Thursday, October 01, 2009

In praise of so-called sloth: rediscovering the housewife within

Having worked bloody hard for the past thirteen years, I am now spending most of my time thanking my lucky stars. You see, since we moved to Dubai in January to follow the ex-pat dream, I have not lifted a finger in exchange for financial reward. And boy, do I like it this way.

Before we moved, my main concern wasn't finding somewhere to live, schools for the kids or even how the hell we were going to manage to transport all our years of accumulated rubbish. No, it was all about how I was going to manage to set up a Dubai-based branch of the PR company I had started with three ex-colleagues in London last year. Selfish, perhaps, but then you have to be obsessed to have a reasonably successful career in the super-competitive world of PR. One of Alpha's main complaints when we were in London and I was working was that he wished I could put an ounce of the same effort into family life as I did with my job. But I couldn't, because working 60+ hours a week ate me up from the inside out.

There was very little left for anything else. Even when I went (supposedly) part time, down to four days per week, I was still fielding calls and having to try to avert publicity disasters 24/7. And one bad news story can take a full weekend to shut down. That's the nature of the job - the client clicks his fingers and you jump, wherever you are and whatever the circumstances. Having kids and working in PR is not a happy pairing. The loser is usually the kids - because if you don't play the game then you won't be employed for long.

Having worked for so long, despite the hassles and the stress and the pressure and the constant dark circles under my eyes, I was properly sucked in. I defined myself through my job. I didn't know who I was without it. In retrospect, I was probably pretty dull: who wants to hear about the strategy behind a PR campaign unless you're actively involved? But PR was the only thing in my head because I didn't just work in it - like so many of us, I lived it. But the joke was on me because the financial rewards weren't that great and, let's face it, kudos on its own ain't much use in paying the bills.

So moving to Dubai was a wierd one. After discovering that setting up a PR company in Dubai wasn't a wise move, financially speaking (especially as I would have to pay the set-up costs out of my own pocket), I resigned from my company and, as a result, have had to work hard rediscover myself. Here's what I've figured out so far:
  • My kids are endlessly fascinating. They are also pains in the butt at times. But who cares, because I love them so much it makes me feel like I'm going to burst.
  • I can make a difference to my kids just by spending time with them: they really like having me around. Now they talk to me and tell me about their triumphs, their fears and their worries. Our relationship wasn't this solid before.
  • That I can just be me. I don't need a role to define me. I have enough to say and do just as myself. As a result I am a much better mother, wife, relative and friend. I am also much happier in my own skin.
  • I don't care so much what people think of me. So what if someone thinks I'm uncool, or a nerd, or a bit of a doofus, boring or a bit dumb. That's OK because hey, guess what? We're not in high school anymore. You don't like me? Then stay out of my way and I'll reciprocate. Easy.
  • That friendships, like any relationship, needs work put into it. I now have the time and space to be considerate. I rarely break engagements any more (except this week, when I was sick, but that's the only acceptable excuse). All this feels good.
  • That being a housewife isn't boring. I'm busy enough to be engaged, plus I can enjoy down-time without feeling guilty about it. I'm also exploring a side to me that I shut down a long time ago; the creative me that loves to paint and draw and create something I can look at afterwards and find beauty in.
This isn't me raising a cheer for housewives. I'm not saying this is the best way. I'm not trying to make working moms out there feel bad. I'm just saying that this is the best way for me. Sometimes it takes something big to knock you off your perch and realise that the way you've been living is not the only way. That there was a reason for you not being 100% happy, a source to that little niggle at the back of your mind. It might be that you want to go back to work after years at home but can't see the road back. You might want to change career. You might want to stop working but can't figure out how to make the numbers fit. You might not know what you want, only that what you don't want is what you're doing right now.

There are choices. Sometimes you just need to shrug off old habits and take a leap out of your comfort zone to open your eyes to what's out there. But don't jump just because someone else says so. Jump because it's a ticket to a better life, for you, for your family, for your future. Do it because it's right for you.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations YLM. Yes, being a stay-at-home can have its own rewards and demands a massive amount of responsibility for the whole family. It is a joy to be able to prioritise one's children over the job. Why would we bother having kids only to farm them out to carers. Of course there are women who have to pay for care to be able to work and put food on the table - and great respect to them! You are lucky - you have Alpha for support - financial and emotional - you share your responsibilities. Even so, spare a thought for your not-so-lucky sisters who must struggle on. And don't be too much of a stay-at-home for fear that your older children will find you boring. When your nest is empty you will need an interest. But good on you for now.

YLM said...

Thanks anon. But I remember well how hard it is to work and raise children, and hats off to any woman who does it and manages. I just about managed but something always gave way (usually my sense of humour!) Ultimately it wasn't right for me but I thought it was, and I got a huge amount of satisfaction out of working for years. What I'm saying here is not to be afraid of change because it usually works out for the better. And don't worry, right now I'm keeping myself well occupied while they're at school - Firstborn tells everyone that I'm an artist with great pride... a bit of an exaggeration (at least until I increase my output and manage to exhibit) but I love her vote of confidence! She was never that interested when I was just 'going to the office'....

Shelly said...

I can really identify with the idea of finding your true self only through drastic means. I literally lost everything in order to pursue the things I truly love - my financial business and my college education. I ended up homeless and in a shelter for four months when my best friend no longer saw that I was doing what was right for me. Even so, the sacrifices and scary changes have all been worth it because I'm, ironically, happier in my life now that I have EVER been.

Good for you for recognizing something so important and following through on it!