I am sitting here on the couch cuddling a feverish little boy in a deep, healing sleep. He sleeps soundly in the knowledge that he’s wrapped in the arms of his mama, cocooned in her boundless endless love. There is nowhere else I want to be. There’s somewhere else I should be though.
An hour and twenty five minutes after arriving at my desk – already seventeen minutes late – I had to stand up and leave to tend to my little boy who couldn’t stay in crèche with a rocketing temperature. No one minded and as usual they were more than understanding and downright supportive.
These are the realities of working when you’ve a small child. The work will still be here when you get back. He needs you.”
Others aren’t so lucky to have such an understanding employer or a flexible working arrangement. But every time this happens, I feel a little sad. Not because I have to go home and look after my son – I will ALWAYS choose this first. And not because I’m missing work or fear that I might be creating a bad impression. It’s because there’s no other option. There’s no one else who can help us out.
I live in Dublin, my family come from Dublin, my husband’s family come from Dublin and with the exception of my sister, everyone in our families lives here. They all dote on Pip and lament how little they get to see him. We also have plenty of friends in the city. We are not without people to reach out to, unlike many people who live in another part of the country or the world from their family and friends. There’s one massive problem though.
Everyone works. Everyone.*
Most of them work a lot. So people can lament away about how little they get to see Pip but the reality is, that’s on their terms. I’m not complaining about this. I’m just stating the facts. This is the world that we live in and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. We might as well be living in another part of the country for all the difference it makes. Don’t get me wrong, our families are hugely supportive and jump at the chance to help us out when they can. Unfortunately work commitments mean that they can’t help at short notice, plans have to be made sometimes several weeks in advance or we’re looking at weekends. But there’s more people than weekends to go around and you know, sometimes I want to selfishly keep my little man all to myself.
Unless things change drastically, I will be working for the foreseeable future, where the foreseeable future extends to my likely retirement in my 70s, the retirement age by the time our generation gets there. My husband and all our peers will probably be the same. Even Pip’s grandparents are all working manically, late into their sixties, with no sign of slowing up and I believe the day they stop is the day that they can’t work any more and probably won’t be able to look after high energy and active children without support themselves.
I have absolutely no expectation or wish for them to abandon their career and life goals to mind my child. That would be selfish and arrogant – and I’m not looking for a babysitter. But echoing around my head I hear the phrase
it takes a village to raise a child”
and I realise society is getting further and further away from this wonderful, holistic ideology of bringing children up in a world rich with the influence and love of many adults in their extended family and beyond on a daily basis. We’re losing that sense of family that really used to be very strong in Ireland where sisters, grandmothers, aunts, cousins and neighbours would all row in to help with the care of the family’s children. Of course, that was a very different Ireland with many dark and unspeakable attributes also and things needed to change, but maybe we should have kept hold of some of the good stuff.
We’ve inadvertently set ourselves up in a situation where the individual is king, capitalism and meritocracy rule and community is slowly eroding. We’ve lost that wisdom of shared childrearing that was passed down through generations and I mourn it now. Which is a strange thing to say because I’m mourning something I’ve never experienced. The girl and idealistic young woman in me would scoff at this concept and call it medieval. If you suggested to her that maybe not everyone should be working or at least not working full time and that the concept of mothering and child rearing was a life pursuit and passion itself, she’d have walked away from you. She was a naive fool though. She also grew up without witnessing it or even knowing you were allowed to think like that. With a lot more life experience, I feel very differently now and I’m sorry I didn’t have this perspective before.
These days I dream of a world where I can pursue my own career goals (whatever they may be…) without the constraints of an office and someone else’s timetable, the demands of 40+ hours a week and the pressure to financially provide. Where my primary energy and time is spent raising my children and my secondary energy is humming with passion for my work. Where grandparents drop by or take the kids off in a casual, spur of the moment way or we all hang out together doing something spontaneous. Where the neighbours can pop in for a cuppa during the day and maybe leave their kids for an hour or two and vice versa.** Where my brothers and sisters pop over for an impromptu dinner and chats, without the panic of trying to find the time to buy groceries or realising there’s nothing in the fridge or it turning into an “event” to plan and overspend. Where my son has proper, strong, meaningful relationships with his aunts, his uncles, his grandparents and our friends that are completely independent of me and self-sustaining.
All of this takes time though and no one has time.
*I’m aware that my family and friends are extremely lucky to be in employment at the moment when times are so tough. What I’m talking about here is over a longer period of time and where people have made choices that see their work/life balance weighing heavily in favour of work.
**I know many families across Ireland have this experience but honestly I think as time passes, it’s happening less and less, particularly for people living in cities