April 4, 2014
Yesterday, I went for a walk with North Cowichan councillor Jen Woike. This was the conversation I was looking forward to the least.
I’ve avoided the topic of where motherhood and council collide because it will be the deal breaker in my decision to run for council. I knew Jen, who has two school-aged children and one in college, would tell me the truth.
Jen’s description of a typical week was exactly what I expected. Three or four nights she’s away from her family at dinnertime, and many weekends are spent reading up on agenda items for the next week’s meeting.
The mister and I have both managed the kids on our own in the evenings. He coaches twice a week and I’ve had work and volunteer activities that take me away at dinner time. We can do it, but it’s not always fun, especially on the nights we’re tired. If we’re well rested, we can be pretty good parents: we have perspective, we’re prepared to listen to their reasoning, and we don’t react when someone has a meltdown because we didn’t put the toothpaste on her toothbrush properly.
When we’re not rested, this house can feel like a pressure cooker. At any moment, one of us could lose our mind (yell). We say that to them so often, the other night I heard my eldest instruct her younger siblings, “Now girls, we don’t want Mommy to lose her mind tonight, so let’s be good.” For shame. The worst is if we’re accidentally pinged in the face by the corner of a hardback storybook or head-butted by a child getting up on our lap. Exhaustion plus pain creates a perfect environment for one to lose one’s mind. When there’s no other parent at home to tag you out, you have to dig deep to find that last ounce of the civilized part of you to remain calm.
We don’t have relatives in town to help with pick-ups and drop-offs and navigating the dinner hour. If I’m out of the house three or four nights a week, it will all be on the mister.
Then there’s the bit about missing all the magical moments. Granted, these rarely happen while making dinner, but our kids are entering an age where they are less savage-like so during dinner now we can hold a conversation about our day, and most nights after dinner we walk together as a family. They are happy-family moments (unlike the sleep-deprived-parents-just-holding-it-together moments so prolific in the early years).
I asked the kids how they’d feel if I had meetings in the evenings and the middle one said, “I wouldn’t like it. I like having you here.” I’d miss listening to them read their French books or share the great or terrible thing that happened to them at school that day: precious soundbites that come so seldom (What did you do at school today? Nothing.)
I wouldn’t get to brace myself in anticipation of my youngest running full steam at me when she gets home from daycare. I wouldn’t get to feel her little arms hug me with all their might, and her cold cheek squish mine. I wouldn’t get to make dinner with her sitting on the counter “helping” me, and I wouldn’t get to rub her back, spoon her sister, and snuggle the other one at bedtime.
I felt this way when I went back to work after having my first kid. My peers and I were raised to be a professional something, and because we’re engaged in our work, we’re good at what we do. It feels purposeful. That first baby conflicted with all the professional training, little of which applied to motherhood. It feels like each choice is a sacrifice. If I choose to stay home with the kids, I lose that sense of purpose I have when I’m doing my work and contributing to my community. If I choose to work, I miss time with my family, which is the most meaningful work, but it doesn’t pay.
I also asked Duncan City councillor Michelle Staples about being a mom while on council. She said much of the same about the time commitment and the struggle being away from her kids. But she has a great vision for the Cowichan Valley and is dedicated to working towards it, even with the sacrifices.
That can be the only reason a mother with young-ins would run for council. You have to be really clear about your objectives and goals to put your family under that pressure. I still have to figure that out.
A friend asked how would I change council to make it more parent-friendly. Meetings would have dinner breaks. A council meeting could start at 1 p.m. and finish at 4 p.m. so we could all go eat with our families and friends. Then we would return to the council chambers for the second half of the meeting starting at 7:30 p.m., which gives us enough time to help wash up dishes, bathe the little ones, and read a story or two.
I can hear people listing all the reasons why this wouldn’t work but it would make it a healthier work environment for families. That, and more pay. #hellwouldhavetofreezefirst