The last couple of years have been extremely challenging for me, and one of the challenges has been my relationship to work. As a freelance architectural photographer I’ve had the great fortune to do something I love doing, and this June I’ll celebrate 10 years as a freelancer. It’s a wonderfully flexible life to lead, with the potential for great work/life balance.
There are two main downsides. Firstly, I’ve seen my business struggle at times. It often takes second priority to childcare. I’ve had at least one day off a week for regular childcare for about 5 years. This has had an impact over the long term, though it’s hard to tease that out from the fact that I work in a niche industry in a relatively small region and have done so through hard economic times. This was our choice, and not one I would change. Nevertheless, my business was my first baby!
Secondly, despite talking the talk of how, in our family, the pressure is off me to maximise income, I never really walked the walk. I continued to expect the business to grow, even with all those days off, and 3.15 pm school pick-ups, and days off looking after sick children, and the lion’s share of school holidays off work. I didn’t really consider myself ‘primary carer’ (a term I dislike for some reason).
We’ve discussed recently a number of options, one of which is for me to do even more childcare (no after school club for example), and to really re-evaluate how our family unit works. I’d still have time to work, but there would be even less pressure. At least until both kids are at school full time (which is less than 18 months away), we take this chance that won’t appear again, and I stop beating myself up if I have a slow month or two.
The problem with that is not the doing of it. It’s whether I can make that decision and really accept it in my heart. Really, truly accept that these few years could be seen as a career break, and that so long as I keep my hand in the game I can pick it up again in the future. I’m not sure I can do that, given that the best bits of my job I still love (i.e. producing great images for clients).
Women, of course, have had to do it for ages. The career breaks they incur from having children often set back their careers. By the same token, women have got used to the idea of the man earning the majority of money and that being ‘family money’. I’ve come to understand that very slowly. That my doing much of the routine kid stuff helps my wife to do the job she does, and that therefore what she earns is not just hers, but ours as a family.
Bottom line is family life is a team sport, and everyone has a role to play. No one role is more important than any other. When the shift in the parity of earning power is as great as it has become in our family, it can be hugely difficult, and (dare I say it…?) possibly harder for a man to adjust to than a woman. I’m nearly there, and next time I want to buy a new pair of jeans, or some Lego, or a boat, but have had a slow month of work, I’ll use the joint account and not feel guilty.
Steve Mayes | Steve Mayes Photography