I am living expat wife life. You would not be the first to assume that means love, leisure and laughter without responsibilities. And I do have nicely painted toenails and shiny hair, thank you very much.
But all parents have to make choices when they have children, as I wrote yesterday. There is always a trade off, whether you continue working (as I did the first year of E.'s life) or stay at home (as I did the second year).
So on to the burning question: Which do I prefer?
Before E. was born, I had been working as a freelance journalist, slowly getting myself into some sort of cycling shape as well as playing floorball a couple of times a week, hung out with S., traveled all over the country visiting friends (sometimes only to spend the afternoon sitting and sipping tea on a sunny balcony), watched movies, went dancing and read a lot of books.
The first year: working (part-time)
After E. was born, life quickly contracted into three areas: work, E., S. Coming out of pregnancy leave, I started a job at a newsagency for four days a week. S. had begun working on the project that would ultimately bring us to Singapore.
Weekdays ran along a tight schedule. S. used to get up before 6 am to get to work on time, and I would get up at 6.15, tiptoeing around the house so as not to wake E. before I'd had my shower and breakfast. At 7 am I'd wake her, dress her, shovel her breakfast down her throat, put her in the pram and leave the house by 7.30 to get to daycare at 8 am and run back to the train station to catch the 8.10 train (which would usually turn into the 8.25 train, meaning I'd be late) in order to be at work at 9 am. Then I could relax for a bit.
S. picked up E. in the afternoon, meaning he'd have to leave work by 5 pm in order to get to daycare before 6.25 pm (the cut off point for pick up - if we'd miss it three times, she'd be kicked out). Then he'd rush the hungry baby home, heat up one of the meals we'd have prepared before and feed her. Once I got home around 7 pm, I'd take over so S. could finish his work and change his clothes. One of us would bathe her and put her to bed, while the other one did the grown-up cooking. We usually sat down at the table around 8.30 pm and went to bed at 10 pm.
It was a stressful, tiring life, not to mention heart wrenching to leave E. at daycare for all of her daylight hours.
It was also a very fullfilling life. I loved chatting with my colleagues, being challenged, learning, writing and hitting deadlines. I felt satisfied and accomplished at the end of my day. I looked forward to work as much as I looked forward to my days with E. I imagine it was the same for S., who had his own 'daddy day' bi-weekly.
The second year: staying at home
When E. was almost one year old we moved to Singapore and I became, effectively, a stay-at-home mother. Oh, I've done some freelance work, I went to a few conferences and I'm still writing (even if only at this blog) and have kept up my reading on energy and Singapore so I still can form an informed opinion and at the very least don't bore S. to death with navel gazing mummy talk. But I don't have an office, or colleagues, or a regular pay check.
I miss those. I miss those badly.
But our home life is much more peaceful. My being at home, taking care of E., making sure there is food on the table, clean clothes in the wardrobe and a social life to enjoy for both of us has meant that S. can concentrate on his work and on his cycling and piano playing. That might sound unfair as if he gets all the good bits and I get all the drudgery, but it isn't, since it makes him a much more enjoyable person to be around.
E. goes to daycare in the morning, ensuring me a few hours of freedom to do the stuff I need to do (shop at the market, do our admin, see the gynaecologist, go to prenatal yoga, do the occasional writing, take photography and Mandarin classes) which make our lives run smooth. In the afternoon, I do the laundry, cook, visit friends and write blog posts while E. naps.
The verdict: working vs. staying-at-home
Which do I prefer? I have no easy answer. In a family consisting of two adults with careers and children, there are choices and sacrifices to be made.
In the first scenario, often seen as the best solution, all of us sacrificed a little of everything: a little of both our careers, while E. sacrificed time with her parents. Although she didn't seem to mind to much (our little social butterfly), it broke my heart on a daily basis. All of us gave up on most of our hobbies and lots of our social activities, which had to be crammed into the weekends. And we'd be tired on the weekend.
This scenario is the way of the compromise, and in my case it made for both a stressful and a fullfilling life.
In the second scenario, I sacrifice my career, while S. sacrifices time with E. This makes for a peaceful home, a happy hard-working S., a playful and enjoyable E. and a sort of happy but restless me. All of us get to do the stuff we enjoy and to go out and socialize. But I feel left out and left behind by society, however often I tell myself that I will be really thankful I got to spend this time with E. and her brother-to-be (and I do honestly believe that). But I miss being that part of me that exists outside of our family.
So I don't think this staying-at-home thing will last. Neither do I think I'll want to work full-time either again while my children are at home. And I have discovered that to me, family life and happiness is more important than a career.
I guess that means I fit right into the mold of Dutch women. But as I am making this choice consciously, having lived different options, I think I just might be quite happy inside my box.