Friday, 29 June 2012

Claiming the Cost

So we got a letter from Canada Revenue Agency.  They have asked us to provide support for our claim of $21,000* in child care expenses from our 2011 income tax and benefit return. 
No problem.  We just need to fill out the Child Care Expenses Deduction form along with our Business Number, T4 Summary, and our nanny’s SIN, since we act as employers for the nanny who works in our home.
I know that the government needs to review income tax returns since it is a self-assessment system, but it just makes me wonder:
If they receive an income tax return for 2 full-time working parents in Toronto with 3 children under the age of 6, wouldn’t you assume that we’re paying for child care, and that we easily reached and exceeded the maximum amount?  Do I really need to prove it?

*$21,000 is the maximum amount we can claim for child care expenses for our 3 children.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Having it all

As I've mentioned before, I really am just an average working mom.  At least, I am an average employee:  I’m not in management.  I do a decent job.  I'm not terribly important.  For the most part, I’m OK with this.  But sometimes, I get into a bit of funk: 

I struggle with my professional purpose - I question my value as an employee versus my value as a mom.   I get discouraged with the day-in, day-out, and I wonder why I am fighting so hard, (or perhaps not fighting hard enough) to get to work each day, and to make my work worthwhile, while at the same time sacrificing a more present role in the day-to-day life of my children to a nanny with whom I not entirely pleased.  Would they be so sassy and emotional and cunning if it were me looking after them every day?  If I’m not making a significant impact to the world in a professional sense, perhaps my efforts and energies would be best focused on my children?  But could really be happy and satisfied looking after my three little munchkins all day, day after day…?

This past week, I was in such a funk.  While I’m sure that several successive hot, humid days, hot, restless nights and resultant crappy sleeps were significant contributing factors to my discouraged state, knowing the cause isn’t necessarily enough to alleviate the problem.

But, when I read "Why Women Still Can't Have It All", written by Anne-Marie Slaughter for the Atlantic, on the evening of a humidity releasing storm, my funk and the heat wave resolved almost simultaneously. 

Here's what I read in Anne-Marie Slaughter's article which made me feel better:

“Many of these women are not worried about having it all, but rather about holding on to what they do have.”

I don’t fit into Slaughter’s demographic of the “highly educated, well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place”.  I suppose it's possible that I could have aspired to be, but I never chose to pursue a graduate degree or a high-end profession that could have led me to a ‘leadership rank’, even before I started a family.  I’m not that driven, and I don’t think I want to be.  It’s not that I’m not worried about having it all, but I think I decided that I don’t really want it all anyway, even before I had children.

“To be sure, the women who make it to the top are highly committed to their profession.  On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of them have something else in common: they are genuine superwomen... These women cannot possibly be the standard against which even very talented professional women should measure themselves.  Such a standard sets up most women for a sense of failure.”
See.  I was right.  Those highly successful, government officials or leadership types really are exceptional people.  

“In Midlife Crisis at 30, Mary Matalin recalls her days working as President Bush’s assistant and Vice President Cheney’s counselor: … ‘I finally asked myself, “Who needs me more?" And that’s when I realized, it’s somebody else’s turn to do this job. I’m indispensable to my kids, but I’m not close to indispensable to the White House.’”
This really helps put things into perspective for me.  Not that I’m about to quit my job anytime soon, but when I’m having a frustrating time with work, it really does help to remember that to my kids, I am the most important thing in the world.

“Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s indefatigable chief of staff, has twins in elementary school; even with a fully engaged husband, she famously gets up at four every morning to check and send e-mails before her kids wake up.”
OK.  So maybe I can try harder to get out of bed earlier.  Maybe not at 4 a.m., and not for doing e-mail, but I’m sure I could adjust to an earlier start in the morning in order to fit in some reading or exercise… something that could help me feel as though I have more control over my day.

“Women who have children in their late 20s can expect to immerse themselves completely in their careers in their late 40s, with plenty of time still to rise to the top in their late 50s and early 60s.”
This really took the pressure off for me.  The idea that I still have almost 10 years to balance the care of a young family with my job before I will really be able to more thoroughly devote myself to a career.  Phew.  I never thought too much about how much time I still have for my career development.   In the next 10 years, I may even have time to get another degree or maybe change my path completely.  It was reassuring to know that there is still lots of time to figure it all out.

“One of the most complicated and surprising parts of my journey out of Washington was coming to grips with what I really wanted.”
Since I don’t think I really know yet what it is that I want, I should really stop stressing about it so much.  I guess I should be grateful for the family-work life balance that I have, enjoy the ride, and make the best of situation I have right now, in order to try to figure out what it is that I want anyway.

“It’s all fine and well for a tenured professor to write about flexible working hours, investment intervals, and family-comes-first management.  But what about the real world?  Most American women cannot demand these things, particularly in a bad economy, and their employers will have little incentive to grant them voluntarily.”
Wait.  I do have flex-hours, and a very family-friendly employer.  I am lucky to have the job that I have.  I really shouldn’t stress about these things.  I am fortunate and grateful.

Maybe I don't have it 'all', but for now, I think I have just enough.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Conversations, Interrupted

My kids have discovered Knock Knock jokes, but they don't yet quite understand how they work, or what makes a punchline funny.  We've been trying to give them some examples to improve their repertoire, and one of my favourites that my sister taught them goes like this:
  • Knock, knock.
  • Who's there?
  • Interrupting sheep.
  • Interrupting sheep w-
  • BAA!
Although the busyness of my children can sometimes be a welcome distraction for me when I find some social situations too awkward, it can also be an unwelcome inconvenience.  In times when I would really appreciate the chance to sit and chat, kid interruptitis often gets in the way of meaningful interactions with family and friends.
At family gatherings, I feel as though I rarely sit and really talk with my relatives.  There is always a mess to tidy or a disaster to prevent, or sometimes I seize the chance for a break while my family handles the brood.  And so, engaging in conversation with my aunts, uncles, in-laws etc seldom occurs.  And I see them so rarely to begin with.  It upsets me that I don’t know my family and extended family better; that I know little more about them than I hear from second-hand conversations with parents and siblings. 

When we gather with friends, it seems the chance to actually converse beyond the “how-are-things?” starter seldom surfaces.  Conversations get sidelined when there’s a potty emergency, or a sibling argument to contend with.  It can be exhausting to maintain any meaningful discussions, and easier to discuss bedtime routines and 6-year-old girl birthday party ideas.  I miss really talking with my friends, and finding out how things truly are.  And when everyone is so busy that get-togethers happen too infrequently to begin with, I hope that the lack of quality grown-up time together doesn't affect our relationships over time.

Yes, it's hard to feel satisfied after a family or friend visit with the kids.  How can parents really be present in these situations?  While there might be some guilt associated with not giving our full attention to the other adults, it is at least reassuring to know that most of us are in the same boat.   As long as we keep making the effort for the next couple of years, I'm hopeful that once the kids are a bit bigger and a little less demanding of our attention, we'll be able to continue our conversations, uninterrupted.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Hiding behind my children

Although we usually think of kids cowering behind their parents' legs, I sometimes feel as though it is me who is hiding behind my children. 
It's not that I'm unbearably shy.  But I certainly don't have an outgoing and gregarious personality.   Just like little children hiding behind their parents, it takes me a while to warm up to others and become relaxed enough to be myself around them.  Social situations can be uncomfortable and stressful - I worry about whether I've visited with and chatted to everyone, or if I’ve come across as being unfriendly and austere, and I hope I don’t come across as clumsy or gauche. 
Sometimes, I worry that I am socially awkward.  But, in ways that are both good and bad, having young children provides a way to hide.
In social situations with my children present, I can use my children as an excuse to limit the amount of mingling, chatting and socialising I do.  Having 3 young daughters to care for requires a lot of attention, so it is all too easy to hide behind the requirements of motherhood as a reason for not being more sociable.  The messes to clean up, keeping them busy and entertained so they don’t get out of hand, getting food and drink, making trips to the bathroom, their demands for attention and a platform to speak… a friend of mine calls it ‘kid interruptitis’.  It all takes time and energy away from the efforts I should be making to visit and talk with the others around me. 
And although it is simple enough to shield myself from awkward social situations by using my children as an excuse, I know that I shouldn’t rely on it.  I need to overcome this defence mechanism or I may never develop the social graces and relationship skills that would be of great benefit to me, both personally and professionally.
My workplace recently hosted a family social event, which seemed like a great opportunity to bring everyone’s worlds of work and home together.  I was excited to introduce my family and show how much the kids had grown since I last brought them into the office during maternity leave, and I was really looking forward to meeting the family and children of my colleagues.  It also should have been a good opportunity for relationship building.  But once we were at the group lunch, it felt as though I didn’t really see or talk to anyone at all.  I think my husband and girls did more socialising than me.  We sat with some friends, but it seems like I spent more time getting food and drinks and napkins than actually visiting.   And as families arrived and departed, I was too tense about avoiding any antics or tantrums to stay and mingle with my co-workers.   I hid behind my children.  I missed the opportunity to get to know my friends’ partners or kids, and to nurture relationships with my colleagues.

So even though the busyness of my children can be a welcome distraction for me in social situations, I know that it's something I shouldn't rely on.  Much like we encourage our children to come out from behind their parent's legs, I too will work on developing my social side.  After all, the kids are going to grow up eventually, and then who will I hide behind?