Does success equal happiness?
I often fall into the trap.
“She could be a great feature film director. Or a geneticist”. She is also two and a half. Where did this even come from? Somehow it seems reasonable for adults to ascribe career paths to their infants and toddlers based on next to nothing, and worse still, it seems to be our loving way of forging hopes and dreams for their happiness into a realistic future.
It took me sitting down and having a good think about what I really wanted for my daughter’s adult life to realise we might be focusing on the wrong things. I mined through my thoughts to figure out what happiness I instinctively wanted for her - I made it extra depressing by trying to imagine what I’d still feel if I wasn’t around to see it - heavy stuff but it worked.
When we talk about our children having high flying careers, it sounds exciting but now I’m a mother it feels slightly wide of the mark. Being constantly told that achieving work goals is what will deliver a lifetime of happiness sounds slightly bleak, but tuning into the cultural conversation around the potential children hold, it is absolutely what we do to each other. I’m now not sure it should be.
My husband is self-employed and often works nights in the shady back streets of Soho*, so he’s spent an enormous amount of waking hours with my daughter over the past two years. We remind ourselves how lucky we are all the time. We both really love being with her, and often discuss the regret we would have felt not to have it. It’s not for everyone, but I feel strongly that the choice should be. Parenting is a luxury in this world, and should you want to take longer than your allotted time (depending on factors outside of your control - company policy, national laws and policies, etc) then the stars would need to align in other areas also (job type, finances, stage of career, employment status, other commitments, and all the above for your spouse too).
Fighting maternity discrimination, sexism, structural inefficiency and rigidity, childcare costs and government policies gained momentum in 2017, and that feels so good. Flexible working is becoming more and more acceptable - which, for parents wanting to go freelance to address the balance in their lives, is a relief. Anything we can do to take the fear out of controlling your own hours and workload is what we’ll aim for. We set up our company to make consultancy a real option for parents with careers who don’t want to miss out on either.
But perhaps we need to support the systems we are putting in place with a new perspective on how we consider the future for our children. Of course I want my daughters to have successful careers in whatever they are good at, plus all the options that are so wide open for men. But more than anything I want them to be in a position to parent their kids and see them grow up, if they want to. There has been no joy like it, and it’s a really really important aspect of life for me. From now on, I’ll keep reminding myself that career advice for the next generation will come with a redefinition of what ‘successful career’ means - and for me, it includes being able to spend as much time as you want with your little people, and being able to parent the way you feel you want to might be all that is important - for a few years at least.
*He’s an actor. What were you thinking?