SO YOU THINK YOU CAN JUGGLE

8:44 PM

(as appears in April/May issue of You magazine: http://realmums.com.au/you/)

It occurred to me while watching So You Think You Can Dance, just how little I know about dancing.

During the auditions I was blown away by some spectacular efforts … that the expert judges totally rubbished. Conversely, I was actually embarrassed for some of the contestants that danced up some real dog’s dinner performances on national TV. Cut to the judges giving standing ovations.

My lack of understanding of The Dance has come as quite a surprise to me. After a couple of wines, I’m usually the best dancer in the world.

These amazing individuals who do go on to excel in the competition - each performance punctuated by resounding applause - must feel an incredible sense of validation. All the hours, physical exertion, disappointments and personal and social sacrifices have been worth it. They have acclaim, success …. and guaranteed invitations to a year’s worth of C-grade celebrity-attended product launches.

We could all do with that level of recognition for our daily toil. Failing the inception of So You Think You Can Drink, I’m hanging out for So You Think You can Juggle Motherhood and a Career.

Granted, the competition will be formidable. There are women everywhere putting in a gallant fight for their own family, finances and fulfilment. But, I enjoy a challenge.

The thing is, who will judge our competition and what criteria will determine the successes from the failures? Because to date, judgement of working mothers has not been a balanced or particularly inspiring affair. The world in which we procreate gives us the opportunity to excel as employees or mothers. Mutually exclusively. So, you don’t think you can do both do you?

You either put in the best performance for the job or the family. It’s a tug of war – whoever the winner, it’s rarely us.

All over this country women (and men) are apologetically slinking out of the office earlier than colleagues to make the school pick-up. And while citing parental responsibility as a reason for any absence from work is begrudgingly passable, in big business at the least, it usually elicits varying degrees of disapproval and sometimes taken as a sign of lack of dedication.

The dividing lines are by no means women vs. men or good vs. evil for that matter. I recently experienced disapproval from a woman who was put out when I freely admitted that the reason I was not available for a business meeting was child-related.

While this kind of ‘betrayal to the sisterhood’ really peeves me, I also know that this woman is also a mother. She has also struggled tooth and nail to climb her own ladder and must have missed many school plays and pick ups in order to play by the rules in this pseudo childfree world.

It’s hard to balance the boat without rocking it.

The truth of the matter is I blame Nine-to-Five. Nine-to-Five is way past his prime. His day is over. He has a comb-over and an earring in one ear. He drives a Barina. He wears tapered stone-wash jeans. There is nothing modern about Nine-to-Five. Problem is, he’s been around for so long its hard to imagine life without him. We accept him as a given. Nine-to-Five is no friend of working parents.

Over the past few decades, our society, women’s roles, financial commitments, children’s learning processes and tools have all changed. Why are we still measuring our contributions to a changed world within the same parameters as was used when it was common for women to stay home raising more children?

How we accommodate those trying to a good job both at home and in the workforce needs to be reassessed. Instead of busting our ovaries to mould ourselves into today’s business world, what’s wrong with changing it?

I’ve seen first hand how this can work. I practice PR at a company where we all work remotely. All employees work from home and our personal circumstances guide our working hours. It’s company policy that we don’t work for clients who can’t live with that. And while some clients are vocally supportive of this arrangement (many of these men), truth be told, it’s never usually an issue anyway because we get the job done. Family commitments are regularly scheduled between early morning starts and late evening finishes but at least all priorities are met and everyone is happy.

If home is where the heart is, it’s crazy to pretend we don’t carry the tensions and stresses of that home around with us wherever we go. No matter whether we are married, single, parents or not, we are all human beings. Compartmentalisation might be a clever psychological theory about how we cope with different roles, but it is unrealistic and unfair to expect anyone to completely divorce the work-self from the home-self. Life can be messy and like chicken pox, a child’s reliance on his or her parents doesn’t abide by Mr Nine-to-Five’s rules.

Despite society’s ongoing evolution, there are certain rights and expectations of children that should never change: age-appropriate education, protection from physical and psychological abuse, proper nutrition, shelter, attention, and feeling loved.

Once their needs are being met, the second best thing we can do for our kids is to be happy ourselves.

Once ‘time-and-location prejudice’ is overcome and organisations begin to give employees the freedom to work more flexible times and places, it becomes more realistic to serve both the business and the baby.

Let’s change the rules. Wouldn’t it be gold if we were judged on all that we juggle rather than the balls we think we drop?

Now, if we could just find some extra hours to get in a decent night’s sleep….

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