Whether parents should work is a familiar and regular headline, discussion topic and point of contention amongst the media, politicians and commentators (not to mention bloggers). Or more poignantly the discussion often focusses around whether stay at home parents, those who work or those who do both are doing the ‘right thing’ for their children. The government, for example, seem intent on forcing us all ‘back to work’ without addressing any of the barriers into work whilst banging on about the importance of family: it’s contradictory to say the least. I have thought about it a lot and the more I have the thought the more it has struck me that we have been doing ourselves a massive disservice by talking about work and parenting in comparable terms. I definitely believe that its important to share experiences, support and choices as it is a complex and emotive subject, but I’m talking about the way that parenting and work seem to be compared and to some are interchangeable as the more damaging problem.
A friend of mine recently mentioned something that flicked a light bulb on in my mind. She simply said ‘I co-exist with my children’. This offers a whole different perspective to me, which feels a whole lot more comfortable. Obviously, as a parent you have to take on that role and all the parental responsibilities involved but that’s not what this is about. This is about parenting – being a parent – simply being who we are now. We are parents. We have a family. Yes, we have our own hobbies. We do things all together. Also we work. We exist along side our children in a way that nurtures them and encourages them without smothering them or controlling them (hopefully). We work, because it is right for us – it is one of the things that is right for us. Others do not because that is what is right for them.
Here’s the thing: When you don’t like your job you can retrain. You can hand in your notice and wash your hands of it. You can apply for other jobs that are more suitable. Why do we relegate parenting to this level of unimportance? There are very few people who choose a job at, say, 28 then stick at that job until they die. Parenting and working are incomparable, reducing them to the same level is massively miss selling what we do as parents. Parenting isn’t a labour undertaken to receive payment. It is a life long commitment – becoming a parent transforms who you are, it doesn’t just add to a list of things you do.
Another, perhaps more significant, realisation for me has been that if I compare parenting to work then I am setting myself up for failure. If I see the time I am working as work time and the time I am at home as doing my ‘other job’ (the parenting one) then I am going to let myself down. We all know parenting is full time whether you are physically with your children or not but work is traditionally judged by appraisals, performance related pay, objectives, targets, aims, bonuses, overtime, bosses, colleagues, annual leave and so on. If I see parenting through this prism then I am always going to fail. I’m never going to be good enough and I’ll certainly never get all the benefits related to doing well at work.
I wonder what would happen if as a society we truly thought of parenting as important – as a fundamental change from existing independently to co-existing with your offspring. More important than earning money through work or owning property, more important than simply an addition to a list of life successes, failures or contributions. I’d like to think that if society treated parenting as more than it currently does then as parents we would feel empowered; perhaps we would truly realise the power we possess to mould the next generation? Perhaps we’d stop when we see new parents in the street and look at them in awe – appreciating them for the people they have now become and the power they possess instead of wondering and judging about when they were going to work again, lose that baby weight or whether they were going to mess the whole thing up through inexperience, their age or background.
Co-existing with my children is something that happens primarily and separately from how I organise all other aspects of my life. It is a change of who I am rather than what I do and I will now treat it so.