A few years ago, I turned down a job that sounded just perfect for me. I turned it down because it was made very apparent to me after my interview that they’d need me to put the position first, and “get a babysitter regularly”, despite the fact that I was a single mum at the time. When I gently and politely declined the post via email, the company director responded with something along the lines of:
“This is stupid. This job is made for you. It’s disappointing that you put the now of your child first and not her future. You could send her to private school and get a full-time nanny on the salary I’m offering you. With that kind of attitude you’ll kill your career.”
I was 28 at the time, and I never responded, because their answer to me galvanised something within me I hadn’t ever really had the courage to face before. I do, and always will, put my daughter before anything else, whenever I possibly can. And, when someone, unwittingly or not, calls me stupid or otherwise for doing so, I instantly take it as a sign that I’m doing the right thing.
Fast forward to a few years later, where I am a freelance writer and media consultant, and my daily tasks are scheduled around my daughter’s after-school activities and homework routine. I don’t make apologies for it (I have, sometimes in the past, been made to feel like I should … ) nor do I even mention it. I get the bulk of my work done in the mornings, spend the afternoons with her and handle homework and, somewhere around 8pm, you’ll usually find me back at my keyboard, tapping away until I am finished with the day’s demands. I’ve been able to create this schedule that’s centred on my child, because of the work I do and the people I work with.
Sure, I’m not Rockefeller and often I feel like the archetypal poor writer in sweatpants and unwashed hair, who’s counting her cents and wondering if she has any sense. Yes, sometimes I feel like I’m overwhelmed and unprepared. On an all too regular basis, I am swallowed up by self-doubt and want to yell: “It’s rubbish! It’s all rubbish! I’m rubbish!” and daydream about promptly running away to spend the rest of my days making gooseberry jam on a farm somewhere in the countryside.
But I’m happy. Every day, a feeling of gratitude washes over me as I write for a living and race towards my next deadline. Every day, as I finish a project and move on to the next one, I marvel at how the very things I ever wanted in my life are suddenly here, and I didn’t have to sacrifice my priorities to have them. The notion that we “have to sacrifice our personal lives to get ahead in life” is trash.
Yes, there are some days where I have to skip a hockey game and scoot off to a meeting but those incidents are few, and I’m committed to keeping them that way. Yes, I don’t earn enough to put her into a private school or hand over her care to someone else to deal with while I dominate a boardroom.
But I never really wanted that in the first place. What I wanted was to be able to be there for her when she comes home, as much as I could. What I wanted was to make a living out of doing the very thing I feel driven to create. What I did not want was to sacrifice myself, or her, for the sake of someone else’s profit margin, even when they dangled the notion of a more financially comfortable life in front of me.
Somehow, through life’s magic turnings and a determination I have to lean on every day, it turned out that putting my family first would serve my life far more than a job that someone once was said was “made for me”.
Image – AFP