This week I’ve had several conversations with inspiring women friends of mine who truly struggle to separate their personal worth from their occupation. There is an unspoken belief that we are more valuable when we are earning a living rather than raising our families. This is known as “work-role centrality." It means that work is central to your sense of who you are.
I appreciate that not everyone reading this blog will connect with this idea (motherhood that is). Men for example, you won’t, even as families get better at balancing the parental tasks, I doubt a man would ever question his identity because he’s a father. Even women without children due to age/choice/chance will still be able to empathise with their worth being connected to an external power - i.e your job title, your position in society, how many ‘likes’ you get insta...
When I became a Mum all of a sudden I felt I had to work twice as hard on my career so I won’t fall behind or miss out on opportunities. I didn’t want any potential clients to know I had a baby at home because I thought they thought it would affect the quality of my work. You have to keep in mind I’ve worked independently for 10 years. There is no maternity leave when you are self-employed and very little support financially.
Sadly what happened to me, as happens to so many women is instead of enjoying and leaning into motherhood we look at it as something that needs to be ‘done’. I’m ashamed to say I felt like it was a burden I had to bear until the kids were old enough to go to daycare and I could regain some balance and baby free work. This was even more overwhelming when I was looking after my second born and a 16 month old. There were months where I couldn’t move because I was feeding a newborn, while a toddler was running a muck. Matt was of course around but at work most of the time.
That’s probably the only thing I never received advice on pre-children (which is a shame because you get advice on everything else!) was the patience I was going to need. When you run your own business, have a successful career or have an interest in anything that involves being active - the first 6-8 weeks of looking after a newborn are tough. I literally and physically felt stuck.
Now I want to make it perfectly clear right now that I absolutely love and adore my children! They have given me a perspective and purpose in life that I could never fathom otherwise. What I've observed in myself and others is that we don’t consider this role of motherhood as valuable or important as our professional occupation.
Ever since I’ve become a mother, I’ve never once introduced myself as one. Not one, ‘Hi, I’m Jess the mother of two rambunctious little people.’ It’s as if in doing so I’m going to somehow devalue my position in society. This of course is total bullshit. Raising children is the biggest, hardest, most full on job there is and I grantee that you ask any parent and they’d agree. If we all stopped having babies there would be no more humanity! Or maybe we’d have some kind of Handmaid's tale style society! Yucky!
I wonder what would happen if I added a photo of my family to the front page of every proposal I sent out to a client? Other than it being a bit strange, would they look at it as evidence that I’m capable of perhaps the hardest job there is (being a parent) or would they think - nah, she looks like she has her hands full already.
I’m obviously filling in quite a few gaps here but it's interesting to reflect on whether it's a woman's own internal conflicts that cause this identity crisis or if it’s external factors. I’ve been reading ‘Women and Leadership - Real Lives, Real Lessons’ by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala this week. There is mention of a study in India that proves by just seeing women in leadership roles in their village, adolescent girls were less likely to want to be a housewife, more likely to aim for a job that required education and the education outcomes between boys and girls were either erased or reversed.
Just seeing women in leadership roles is enough to change the course of a young woman's life. This is inspiring and alarming when you look at women's representation on a global scale...
Seeing these statistics is enough to make any self respecting person (women or man) cringe. There are almost 4 billion women and girls on earth and the best case scenario is men are still making 75% of the decisions about how we live. I don’t rattle this statistics off as a way to upset but more as evidence on how global gender representation is contributing to how individual women see themselves in society. I honestly believe that's why I feel the pressure to introduce myself as Jess the designer rather than Jess the mother.
We have just gone into another 5 day lockdown in Victoria which has made even the most optistimtic of us wither slightly. After 2 weeks of school holiday I was just getting back into the swing of my manageable and balanced work/life integration only to have it disrupted again. Of course it's for the greater good and we'll all do our part because everyone does but it doesn’t mean I’m not super pissed about not going to the pub tonight to meet a girlfriend and solve the world's problems.