I refuse yet to be put into any category of calibration as a woman. In fact I would like to kid myself that in the few years that I might have left in this world I could even reach a new standard, perhaps a bit closer to “excellence” which I have never managed previously.
But surely excellence in one’s capacity in the paid workforce, however crudely this is measured, can never be equated with parental capacity, however that is to be measured? This is the flaw in some perceptions. There may be a strong correlation between an individual’s educational success and the socioeconomic levels of the family. This by no means correlates directly with the quality of parental love and care. It can be also easier for wealthier people to access good assistance with their children, such as someone else who will smile at them as the going gets tough. Perhaps this latter could be helped with better government support?
Personally my most clear and absolute choice between parenting and career came in 1973 when I was studying for a post graduate diploma. I had a baby who was born prematurely on 9th March. As it neared the end of March, when I was due to pay the yearly fees for the continuation of my course, the future of my little son was still very uncertain. I agonized about what I should do. I knew if he came home from hospital I would have a great deal to do and no time to study. I was already going to the hospital every day with expressed milk. Other children could not come into the Intensive Care Nursery so I had to arrange care for them. On the other hand, if he died I knew that having to study would be better for my own mental health. I decided to defer. Making a decision to continue studying felt like abandoning him. A week or so later he died.
My realization after those few weeks of mental anguish about this decision was that these actual decisions do not matter very much. One will, throughout life, be constantly faced with forks in the road, decisions to be taken, choices to be made. And we have to cope with whatever decisions we make. And there is no doubt that any one of those choices may or may not make life a little different. Some things we wished for will become unattainable. Some will come closer. We will develop new aims and priorities. We will inevitably make some mistakes. We cannot know all these in advance. And it is very hard to know how well we will cope with decisions we make.
When I look back I am more inclined to want to calibrate myself on effort not on results (after all one can always excuse oneself when looking at more professionally or parentally successful contemporaries and say, probably erroneously, there but for X go I). Could a band width be regarded as a sort of calibration? If I had to give myself a NATPLAN score for living I’d put myself in a higher band for professional effort than for professional achievement, much lower again for parental effort but certainly in Band 6 for parental achievement (perhaps allow there for parental bias). But overall I enjoyed myself and think I contributed to life in some small ways.
The main thing for the young to recognise is that although it all seems so important, life is barely started when children are young. There will be choices yet uncontemplatable. And decision making is not over on some set date! We have chances to recalibrate to almost any bore we like in the, it is to be hoped, many more years that life goes on. There is nothing fixed or immutable if we spend time out of work with children. There is nothing fixed or immutable about career decisions made early in life.
Even if it does not recalibrate us, let experience as well as education inform us all.