This one is a personal one to me (Tara). As women, we place a lot of expectations on ourselves – and it needs to stop. At this moment of writing, my 16-month-old son Ari, sits in hospital for the 11th time in his short life. My husband and I did the calculation that he’s spent 4 months of his life in hospital, which means both my husband and me, have both shared 2 months each. Some of you know, some of you don’t, but Ari was born with a chronic liver disease (Biliary Atresia) which resulted in a transplant when he was 9 months old. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a solid 7 months since our last hospital stay, but nevertheless, it’s still hard.
As a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend and a business owner (boss), I try to be the best version of myself in all of these roles. Men do the same, don’t get me wrong, but there are societal expectations that are placed on women that men just don’t deal with. And, while we try to keep up with those societal expectations, today I’m here to say; fuck that.
My husband is really supportive, so much so that he actually took 8 weeks of the 18 weeks maternity leave when Ari was born. We split the load, yet he got praised and I didn’t. There was no ‘good on you for going back to work and making something for your family’, just silent judgement, and yep, I felt it.
My business was growing rapidly, we were in a huge growth phase and I didn’t want to let that pass by.
There are a few reasons for this:
- I’d bloody worked so hard to get it to where it was, and I didn’t want to let it fall just as that hard work started to show
- Even though he is young, I wanted to show my son that mum works just as hard as dad does so that he grows up to value domestic role sharing (yep, I was thinking about that from the get-go)
- More importantly, for me personally, and we’re all different, I needed work for my mental health. I love what I do, it fills my cup, it challenges me and it’s a huge part of my identity. In order for me to be a good mum, I needed to do that. Some hard respect for SAHM’s, I bow down to thee.
I’m also highly functional (part of my ADHD, diagnosed as a kid, story for another day), so I need to be thinking constantly and on-the-go or I get some hectic mood swings.
Being able to work and be a mum worked for me; until it didn’t.
When Ari started to get sicker (pre-transplant) we had a few longer stints at hospital, which obviously impacted life, but I was hell bent on not letting it have any impact on my professional life. I wanted to be the person who ploughed through it all and made it happen, y’know, challenged the status quo. Funnily enough, when I was pregnant, I was speaking with my mate Tracy (Mums with Hustle) and when I told her I didn’t want to announce my pregnancy to our community, she asked me why. I told her that I wanted to show that women can do it all; be pregnant, have a baby, continue to work and get back to it. In fact, I wanted to announce it on Ari’s first birthday and be all like ‘yo, I had a kid and you didn’t know it’. It was more a big ‘fuck you’ to corporate life who judged women for having children and I wanted to prove that wrong. In an instance Tracy called me out on it, she said “why wouldn’t you want to share some of the most important news of your life to your audience? It’s your business” and I stopped blank and told her why, but after she asked me that I didn’t feel satisfied enough with my response and really started to think about it.
First things first, a guy wouldn’t have this problem, so there’s issue number 1.
But number 2 is, she was bloody right. So, I shared that I was pregnant at 32 weeks (all of our current clients knew). Honestly, it was the best thing I did, because again, it helped me to really cement our ideal people. I shared the news about Ari when he got sick and my clients gave me the space I needed. They actually did more than that and donated to the organisation that saved his life.
After the initial shit storm, life started to go back to normal. Where we started to face normal issues. Role sharing, normal sick kid stuff. After one hell of a week when Ari had a cold, then our carer was ill and a bunch of days where I stayed home, I cracked it. Started to literally lose my mind on how fucked up it was that it’s the woman’s role to stay at home, and how we’re financially impacted (super) in the long-run because we’re MEANT to be the caretaker according to society. So, look, I completely unloaded a systemic issue on my husband about gender inequality and the poor guy didn’t know what to do. But after a few weeks of complete breakdowns on how to deal with it, we sat down and had a rational discussion.
And, I told him how I felt:
- How I felt my career that I had been working so hard on since I was 16 years old was slipping from my fingers (well, so I thought).
- That I wanted our son to know that his mother contributed to all of the nice things that we own just as much as his father did.
- That if anything ever happened to him (touch wood that it never does) I’d be financially independent so that wouldn’t impact us
- That I can help financially (and damn well I might add) to the household income without the stress falling on him to be the ‘breadwinner’. There is no him and I, it’s us.
- That I’d watched so many women before me sacrifice themselves to become parents and when the kids grew up had a case of lost identity.
- I told him that I didn’t mind doing all the little tidbits, but that I just needed him to help in areas that directly impact me because it was the overloading of all the smaller things that were tipping me.
- That the reason his life is so easy going is because I bloody help make that happen.
- That when I told him I wasn’t OK, it was a cry for help, not a sympathy ploy.
- That sometimes, all I wanted was a hug and to be told I was doing a good job.
In saying that, he also told me how he felt, and it was really nice to have that discussion without emotion and to really be heard. Don’t get me wrong, it took a couple of months of turmoil, but we got there.
So, we made changes that worked for us.
Since that discussion, everything has changed. To be honest, I needed to let go of the expectation that I could do it all. As people, we can only spin so many plates at a time until some come crashing down, and they did.
As I vented some of my frustrations, some publicly, some privately, I had SO MANY women private message me about similar issues within their own household. And I know it’s a vulnerability thing to speak about issues that are so personal and private, but this is why we’re still dealing with these problems. Like the SAME conversation with almost every woman I speak to. That being said, it’s usually an emotional and hard discussion which is why a lot of people avoid it. Let’s face it, it’s hard to tell people how you really feel. Even I spoke with all round legend Megan Luscombe about how to deal with me before I dealt with someone else. Which was a real eye-opener (control freak anyone *raises hand*).
And, look I really try to think of both sides and, there are so many amazing men out there I know that are just paving the way, or at least trying to but are coming up short. Men also need to be supported more in workplaces; my husband was really lucky to have 12 weeks paid paternal leave where a lot of other industries laugh at that idea. And why? Men have such an important impact on their kid’s lives too. I reckon the reason women develop a stronger initial bond is purely that we’re around more, imagine how that makes the dad feel? Because honestly, Ari is a half-halfer with both my husband and me. I do however work a 4 day week because I want to.
At this moment, my husband sits by the bedside with my son, so I make sure to thank him when he helps me out at the time, I need him the most.
At the end of the day, it’s really about choices and being able to have them. If women aren’t as career orientated, then they should be able to stay at home. But should they choose to go back to work, that should be wholeheartedly supported there too. Men also need to be involved in the decision. This isn’t an us vs them thing, it’s a together thing. I want my husband to succeed in life as much as I want to. I want US to succeed, and in doing that, these hard conversations need to be had.
What I’ve also come to realise is that a lot of the pressure comes from myself. Me trying to hit unrealistic expectations, and this is coming from someone that is very self-aware, so I can only imagine what it’s like for women with confidence issues. When I was talking to one of my biz mates Anita recently, we spoke about these challenges and expectations, when I told her that for once I just hit pause and focussed on what really mattered she said ‘isn’t this why we have our own businesses?’ and man, that hit hard. Yes, it bloody well is. I’d often find myself working in my free time or at night to ‘catch up’. Funnily enough, before I had Ari, I NEVER did this because… boundaries. So why was I doing it now? So, here’s to me taking control of the things that matter.
This isn’t an issue I can single-handedly change, but if I can help to contribute to change for the generations who follow, just as the ones previous to ours did for us, then that’s exactly what I will do. We need to start having hard conversations that take us outside of our comfort zones because this is where the change starts. Starting with my business, my platforms, and my household. And you can too.
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