There was an advert a few years ago (for Procter and Gamble, I think, though I can’t find any clips of it online searching under them, so perhaps it wasn’t).
I also think (sorry, am not doing well with the precision here) that it was a Mother’s Day campaign, or at least a campaign aimed at celebrating mothers.
The gist of it was that mums are never in the photos. They’re the legs and feet beside the newly-walking toddler. They’re the hands holding the birthday cake. They’re the blur behind an ecstatic face on Christmas morning. They – we – are in the background, rather than centre stage, but that’s ok because we make it all happen in the first place. Our reward is seeing the picture. We just deserve a photo of our own every now and then (when we’ve got our make up on, and our hair done, and our skin buffed and smooth, naturally).
There’s a whole other post about how little value we place on women’s work. On the gender pay gap. On how unequal the division of domestic chores is between men and women. On the huge, unaccounted contribution of caring – for children, for those who are unwell or disabled, for the elderly. Angry as these things make me, though, this isn’t the subject of this post.
Instead, selfishly, I’m thinking about my place in those pictures. I know that the message I bring away from them should be annoyance. I know that I’m more than a pair of feet; a pair of eyes behind the viewfinder. There’s something less than ideal about the composition. But the pictures themselves are lovely.
I left work five years ago. It was the right decision: I wasn’t happy, I wanted a different way of life. I was lucky to be able to choose, and I don’t regret it for an instant. For all but a few months of these past five years I’ve still been working anyway, doing freelance stuff from home around the children. As time goes on, though, I am increasingly conscious that I want to go “back” to work rather than continue in self-employment. The problem is that our family’s life is constructed around my being there in the background. The children’s after-school clubs. The voluntary work. Doing the school run on foot. My husband’s ability to get to work early and leave late. Those things have value too. The question is, how much are they worth?
It’s not as if I’m bombarded with job offers. This is neither a good place nor a good time to be searching for work. I doubt I’d get past the first round for most vacancies locally, and the reality is that the majority of them would involve unsocial hours and pay too little to cover the childcare we’d need. Even if I could get back into law, I’d be back in the same situation of being the first to drop off and the last to pick up. It’s doable. Plenty of people manage, I know. It just feels like a backward step for us. It feels selfish of me, changing my children’s status quo. I don’t think that the children need me, so much as I think they benefit from my being around.
Much as it sounds like it, this isn’t a plea for sympathy. I know that I am incredibly fortunate to be in this position. It is more a setting out of thoughts; a trying to work through the balance of conflicting desires and obligations. I know that there won’t be a right answer; I know that the choices I have made have – quite rightly – closed doors for me forever. I’m just not quite sure where to go from here. Although, if anyone would like to throw me a few quid to write something, you know where I am.