03/11/15 An open letter to my daughter. (Side note: I’m hoping that by the time you’re old enough to read this, you’ve also managed to turn ‘Gaggy’ into ‘Mummy’)
Dear Scarlett (and any other child I may have!),
I hope your view of your Mother is that of a strong, confident woman who has stubbornly shown you how women can achieve whatever they want to. This is not a letter to you about feminism, or equality, or anything else socially or politically driven, sometimes I think those things put an added pressure on us all, men, women, adult and child alike.
Instead, this is a letter to you to tell you that although I hope to be a strong role model throughout your life, sometimes I am weak. Hopefully I keep that from you and you will grow to be confident and self assured, but also kind, and compassionate. But you should know there are some days when I am, frankly, an emotionally mess. In my scientific role, I am a young woman amongst many older men. In a lot of ways, it is a boys club, this is a term that I think may be less familiar when you are in the workplace. I recently had to give a presentation in a room of nearly twenty 40-something males, all of whom were aware that I am pregnant with my second child and mainly raising you, my first child between myself and your Dad. They have an ‘investment in families’ program which is mainly beneficial to working mothers, this is a great thing to help more women climb more influential career ladders but also causes some friction from the middle aged men who wonder why they don’t get extra time off for things like maternity appointments or allowances for child care. I understand that. As you know your Dad and I co-parent but legally he has significantly less rights than I do, when you were born, I was able to take a year off that side of my work and although it was a bit longer than some are able to afford to do, nobody thought anything of it. Your Dad took July off and then took extra work in August to make up for the deficit in what he hadn’t earned, and had to field questions about why he wasn’t available in late July. So I understand why for a lot of the men I stood in front of giving a presentation; they were most likely thinking that I was in the role to fulfil a quota, to make the employer look good for hiring a working Mother. I was aware that I need to work twice as hard to prove my place and with my obviously growing belly, in a few months time, I will temporarily disappear from the scene and they will be expected to deal with that without complaint.
This pressure sometimes gets to me. At the presentation in question, I know it was a damn good one. I am very good at my job. But I could feel their doubt and instead of just proving myself, I questioned myself and I (without any of them making any comment) wondered if they all thought I shouldn’t be there. This weekend both your Dad and I have some important work in London, and so your Grandad is coming to stay at our place to look after you, so although my work is one day and your Dad’s is the other, we’re away the whole weekend. And because of the type of work we both do, we quite regularly need help from your Grandparents to look after you. It sometimes makes me wonder if I’m making the right choices. Today this came to a head and I felt like not only was I not spending enough time with you, but I wasn’t succeeding enough in my career. But that’s crap.
We’re very lucky, we get to spend a lot of time with you even when we are working, I was hired because of my knowledge, experience and based on merit. My worries are based on my own insecurities, not once has a colleague made any comment about begrudging my position, and if I’m honest, I think you, Scarlett, my little lady, benefit from having such close relationships to your Grandparents and other close family members that live near by. Do I still feel guilty for the efforts your Grandparents need to make so we can thrive in our chosen work fields? Yes of course I do, I can only hope they know how appreciated it is and how much of a difference it makes. It has enabled us to get where we are and carry on providing you with a certain quality of life. Do I still feel the pressure of our heavy workload? Of course, but I count my lucky stars that we both love our careers.
My Great Grandmother Kate set up the women’s side of the British Legion. I always used to think that she could never have achieved some of the things she did in life (especially for the early half of the twentieth century) by doubting herself or worrying about whether she was a good enough Mother or questioning whether she was doing the right thing. But thats also crap. I’d somehow put my Great Grandmother on some kind of unattainable pedestal. I look at proud pictures of her with her family, look at newspaper articles of her achievements and I tricked myself into believing that her highlights reel had no unseen backstage pass. After a day of feeling like I wasn’t succeeding enough on my own path, I had a little look through my own highlights reel. Had a little read of what you kids and your children may some day look back on. And you know, when I did that, I saw a strong, confident woman who is succeeding and achieving, having a blast doing it and sharing a lot of it with her bright, happy little girl.
So which side is the lie? Is the happy highlights a myth? Or is the self doubt, struggles and hard work the illusion? The truth is, they’re both my reality. The self doubt sometimes keeps me grounded. The precious moments I share on social media keep me motivated and the struggles remind me it’s all worth it. Every bit of it, the guilt I feel over your Grandad having to make a six hour round trip from Brighton to look after you for the weekend, the joy i will feel when i pick you up after being away from you for three days and seeing that smile light up your face, all of it has put me here.
The definition of a strong, confident person does not mean one that never doubts themselves, it doesn’t mean someone who never has a bad day or find their choices difficult. Strength is often found most in the hardest times. Someone who has constant success or continual highs has no need for strength. Someone who has never had bad times, has never needed to overcome them. As your Mother, I will fight to my last breath to keep you safe and give you as idyllic a childhood as I can but the truth is, as you grow up, the lows will be just as important as your highs for getting you where you need to be.
So I hope the view of your Mother is that of a strong and confident woman. And I will tell you about your Great Grandmother Kate and what she achieved; as your Dad and I will tell you probably countless times about all your family members. But for you, my highlights reel will be accompanied by at least a sneak peek of the backstage pass, the parts you can learn from, the bits that could give you strength. I never met Kate Lade and that’s a real shame as I would love to be able to sit down with her and find out more about how she felt when she was being a trailblazer. I’m sure there were some days when she felt weak, when she questioned if she was making the right decisions, she probably even had afternoons where she had to stand up in front of a room of men, except instead of having a respectfully quiet audience; in those days she would have had to force her way through to being heard in front of a probably rather hostile crowd! So my beautiful girl, in your weakest days, remember that you are strong. In your most insecure days, remember that you are confident. Remember these things when you can’t remember why you’re doing whatever your doing, and know that through all of it, you are unquestionably, and unchangingly loved.
All my love,
Your Gaggy, the strong wimp.