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: