I have never been very good at answering that question. So, although confusion is a regular state of mind, I knew what I did for a living when asked that question, it’s not that I had forgotten. It’s just that the answer always seemed to be the wrong one.
When I was a mergers and acquisitions lawyer and went to functions for my then partner’s job and got talking to the wives and girlfriends (there weren’t many female colleagues), my reply of “I am a corporate lawyer” to that question was invariably met with a polite nod and then, well then that was it. Then nothing, no enquiries, no engagement, not even a ‘Wow’ (Come on people – I had trained 6 years to be able to say that, I wanted a bloody ‘Wow’!! I had letters after my name and a Law Society number!). Fine then. “What do YOU do?” “I am an interior decorator”. Oh I see, so that is code for you to stay at home and look after the kids and get very excited in the Conran Shop? And I looked down at my nose at these women and was a snob about the fact that they could not or would not engage in conversation with me. Little did I know that I would join their ranks one day and having lived with Mr Hindsight for 20 years, I now ask myself whether their lack of interest was not lack of intelligence or enthusiasm but a far more complex mix of emotions about lost dreams and ambitions, lack of recognition and jealousy. Perhaps I should have asked them different questions.
So I became a full time mother, and although I never said I was an interior decorator, I too got quite excited in the Conran Shop. And when going to more corporate functions I answered the same question with: “I am a mum”. And all of a sudden all the wives had jobs, like ‘proper’ jobs, big, important, well paying jobs, and once more there was polite nodding and no engagement in conversation. I just couldn’t win this one and sometimes I found myself being quite apologetic about my job saying: “I am just a mum”. I am really quite cross about that, still. With myself. And where was my ‘Wow’ now? What does one have to do to get a ‘Wow’ around here?
Lets’ be honest, the colour of your kid’s poo is fascinating only to yourself, their projectile vomiting record will not even interest the A&E nurse who thinks you are slightly crazy for bringing your baby in the first time it was properly sick. The fact that Maisy/Josh/Applecakes/Harper was a total bastard/bitch in the playground, again, is just draining when played on loop. You feel like you are not changing the world, making a difference or even making progress most of the time. Your brain is not being used to anything like its full capacity and the skills you had acquired ‘before’ are next to useless. You have to retrain. On the job.
This entry was prompted by a topic on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 this morning where it was discussed that a Mumsnet’s survey found 91% of its users think mothers’ careers suffer after they have children, which Mumsnet said contributes to the gap in workplace pay and seniority between men and women. I chose to be a full time mum so I cannot comment on this from personal experience, but someone said that it is the ultimate sacrifice, being a mum, in terms of having a career. The sacrifices feel big but perhaps it takes 15 year’s of job experience to realise that they are not.
As I look at my daughters grow into confident, beautiful, sassy, smart, loving and funny young women about to embark on the same journey about finding what makes them content, I reflect on my answer to the question: “Why are you doing the job that you are doing?” that I recently had to answer on a questionnaire. My response was: “Because it is important and because I can do it well and it gives me satisfaction”. And as my daughters get older and don’t need their bottom wiping and help with their reading, there are other opportunities that come along that I would not have been qualified to do 20 years ago, because life experience is also experience, and so my horizons broaden and perhaps I will now hear the ‘Wow’ that was there all along.