There’s a lot of talk in the media and online about equality and feminism and what it is to be a woman/wife/mother in today’s world. Now for a lot of the world, it’s still a pretty raw deal but this week I had a taste of ‘Mum frustration’. I LOVE being a Mum to Scarlett and she is everything to me. However, I don’t identify as a mother. For some that is their full time role and that is all they want to be and what they want to be known for, and that is a fantastic thing. Parenting is one of the most rewarding roles in the world. In no way am I refuting that but I do find it difficult to completely set aside Danielle, the girl with a lot of ambitions and plans of my own.
I am personally a better Mother to Scarlett when I am ensuring I continue with some of my own pursuits. I’m a writer, and now Scarlett’s older I’m putting my degrees to use and practising as a Forensic Psychologist (primarily in research). And I am a better wife for having my own identity, an important cog in the business my husband and I run together. I do not identify as a ‘wife’. (Again I am merely stating my own preferences and not even insinuating that there is anything wrong with identifying thusly.)
So this week my husband and I are without Scarlett and in Warwick working at a Theatre Summer School. Tom taught a Stage Combat Workshop and I wrote some duologues and monologues for students on an acting course to study and perform. On paper, we are professionally equal. We have both left our daughter with Grandparents for a couple of days so we can focus on our work. And yet, although the theatre world is significantly more open minded and understanding than the rest of the world (in my experience), I have still found myself holding my tongue on a number of occasions.
Firstly, and again, several people have asked both of us, but many more people have asked ME how I must feel being apart from my daughter. The implication being that her father must be used to being away from her and I must be struggling. In our family, we co-parent, we have careers that allow that to happen. So just as often as Daddy is on an all day course & Scarlett and I have a lovely ‘girls day’ together, my husband will also have her to himself when I am in the lab doing research or in rehearsals. We also both take it in turns to have time at home writing or planning stage fights or whatever’s needed when we’re working from home, and the other takes the reins with our baby. Therefore, last night in the hotel, I came out of the bathroom to find my husband staring doe eyed at a video of Scarlett that he has on his phone. I’m the colder one, I avoid looking at pictures of her and don’t call up to talk to her when I’m away from her because that would make me miss her even more and so I try and just focus on where I am and what I’m doing. I don’t think that makes me a terrible mother. When I am with her, and we are lucky to be able to be with her 80% of the time as she most often travels around with us; if I’m the one with Scarlett, I am very present and no-one can pry me away from that precious time. So am I finding it difficult? Not hugely, I’m having a great time seeing my written work brought to life and that drives me, yes when I talk about her my heart pangs but my ‘mummy’ hat is one (hugely important) side of my life and at the moment I am focusing on another. A side that Scarlett benefits from, I am engaged, and bubbly when I’m playing with my daughter, if I had no other role, I would be tired, drained and not have much to give to her. Do I want her growing up to think that if she has children that is all she has in life? No no no. She will grow up with choices and she will grow up seeing the things her Mother is passionate about and be encouraged to follow any interests that she is passionate about. And so when people look confused when I say I’m ok being apart from her for two days, I tell them she is my biggest motivation for being passionately and unapologetically me. My husband feels the same but it is still more ‘appropriate’ for the father to act that way, and sometimes even distasteful for a mother to feel as such. I disagree. I respect those for whom their passion lies solely within being a Mother, but I don’t feel being a woman as well is anything to be sorry about.
Then there’s the professional side of things. My husband is well known, he is a highly regarded RSC Associate Practitioner and an instructor that many of the students know as they have worked with him several times before at various things. A few people know me from workshops, or from rehearsals but writers are a quieter presence. They could know my work but not know my face. So when we arrived, we were extremely warmly greeted by a small group of our very dear friends (more like family really now!) and they all knew both of us. Then we walked into the main room and started to mingle. And I noticed I was being introduced in a certain way, “this is Danielle, Tom’s wife.” Sometimes I was even introduced with a bit more of an affectionate, ‘Toms lovely wife.’ And if they’ve heard of me, “ooh yes Scarlett’s Mum” or “oh you’re baby is adorable.” Now don’t get me wrong, I AM Toms wife and I am delighted to be thought of as lovely and Scarlett IS adorable. But I’m not here as a spouse. I am Danielle Lade, respected writer and if I’m bragging; I’m Danielle Lade respected writer, and Forensic Psychologist, if you want to mention me in relation to Tom then I am also his business partner.
As I’m saying it, I can tell I sound like I’ve got a real rod up my backside, and maybe there is a little one there. I am very proud to be Tom’s wife. I’m very proud to be Scarlett’s Mum. But when I’m at work, that is personal information (not in the confidential sense, just in an ‘unrelated to what I’m doing now’ sense). Theatre is a very personable field and so you do form very close bonds with people which is why, yes 99% of people we work with know and have met Scarlett/ask how our holiday went/know and care about how we are and the feeling is reciprocated. Some of the closest people to us are also work colleagues. My point is, that as a man, my husband would never be introduced based on who he is to me or to his daughter. As a man, it’s much more accepted that his career is the front part of his identity. For those who haven’t read my work or seen what I’m doing here, they will leave thinking the wife left her daughter behind and tagged along with her husband as he worked. That’s the part that irks somewhat. For the people who have read my script, they won’t think that Tom is here just to be with me, if they ask who he is, they’ll be told he’s a Stage Combat Instructor. As we have different surnames professionally, apart from the fact that we came and are leaving together, there is no reason for his relationship with me to define him in this context. That’s the difference. And that’s what prompted me to think about our roles.
And it works both ways; my husband is equally irritated when people share those website links that imply that if a baby is left with their father, some hilarious capers will occur because they don’t know how to take care of their children as well as Mummy. It’s a different story in our house, I’m the parent that made a nappy out of nappy bags, tissue paper and cellotape because I’d forgotten to take a spare with me when Scarlett accompanied me to a workshop. And we both dressed her as a hobbit when we took her to a Comic Con event. In both stereotypical worlds, my husband and I are equals and comrades. The world is still a few decades behind. I recently spoke to a full time Dad for an article I was writing and his frustrations were similar. A parenting team makes the best decision for their family, and that doesn’t have to mean Mummy stays at home whilst Daddy works long hours and then goes to the pub. For some families I’m sure that is the case, and that may well be what’s best for their family, but it certainly isn’t the only option. And in case anyone thinks I’m avoiding another side, gay parents make exactly the same decisions, whatever’s best for their family. I only don’t mention it because in terms of parenting teams, there is no difference and sexuality isn’t a factor. Or definitely shouldn’t be.
Between my close friends here, we’ve started a phrase that I quite like. My new introduction is ‘Danielle Lade, so much more than a wife.’ For those who assume I am at work currently raging and about to burn my bra, I’m not, I have a huge affection for the company I’m working for and the people I’m spending my time with. It’s my own sense of self it has made me look at, in all fields I know many other men and women don’t feel they have the correct identity being put forward in many circumstances. Even celebrities are pigeon holed. Heiresses want to be seen as musicians, actors want to be seen as more than just a pretty face, and the list goes on. I’ve concluded that we all deserve to embrace who we really are and the key is to be confident in that. My husband sometimes gets intimidated by the scientific jargon I use at home when I’m working, I often don’t know what he’s talking about when he’s discussing different weapons. We have a very clear view of who we are and what roles we play. I will continue to mention that I am a writer or a forensic psychologist in a situation where that is the most appropriate piece of my identity, and I will hopefully therefore get introduced less by the assumed title. However, as I have a great pride in who I married and what beautiful little girl we produced, I will also not be offended when people go to the social stereotype in their introduction. We are all the people we want to be and should wear all the pieces of our identity with pride. And I therefore hold no grudges to those who introduce me without acknowledging my career when I’m at work…I just can’t guarantee that within my next novel, the villain won’t be named after them!