“Mountains and mountains o’ things”

Mansion (11)

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***rant allert***


A Palo Alto mum recently told me that she had to go to work. She didn’t want to, she had to. I have heard this from a few Silicon Valley wives, each of them living in a huge home, with two luxury cars, beautiful furniture, nice holidays abroad. Personally I think that is all good… I also think that is all choice. It is not need. They chose to work so they can support their buying habits or their lifestyles, if you will. Again, nothing wrong with that, just saying a bit of perspective may go a long way.

I really like a lot of these mums and, don’t get me wrong, I love their beautifully appointed, two-story homes. Then I think of single moms living in trailer parks (was going to say council estates… but realised half my audience would probably not get that), with little education, two jobs and a sick father they are caring for – they need to work. I think of women in third world, pre-industrialised countries, say a widow in Bangladesh with five kids. She needs to work (even if it is her own tiny patch of land).

The feeling that wells up in me reminds me of when people used to look at me with awe because I went travelling. I took a year out after College and went travelling. I came from Europe and travelled in North and Central America. They would say ‘wow, that is so cool that you went travelling. I could never afford to do that’. That used to make me really mad. I was not rich, not at all. I worked really hard for that opportunity. I worked two jobs, stayed in, didn’t buy anything for myself for months and months and slowly pennies turned into pounds and I had enough money to go backpacking. The people who said they couldn’t afford it invariably had the latest mobile phones, branded jeans and new cars. I had none of that. We just had different priorities – I put my money toward adventure, they put theirs toward comforting objects. We chose differently… but don’t say ‘you can’t afford it’.

The same applies to this scenario. When people tell me they ‘need’ to work and it is clear they have much more money than I do, I feel lost and confused. I don’t have a paying job (notice that I didn’t say I don’t work, trust me mothering in plenty work). We have to budget carefully and let go of some of the little luxuries (like, you know, a pension) in order to make this work. But we do it ‘cos this feels right to us. Having one of us be Anya’s primary carer, rather than having a paid worker do it, just seems the most natural, most wholesome choice at this stage, even if it comes at a cost and we have less nice things than those with whom we hang out. We do it for love.

The mums who go to work probably do it for love, too – they are just defining it differently. And it is great that people have freedom of choice and that women can work when that is what they want but consciousness is good, too. Be aware that you are working because you chose to, if that is the case. At some level these women are effectively putting material things and/or their career above staying home. Or to invert the lens and point it back on myself: I have effectively put bonding with my child ahead of ‘stuff’. Yes we could have a bigger house, nicer furniture, newer cars if I worked too, but we chose to put our time into the relationship with our daughter, rather than to buying us more things (… although in truth, knowing my spending habits any extra money would have gone on travel, food and fun experiences, anyway – the house alas always comes last and maybe I could do with a little re-balancing on that front, myself). Going to work and putting your children in daycare when the money you bring in is for anything other than basic needs is a reflection of your priorities. These may well be exactly the right priorities for you and your family but just don’t kid yourself by saying ‘you need to work’. It just ain’t true.

And, in case you didn’t recognise it, this is where the title is drawn from:


2 thoughts on ““Mountains and mountains o’ things”

  1. Oh I love this song. Love Tracy Chapman. She’s amazing.

    But to your point. I’m a mother who chooses to work. Oh, I need to work too – meaning, if I didn’t work (husband & I own our own business), we’d HAVE to find someone else to do the work that I do – actually, we’d need to find many someoneones, because that’s how it goes in small business – we each have many, many roles, and work far more hours than a “traditional” 9 – 5 job. But I do admit too that I choose to work, because I love it and because I want to continue to be a part of the business that my husband and I created & grew over the years – before we had children.
    But we also believe that attachment parenting is critical in the early months & years. So, when my babies were babies, we kept them on us, or near us, brought them to work with us. They’ve each spent many hours in the office, the warehouse, in our laps in front of our computers. As our business grew, I had a attachment parenting-praticing nanny come to our house to wear my youngest baby in a sling when I couldn’t be with him, to work, and to bring him to me to nurse, when he needed me. It was in my mind, the ideal solution – to allow me to keep working – which benefits me (and us all) emotionally & financially- and to allow my baby the comfort and attachment he needed – which certainly benefitted him.
    They are both in school now – a private non-traditional school which does come with the necessity of our working. But of course, that’s a choice too, because we don’t want our children to be in the traditional schooling system and I don’t want to homeschool (I think homeschooling can be an ideal learning environment; but not with me doing it – ha!).

    My point is that there’s a fine & variable line between choosing & needing to work. Everyone needs to do what they need to do, what makes them most comfortable, most productive, most happy in their lives. A world full of unhappy slaves, feeling they have no choice, that they are tied to the life they are in, without opportunity to change or affect the outcome, doesn’t do anyone any good. The old mama ain’t happy, no ones’s happy idea.

    But, I don’t complain about my work because I chose it. I chose the situation I am in and most of the time I love it. It comes with sacrifices and certainly not everyone will agree with our choices – but that doesn’t matter to me. What matters is my family’s happiness and health. I think there are great benefits to my chidlren experiencing both of their parents working – particularly since they have been a part of it from the beginning – we don’t work in a far away place they’ve never seen. They know Dad AND Mom can have multiple roles, and still be connected and comforting to them. It’s a choice we’ve made. I’m grateful to have that choice, and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone from making the choices they need to to feel good. But if someone is complaining about their life, and the choices they have made, and aren’t taking steps to change it – like the mother you mentioned – then that’s disquieting to me. In her situation, like mine, like so many people in the privaledged United States, we have choices.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • Dear Kelly,

      Thanks so much for your heart-felt and thoughtful reply. I love it. This is what I had in mind when I first started to blog: debate, a conversation between me and other mammas out there with other ideas, sharing what we know, enthusing about what we care about, learning, inspiring, revising, re-thinking and starting all over again. Yeah!

      So, I was in a bit of a ranty mood when I wrote that post, as I ‘alerted’ at the top. I don’t think I normally go around worrying about other people’s life choices or waggling mental fingers at them. I guess, if I am truly honest (in an NVC kind of a way) what I want is to have acknowledged the fact that this choice of staying at home is hard and involves sacrifices. I take your point and know that working as a momma involves arguably even more sacrifices. And don’t get me wrong, I miss many aspects about work, I miss them a lot: the people, the challenge, the sense of accomplishment… and still, I still feel staying home is the right thing for me, for us as a family.

      I am a total advocate for doing what works for you. Every family should chose what combination of work hours, what kind of child-care support (and yours sounds awesome, btw), what kind of parenting best suits their needs and aspirations. Yet, I guess that particular rant came as a reaction to those who say ‘they need to work’ when I know they have soooo much more money than us, even just on one of their incomes. I guess, as the sensitive flower that I am, I take that as implied criticism. I feel it everytime they come to my tiny, make-shift appartment with ikea and craig’slist furniture. So, as ever with these kinds of things, this is about me. They are serving as my mirrors, giving me space for self-reflection – is that not always the case with EVERYONE we judge?! :) It makes me question whether I have made the right choices, whether I do have the right priorities. I guess this post is me coming to the conclusion that I have, even if it means I can’t keep up with the Jones’ and their beautiful Palo Alto houses.

      Thanks again for commenting. Lovely to have your views and with them the inspiration to reframe my thinking about the work-life balance, tricky and personal subject that it is. Your family sounds sorted. Hooray.


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