Last Monday was Europe day. Schuman day. A day my family and I have celebrated with friends and colleagues for the past 13 years when we lived in Brussels. A day that inevitably took me back to my job for the European Union. The job I am currently on leave from to follow my husband to China where we’ll be based for the next 4 years.
The change has been significant for all of us. New job for my husband, new school for the kids and new well…life for me as a stay-at-home mom.
A new life, a new role - but could this also be called a new “identity”?
I meet many women here who have never worked. Or never had a paid job that is! Because let's not forget the amazing job so many women do at home. Juggling all practical things, following the kids, getting involved in school work and school networks, volunteering and so on. In fact, as a working mom I always used to appreciate these dedicated women....and I still do!
Let me try to describe the kind of working mom I was:
End-of-year party at school. Everyone needs to bring something. I would run over to the supermarket across the street from the office and grab 3 bags of crisps and some juice and soda on the way to the party. I would realise at 10 pm that we had no milk for breakfast the next morning - just after I realised that the kids had to dress up for carnival the next day and I had not bought (or made) a costume. I would google “how to plan your grocery shopping”, “how to make a family activity plan” and “how to plan meals”, make all those plans, stick them on the fridge and stick to them for about two days.
Get the picture? Absolutely disorganised and often feeling guilty.
But I really did love my job! Loved my colleagues the challenges and the social aspect of being part of a team. But on days where the stress levels were high (often self inflicted due to my many musical activities in my spare time) I dreamed about the opportunity to take time off work and do exactly what I wanted with my time. Then China happened.
When I’m here an afternoon like today in Beijing. Sitting at my desk, looking out on the sunshine, drinking tea, thinking about my lunch with a friend earlier today and preparing to meet the kids at the school bus, this is exactly what I dreamed about on those stressful days. So is this what I’ll be doing the next 4 years? I do not think so. Not because I’m bored or depressed but because working has always been a nice and fulfilling part of my life.
I'm still not at a stage where I’m looking for work. I’m not at a stage where I’m networking either. My plan is still to use this opportunity to learn more Chinese first and to take time to really enjoy this life where I often get up in the morning and think “right what do I want to do today”? I also know that, although the kids are growing and need me much less now, my presence and support in this new situation is important! That's one of the reasons why I’m taking my time to think long and hard about whether and when I want to look for a job. Another reason is freedom and free time. I will go to Europe with the kids for 6 weeks this summer. No saving up the holidays, no planning with colleagues. I just do it. THAT freedom is really special and at the moment more appealing to me than earning my own salary.
And now you wonder “now that you're a stay-at-home mom are the family activity plans and meal plans up and running and do you produce one delicious focaccia after the other for school parties”? Absolutely not! Some things just never change :-)