Tag Archives: life

Is it time to start planning for kids?

Is it time to start planning for kids?

It’s really hit me that one of my best friends will most likely be off overseas post PhD – quite probably for good. ALL THE SADS.

I’ll miss him dearly, and he would be such a rad uncle, it’s painful to think he’ll miss out on that.

Aside from a few months back there when I was still on a post-travel high, for most of my 20s I’ve been sure I wanted kids. That’s really ramped up in the past few months. I can only assume it’s largely driven by the ever growing number of people around me getting pregnant and having babies – we’re entering that phase in life, I suppose.

I ain’t got baby fever yet … but to be quite honest, if our circumstances were different, I think I’d be just about ready to try. (Cannot believe I just admitted that.) It is so weird – like a switch flipped almost overnight.

But it’ll have to wait till we get many practicalities ironed out, which is still a while away, since I like being free of money stress a shitload more than I like, well,  just about anything else in life. (Yes, I know, there will never be a good time to have kids, but right now is definitely down the bottom of the charts. Regular readers know.)

I wholly believe reproducing is a privilege, not a right. That said, I was pretty horrified to realise that New Zealand does pretty poorly on the paid parental leave front – some other countries put us to shame.

Here, to the best of my research, are the parental allowances for NZ, Australia, UK and Canada compared. It’s all super confusing, so any corrections/clarifications gratefully accepted. (And yes, of course there are employers here and around the world that offer additional benefits privately – this is only the minimum allowances as per legislation.)

Parental leave - NZ, Australia, UK and Canada compared

** I don’t know any women here who haven’t taken at least a full year off

Sources: NZ / Australia / UK / Canada

The older I get the more I realise NZ doesn’t actually do very well on this whole welfare state thing. But I’ve known that ever since 2009, when T’s employer went out of business. I was a student making maybe $15-20k a year between student allowance and work, absolutely nothing in a city like Auckland, yet he couldn’t get unemployment. There was no way I could support a partner too on that kind of money, but basically if one person is working at all, the other is SOL. (Thankfully he got a sympathetic case manager and something was worked out.)

Anyway, circling back to my original point… The prospect of kids is still terrifying in oh so many ways.  But I’m starting to feel ready to tackle it. If nothing else, this was oddly reassuring.

Choose both. Choose the career AND choose the baby. Don’t put off one for the other. Choose both now and later and accept that you’ll be juggling for years no matter what you do. Even if you never have a career, you’re going to feel like you’re juggling. Parents juggle. Why not juggle things you love? Sure, you’ll have to work hard and make some sacrifices. Accept it and move forward.

 

The hysteria around these choices is off the charts. People will say, “Oh lots of parents regret having kids, they just don’t tell you about it.” Or “Working women are miserable” or “Kids with working mothers are anxious and unhappy” or “Kids will destroy your career” or “If you can’t give your children every ounce of your energy you shouldn’t have kids at all” or “You can’t be a real artist and have kids” and all kinds of other completely black-and-white, fearful, conflicted nonsense. I’m not inside other people’s heads, but the close friends I have who are in good marriages (like yours) and have kids AND engaging careers are some of the happiest people I know.

Feelings, why you be so confusing?

i've been losing sleep dreaming about the things that we could be

Have you ever had to rethink something quite fundamental in your relationship? Had emotions/opinions you didn’t know you had start to reveal themselves?

Let me try and put some of these thoughts into a vaguely coherent order.

We’ve had joint finances to one degree or another for years. I’m not gonna lie; when I was benefiting from that arrangement – me studying and T working full time – it was great. He clocked a lot of hours and earned a good wage. I didn’t give it a second thought, though I was aware in the back of my mind that I’d be in a slightly tight spot if we broke up.

NOT that I would want to return to that state of affairs by any means, but right now the situation is reversed and it has been for a long time. While I’ve progressed steadily, he’s basically been treading water – particularly accounting for inflation. Highlights: A job that was meant to lead to apprenticeship and qualification, and even better money, evaporated in the GFC. Another job promised advancement and promotion but failed to deliver, so he quit outright when we went travelling. Upon our return, two jobs turned toxic and fizzed out suddenly. (The first of those could have seen him pulling in six figures…)

For the first time in awhile, there is no longer the shimmer of a high(er) income around the corner. The current state of affairs is not totally settled, so I won’t go into any detail, but it is not lucrative, nor is it likely to be. I’m cool with that – right now I just want consistency over everything else.

While I do consider all money ‘ours’, that hasn’t sat all that well with me lately, as I’ve had to support us both through months and months of unemployment – for the better part of a year, in fact. Over time I became quietly, seethingly resentful, and that’s an uncomfortable feeling to have.

We are a team. We’re married. I am well aware of this. As a work buddy wisely pointed out, the pendulum swings back and forwards at different times. Her relationship balance is about to swing as she stares down the barrel of maternity leave, and leaning on her fiance for financial support.

I’d always expected T to eventually return to outearning me, but the way things have panned out, it looks like I’m going to continue to be the main earner forever. Which is fine, since I’m also the more career-driven one. But I can’t honestly say this sits completely well with me either, and that’s a feeling I’m struggling to come to grips with.

One astute commenter on this fantastic post at A Practical Wedding, On Marrying Down, really nails this dilemma. I can’t put it any more succinctly than this:

I’m also the more career-oriented partner and I’ve struggled with the idea of “marrying down” in some ways. It’s hard for me not to judge my husband according to those social standards of how men are “supposed” to think about work. But the truth is that if he was as ambitious as I am it would probably produce a lot of strain navigating it. I just don’t know how to let go of my preconceptions about what I should want as a woman and make space for both of us to just be who we are.

It’s not like I grew up in a household that fell strictly along gender lines; as far as I know,  my mum has been the main earner for years, at least recently. Also, while I (consciously and unconsciously) chose a partner who is the opposite of my dad in every way, another weird way I’ve wound up emulating my parents is that our financial roles seem to be the same – the wife being the go-to money person. (The one difference is my dad spends nothing while T definitely like stuff.)

On the other hand, out in the working world I seem to be surrounded by women with higher earning partners – and in the spirit of full disclosure, the bitter half of me silently snarks ‘that must be nice’.

I guess I have a strongly ingrained sense of fairness geared towards total equality that runs deeper than I thought.

Here’s a silly yet telling anecdote. Our house always had a well stocked biscuit tin. When I was about 9 years old, it came to my attention that my little brother had been eating more biscuits than me. I started keeping count, my eagle eye trained on him and that cupboard. Let me tell you, he absolutely ripped through them. He got up into the  double digits within a few days. At that point, I complained to my mother, who told me to drop it and get over it. Sulkily, I complied – but that always stuck in my craw.

Well, in the words of Coldplay… Nobody said it was easy. Heck, even Farnoosh Torabi (author of When She Makes More) has said she’d love for her husband to be the breadwinner. It’s something I’ll have to work through and process this year, as the trauma of the past year hopefully fades.

More reading on this topic:

I make six figures, my boyfriend is a poet (Reddit)

How income disparity affects our relationship  (LearnVest)

The weaker sex (The Atlantic)

When love crosses class lines (The Billfold)

Will our class differences tear us apart? (The Awl)

Will you be better off than your parents?

There’s been lots of talk about how our generation may be the first to be worse off than that of our parents. I’m fairly certain it’s going to be true in my case, and Christmas really cemented for me how huge that gap is.

I swear, I am going to lose it if I hear one more thing along the lines of how we should just buy a house. For the love of god. Anyone who keeps up with the news knows what’s going on, and the latest round of updated council valuations backs that up. My parents’ property is now worth more than 3x what they paid for it – and that’s just the council valuation, which around here is always less than actual market reality. Have incomes also tripled/quadrupled/etc? No, no they have not. I’m not saying it was easy back then, but it is a hell of a lot harder now. There is no way I will have a paid-off house by my 40s in Auckland.

It was a hard year for me and T, and while our family are experts in Not Talking About Things, it doesn’t take a genius or a mind reader to figure out that we’re still nowhere near a down payment, particularly when I VERY OBVIOUSLY shut down the idea of affording a house every time the topic comes up (which has been constantly since we got back to NZ).

Look, there are some things my parents went through that I will never understand. Leaving home and going to university in a strange new country. Being denied promotion outright because of my skin colour, in the country of my birth. Reaching the point of frustration in my marriage where I’m making inappropriate disclosures to my teenage daughter (that’s what professional therapists are for, guys).

Likewise, they won’t understand the lack of job security today, or what it’s like to enter the workforce during a global financial meltdown. And to be fair, I’m not immune either. A growing part of me sometimes just wants to scream ‘how have you gone on that many interviews yet still don’t have a job? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?’

Really, I only feel comfortable discussing successes with them, and there haven’t been any of those to report on in a long time. Maybe it’s a terrible reason to avoid my family, but it’s a sanity-saving defence mechanism.

Rethinking how I see myself

‘Traveller, writer, dreamer.’

That’s the sum of my Instagram account bio.

But I’m starting to wonder if I can rightfully claim that last word.

I was definitely a kid who had her head in the clouds. A bookworm, a day dreamer, with one foot in fantasy land.

One year I came home with my report card, and one of my teachers’ comments was that I was ‘very practical’. We laughed about it, because how far off base was that?!

While we often laugh at dreamers for being off in their own world, on the flipside, I think we also frequently put them on a pedestal. Especially among creative types, we think practical = staid and boring.

But the older I get the more ruthlessly practical I become. I struck out on my own early and I’ve been fending for myself since.

The most surprising thing I learned about myself while travelling was how adaptable I can be. When I don’t have strict plans, I’m more than happy to go with the flow and not freak out no matter what happens.

That said, in my day to day life I am nowhere near as flexible. Normal life dictates planning, and when my plans are derailed I cannot pivot – I find it extremely hard to cope.

Where is this introspection going? I’m not too sure. I guess all I’m trying to say is I’m adjusting to a new perception of who I am (years late?) and how that makes me feel. My inner dreamer still lives, but she’s firmly encased in a thick armoured shell of pragmatism.

You know you’re getting old when…

You know you're getting old when...Your partner points out that you’re now closer to 30 than 20

You’re no longer the ‘baby’ at work – that title goes to someone who is all of 23 years old

You want to run out and throw rocks at loud cars passing by (and at people letting off fireworks nearby)

You seek out greenery to relax in, away from city life

You crave vegetables because your body will revolt if you don’t eat healthily enough

My tag line is ‘on the quest for health, wealth and happiness’. To be fair, it does qualify that with ‘not necessarily in that order’. But health has never been first on my list, in reality. And I think maybe that needs to change a little bit. I consider myself pretty in tune with my body. It’s thankfully always been pretty low maintenance, but is definitely demanding to be heard more and more lately. Some of that is no doubt stress related, but I suspect some is simply an age thing.

On accepting ambiguity: Black, white and all the yawning grey space in between

Crying in the bathroom then walking out like nothing happenedI made it through more than half a year of shouldering the entire burden of supporting our household, alone, without breaking down at work.

During wedding planning, it was flowers that tipped me over the edge. This time, it was waiting on some much needed money because T sent it to the wrong account number – not once but TWICE. The first money he’s earned in months, and it’s stuck in banking no man’s land. *insert every curse word that exists*

If I’m being totally honest with myself, I feel like I lost most of last year to depression and stress. I feel stuck.

There are always choices, even if they’re unpalatable. I have thought about how to get unstuck – separating at least temporarily, or even running away overseas. I’ve considered the options and decided continuing the status quo is the best one.

But I just want to be able to plan. I want to be able to make progress. I cannot set goals or progress towards them the way things currently stand.

I dislike ambiguity at work, too, but in many ways it’s baked into the nature of the job. I can handle it, I’ve learned to cope – but I hate dealing with ambiguity in my personal life.

So, no goals for me this year. Just stay sane and, to quote Dory, keep on swimming.

For the sins of our ancestors

All parents damage their children.

One of my earliest memories is being a helpless bystander to an argument between my parents. In particular, at the end of it, being told to choose which of them I wanted to live with.

It didn’t happen. For better or worse, they’re still together, decades on.

In some ways I’m not very good at being in a relationship. I guess I just am not all that good at partnerly communication. In my very first relationship, I became acutely aware of some of the ways in which I behaved and how those habits echoed those of my parents. Years on, I still struggle with those same issues.

Like it or not, I inherited that emotional tempestuousness. It’s probably a blessing in disguise that I struggle to get words out, because honestly, some of the ugly thoughts in my head in my worst moments should never be uttered. I know, even as they occur to me, how hurtful they are, and that they’re not necessarily fair. Succumbing to the heat of the moment would be awful. I don’t want to play that game.

Do you struggle with any particular traits you’ve inherited from your parents?

Leaps of faith: On stepping out into the unknown

leaps of faith nzmuseTwo years ago I was sick with wanderlust, chafing at the bonds of a reasonably awesome life and scared to risk it for adventure. T was a little sceptical and struggled at times but became a convert along the way.

A year ago I came home sated, knowing I’d made the right choice, and ready to get on with the next phase in life. I was content knowing that all things considered, there was nowhere else I’d rather settle down, with memories nobody could ever take away from me – even if, in the case of certain cuisines, those were bittersweet and unobtainable over here :)

It was a leap of faith, leaving. Leaving New Zealand with less money than projections suggested we needed to travel the way we want to travel, counting on earning enough on the road to sustain us. As life would have it, that aspect worked out almost eerily perfectly.

Thinking back, I’d been working up slowly to that big leap of faith. Baby steps.

Moving in with T, early 2007.

Signing on to be the head of a flat, with my name on the lease and relying on 2 other flatmates to pay the rent (which I’ll never do again), circa 2008.

Giving up a good, stable job for a new, riskier one in 2011 (the sign that sealed it for me was the office relocating essentially down the road from our house; I wouldn’t have taken a job at its old, out-of-the-way premises).

Changing industries this year (a series of signs pointed me in the right direction). I worried whether I would be happy; I thought there was a good chance, and my instincts were right – I never looked back.

And in July, we took another leap of faith, deciding T should quit a toxic job – before potentially being pushed out – with nothing else lined up.

It was less than ideal given it would make 2 short-term jobs in a row (the first having ended for reasons beyond his control) and the fact it had taken 3 months to land this one. Trusting that something would come up, and that being free of that mental burden was worth the hardship, was one of those tough calls you resign yourself to when you have an equal partner to consider.

This has not turned out the way I’d hoped so far, but I don’t necessarily regret this. Just hanging on to my core belief that things always eventually work out.

These past two years have been a rollercoaster, really. I never imagined marriage (in our case) would be so exciting – or stressful.

Awhile ago I stumbled across a blog named Surrounded by the Sound. Their last post is from 2013, two years after their return home from a yearlong RTW trip, and their experiences echo ours so very closely … Struggling with unemployment. Enjoying working for The Man and realising the peace that comes with being a steady employee. Relishing life, moreso than before we left. Amy sums up life Pre-Trip and Post-Trip beautifully:

The Trip, as it has become known, seems like a movie we watched about someone else’s lives, yet not a single day goes by without some memory or connection to our trip popping up in some fashion.

Like them, I think we may struggle to define our before-and-after lives. Odds are that our trip is going to be the most exciting thing we ever do; the time period from which we draw all our best stories. While that might come off sounding a little sad, I’m actually okay with it. I don’t need to live an extraordinary life. I want to live a happy life. And for me, that is largely a quiet life.

I don’t know what our next leap of faith will be or when it will come. But I’ve built up those risk-taking muscles and gotten used to gritting my teeth. I know I’ll need to draw on that again at some point, probably when I least expect it. Because … Murphy.

When did you last take a leap of faith?

When the darkness threatens to swallow you whole

When the darkness threatens to swallow you whole

It’s been well over 10 years since I first saw what real life cutting scars looked like.

I hadn’t known her all that long, but the one thing I did know was my friend, like me, was smart, thoughtful, mature and had a lot going on inside – it’s what drew me to her. I remember being shocked and feeling completely at a loss for the right thing to say.

They say that self-harm is usually about control. Taking back, or regaining a sense of power. I imagine the same is probably true of most other destructive behaviours, from domestic abuse to workplace bullying.

It’s something I’ve never been able to fully grasp. One of those things I got the concept of, on an intellectual level, but didn’t understand on a human level.

And then one day, not so long ago, I found myself sobbing in the car as storm winds outside buffeted the car. Gazing out from the marina over the harbour, where the sea changed from green to blue, as vehicles whizzed over the bridge to the right. As the gusts agitated the choppy waters, I thought about what it might be like to float away. As I gasped for breath, I felt unbearably hollow inside, like there was an empty, endless well of blackness where a beating heart should have been. With nothing there to anchor me in that moment, I suddenly got it. Feeling so utterly helpless and so overwhelmed by emotion, it dawned on me that this was what the kind of thing that would drive a person to turn those feelings inward.

It’s not an epiphany I ever counted on having. Not one I can say I am especially glad I reached, either. It scared the hell out of me.

This is probably where I pause to reiterate that no, I did not seriously contemplate hurting myself. I’m a wuss, I’m squeamish, and I’m vain. I cried like a baby the other day when I slipped and hurt my knee (which was one enormous mass of bruises for at least a week). I find all bodily fluids pretty revolting. I’m still bummed that my legs never fully recovered from all those bug bites in Asia.

The other realisation I had was that maybe I’m not as emotionally resilient as I thought. Oh, I hold it together all right. I’m a hell of a lot better at being an adult than I am at anything else. I have my grownup shit together and I can maintain it pretty easily. But when things are turning to custard, if you crack my surface, you are tapping into an endless pit of tears and despair. It’s hard to judge, of course, but I feel a well-adjusted person would probably be a fair bit more … stable.

It’s a pattern that’s repeated itself over the years. Thinking back to other hard times, I was similarly able to cope day-to-day by withdrawing into myself, but when things really got to be too much, I crumbled like sandcastles. Today, those months are a blur – really, there’s nothing to redeem them, and so I prefer not to revisit those times. There’s no point. I survived, and moved on.

We tend to view the past with rose-tinted glasses. Who wants to look back on a long list of sad or horrifying memories? It’s a sanity mechanism, really; otherwise we’d probably never have more than one child by birth or go on to other relationships after a first heartbreak.

I don’t really think there is a way for me to not feel so acutely. It’s just how I’m wired. For this reason, I try not to dwell. It’s a tricky thing, giving yourself the space to acknowledge and just feel those big, heavy things – without letting them take over and succumbing to them. Generally they don’t tend to respect office hours – metaphorically speaking – so it’s about keeping them on a tight leash. Tucking them away into a little corner and ignoring them, for the most part. Occasionally it all bubbles to the top, and a proper meltdown is then required, but as a rule, fencing them off is what works for me. If I let them fly free all the time, I simply wouldn’t be able to function properly.

When it feels like you’ve hitched your wagon to a losing proposition and everything is coming up tails, there simply isn’t the time to roll over and be swallowed by the darkness.

Going through this in my 20s: hard enough. I simply can’t imagine dealing with this kind of thing at 11, 12, 13, like my friend must have. And my personal darkness is purely situational. The sources of my misery are beyond my control, but shouldn’t last forever. I know the same is not true for everyone else.

The one thing I do know is hurting yourself is not the best way to deal.  When the chips are down, I write. Maybe for you, it’s talking to someone. Whatever your outlet is, find it.

Let’s talk about failure

… and success, and how we measure and perceive these things.

Every so often I see updates in my LinkedIn feed from someone I met through work a few years back. He’s reinvented himself a few times. Since I’ve known of him, there was a job that didn’t work out, a couple of entrepreneurial ventures (at least one of which folded) and he’s now landed in another different industry. It’s the type of job people don’t do for love and I realised that every time I see a post from him, I feel a little sorry for him.

On the most recent of these occasions, I paused and asked myself if he would want pity. Somehow I doubt it. He’s providing for his family. And ultimately, what is more noble than that?

Often, we don’t write about failure until we have moved past it and gone on to achieve great things. It makes everyone feel good – the writer can comfortably pat herself on the back and the reader gets a warm fuzzy shot of inspiration. It’s much rarer to read about from right there in the trenches, as it’s happening.

So far, T has failed to get back into sales (the kind he wants to do) – at this stage, odds are it’s just not going to happen – and massively expanded the job search parameters. I have to wonder… how many people (including myself) who say they would do any job, even at minimum wage, would actually be able to pull it off and get hired at such a job? You may not consider yourself above a low level job, but you’re not the one who gets to make the hiring decision.

I haven’t talked to people at work about the struggle I’m feeling. The panic of falling further financially behind every day. The mix of embarrassment and resentment of the current state of things. I listen to the struggles they discuss – their partners’ demanding jobs and stress levels – but it’s tough for me to sympathise. I’d hazard a good guess they’re running on around $150k household incomes (maybe more in some cases), both settled in their careers, not worrying about living in shoddy rentals forever. I know everyone has their own problems, and at least we are fortunate to have our health and some awesome travels under our belt.

The best pep talk I’ve read lately comes courtesy of Seth Godin:

Make two lists.

One list highlights the lucky breaks, the advantages, the good feedback, your trusted network. It talks about the accident of being born in the right time and the right place, your health, your freedom. It features your education, your connection to the marketplace and just about every nice thing someone has said about you in the last week or month.

The other list is the flipside. It contains the obstacles you’ve got to deal with regularly, the defects in your family situation, the criticisms your work has received lately. It is a list of people who have better luck than you and moments you’ve been shafted and misunderstood.

The thing is, at every juncture, during every crisis, in every moment of doubt, you have a choice. You will pull out one (virtual) list or the other. You’ll read and reread it, and rely on it to decide how to proceed.

We recently had a death on his side of the family, quickly followed by a birth just a fortnight later. Both incidents really helped me get some perspective (though I must confess, they also induced a teensy bit of panic too on the finance side).

Sometimes, though, it really seems like everyone else has managed to ride a straight path to success and we’re still mired in the squiggly line.