well aware that not everyone has the luxury of these choices. and on the word 'housewife': i dont use it because it's generally taken to mean someone who is a fulltime mother and doesnt work, and that's not me. somebody would inevitably argue (you, probably) that i cant pretend to be a fulltime mother while having bylines in grazia, the new statesman and the guardian this week. that was sort of the point of the post: housewife doesn't fit as a label, but neither quite does working mother.

  10. Hi, I've been wrestling this identity problem for the past 12 years, and have 3 sons (5,9,11). I gave up a career in academia when we moved to another part of the country just before I had my first baby. Over the years I have lectured part-time, toyed with the idea of setting up a business, worked in the community as a volunteer and generally agonised over how to balance a sense of 'me' and 'the family'. It has taken getting ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/M.E. to finally see the light. The whole concept of "I used to be somebody because I had a well paid career out there, where other people can notice my efforts and reward me for them" is the root of the problem. In our society now we only value things with a monetary value and no-one is ever going to pay women to do what comes naturally - have and nurture their own children. We assume that if a job is high profile and well paid it must be important and require skills that are hard earned and are respected. Once we become mothers at home we have stepped out of this loop of ego massage. We find ourselves in the most demanding, frustrating and bewildering role we've ever had with little training, and yet no-one is ever going to pay us a bonus, give us an award or even tell us we're doing a good job.
    I think the key to finding happiness and peace of mind in all of this is to stop seeing our identities in terms of how we pay the bills or how others 'out there' perceive us, which will always be superficial. We are whole personalities with a set of constantly developing skills, some learned and some inate. The work we find ourselves doing (paid and unpaid) including mothering, is a reflection of how we choose to use those skills. We will develop different skills in the different roles we have, but all are valuable, some just don't earn a pay cheque. Seeing myself as a developing person, changing as my children grow and change and as I take on different work, or cope with illness, has been much more helpful in feeling that I am "somebody" than trying to decide how I fit into the artificial label of 'working mother' or 'full-time mother'.

  11. Once you get settled into this life, once it has some patterns, routine, familiarity, friendships and boundaries I really think you are going to discover what I did, which is that part-time work is The Secret to Happiness.