As women we face so many hurdles in our careers. The greatest impact is often taking time out to have children and the impact of that pause. On the other hand women without children – for reasons of choice or medical – face judgement from a society who overwhelmingly expect all of us to reproduce.
What a dichotomy, we are punished career wise for taking time out yet, we are judged if we do not.
I was 21 and had just started my OE (overseas experience) living in London when I found myself pregnant on the other side of the world. My parents had been teenage parents themselves (with me) but I am not sure they were thrilled to be grandparents before their 40s.
My son was born in London (where he lives now) and it was harder work parenting there than we had ever imagined. Our friends were all partying, travelling, going to gigs – loving their London lives – while we were learning to be new parents without a natural support network. So when I fell pregnant again not long after (there are 16 months between my children) we returned to Aotearoa. My daughter – whose claim to fame when she turned 22 was being the first in 3 generations to master birth control – may never forgive me for making that citizenship decision on her behalf.
Having children young has positive and negative characteristics, we had no savings, our careers were in their formative years and far from established – our 20s and early 30s were a struggle. While my ex and I weren’t destined to live together long we enjoyed co-parenting as young parents and have both enjoyed our second chapters in life kid free at a time our siblings and peers were dealing with sleepless nights, nappies and everything that comes with small children.
My children both left home by the time I turned 40 – wahoo! This also created a strange experience for me. Meeting new people, particularly women, I would be asked whether I have children. I learned pretty quickly that “yes” created a complicated discussion, seeing my age the natural assumption would be I have small or medium aged children – today the assumption is teenagers. So I modified my answer to say “yes, adults who have flown the nest”. What I have found is that answer is interpreted as “No”, which is completely bizarre.
The interesting thing about being a young parent is you form very different relationships with your children. We used to watch Quentin Tarantino movies, play Grand Theft Auto and go to gigs together. We are very close and have very contemporary conversations.
The challenge with the kind of relationship where you’re so close to your children is it’s hard to stop parenting at times. I still worry about them endlessly, I don’t tell them this of course. Right now with COVID-19 developing so very differently in NZ and the UK it is almost impossible for me to not ask my son to come home on a daily basis. I accept it’s his choice and decision to make as an adult human but I dearly want to be mum and put my foot down telling him to do the sensible thing and return to the relative safety of Aotearoa.
It’s hard but once a mother, always a mother.