Twenty years is NO blip!

Ms. Timson’s remarks about possibly the greatest challenge facing many families today seem somewhat banal.  The tone reeks of that “friend”.  The one who has done everything before you and when she was smack in the middle of it, it was a full-on crisis but now in retrospect, that experience was “a nothing”.  It is always her current life-stressor that is the true crux of it all, the ultimate test and the paramount drain.  Currently for Timson, it is finding ways to fill up her hours upon hours of free time.

What I could really use from Timson, instead of her insistence that 20 years of my life will simply be considered a blip in retrospect, is some survival tactics.  How did she struggle through the storm and still remain so smug?  Turn off the Blackberry?  Unplugging the computer?  Slip the cabbie a twenty and tell him to let the grandparents off at the doctor’s office?  Bale at the office when a big deal is coming down the pike because the clock reads 6 pm? Doesn’t sound so realistic to me.

I agree with Timson when she says that the real issue is not balance.  Any mother can tell you that balance went the wayside the second the umbilical cord was cut.  But I am afraid that separation is murky to define.

I am very fortunate that I could choose to stay at home with my children but with that came a hefty price.  Living on one salary, for one.  However, my greater struggle is seeing the disappointment in my husband’s eyes when I tell him excitedly that today his baby walked for the first time, or that our son scored his first soccer goal today. This is the reality that I live with.  It is an aching void within him that he lives with.  It is not that my husband doesn’t choose to be present at events in our children’s lives, but he can’t be in two places at the same time.

When he is home, he makes every effort to be present for the boys.  He is conscious to turn off his Blackberry and very rarely does he sit in front of the computer while the boys are awake.  But does anyone really work from 9-5 pm anymore?  We live in a fast-paced, technologically plugged-in world.  Living is expensive.  Jobs are scarce.

I see mothers cringe when their Blackberries vibrate at birthday parties or end-of year school picnics.  They slink away in their crisp suits and high heels to hush the constant buzz.  Recently, a friend who works as a lawyer was denied partnership because she wasn’t billing her pre-mat leave hours.  She agonized over how to solve the problem of how to give 100% to both her job and her family.  Her boss met with her and very matter-of-factly told her that it is possible to “have it all”.  Like he was sharing a great secret he told her the solution that provided his wife with both motherhood and partnership: hire two nannies and the promotion will come.

In a way it is unfair.  This generation of mothers was sold a bill of goods: The You Can Have It All bill.  We got educations, postponed babies in favour of building a solid career so we would have adequately proved ourselves before maternity leaves. Instead we are straining to re-establish ourselves amongst childless women and women with multiple caregivers. Meanwhile our responsibilities outside the office have exploded, exponentially.   I don’t want to sound gender biased, as this goes for a lot of men too.

I think that if you asked any number of my friends, including my husband, they would tell you that striving for work-life balance is not, as Timson suggests, a catchphrase for avoiding personal responsibilities, but is quite the opposite.  Seeking out ways to have more work-life balance or work-life separation (frankly, a matter of semantics to me) is absolutely a reflection of someone who is acknowledging the enormity of their personal responsibilities.


First Person Voices

I am grateful for the presence of the first person voice on the pages of our national newspapers.  In our house, it’s The Globe and Mail.  

When I read the editorial page, I am annoyed at the anonymity of the editorials.  I know that it’s an age-old convention not to have by-lines with editorials, but I like to have a person linked to the words.  The idea that there is such a thing as objectivity has long been exposed as a fiction, so I appreciate the explicit and thoughtful use of the first person voice in the newspaper. 

In the Globe, Karen von Hahn was my paragon of the first person done right.  She takes a simple anecdote from her life and she expands upon it to tell a bigger story, a story always tethered to the concrete details of raising a family in Canada in the early 21st century.   This is one of my favourite from last year, about renting summer cottages.   And this one, about a road trip with her son.  She is now writing a column for The Toronto Star.  I miss her in my Globe.

Of course, I often disagree with what the columnists write.  Leah McLaren’s stories do not speak to me.  Russell Smith is often entertaining but has a snobbery that I find off-putting.  Margaret Wente ususally makes my blood boil, but I appreciate her no-holds-barred articulation of her opinions.  It’s refreshing to be challenged and spurred to action by thoughtful writers. 

With this column, Timson, I think, wrote something deliberately provocative, and her off-handed dismissal of the enormous work of childcare and elder care as a “blip” was ill-considered.  This is not a model of thoughtful first-person writing.  True, she wrote her story, her take on the time crunch from her vantage point of too much time on her hands, but her mistake was not to put more emphasis on herself.  I would have liked to have read about the great stretches of time she has now and what she does with them.  Details.  With a different angle, she might have written the article in a way that would give hope to those of us up to our middles in the care of others.  “I have been there, too, fellow travellers, and I have survived.  The time crunch will not last forever.”  She might have lit a beacon on the horizon to which we could drive our thoughts.  Instead, she just drove me away.

At Issue: Work-Life Balance

== At Issue is a monthly feature at 4Mothers where we all weigh in on a common topic or theme.  We’ll give you the topic (and any accompanying links on the Monday of the last week in the month, then post our respective views from Tuesday to Friday.  Please join the discussion! ==

Here’s the article that will inaugurate 4Mothers first “At Issue” roundtable.  We’ll be back here tomorrow for the first of four mother perspectives…