In a recent article for The Guardian, Hannah Rosin interviewed Emily White, a Facebook executive, who noted that our lives are no longer about work/life balance, but rather the work/life “merge.” Much like women in high-power executive positions, women in architecture (and particularly mothers) similarly must learn how to negotiate never-ending demands – from the workplace and the home – on a daily basis.
Samara Greenwood discusses this difficult “work/family equation” below. You can find the full, un-edited version at Parlour: Women, Equity, Architecture, If you like this post, you may also enjoy Work/Life/Work balance, by Andrew Maynard.
My own motherhood + architecture adventure began six years ago – so far, it has been a pretty wild ride. There are times I have felt invincible, like I’ve found the magic key to a brilliant life. But more often than not life has felt out of whack, like something wasn’t quite right. Again and again, I’ve attempted to put my finger on the problem, to find the missing piece of the jigsaw. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I don’t.
I don’t think I am alone.
For me, the challenges began right from the start. When I first fell pregnant I left my job as a project architect to do the sole practitioner thing. While at first I enjoyed the freedom and flexibility, I found once my daughter was born I became consumed with motherhood.
For a while, my world shrank to a circle of three and I was in heaven, well except for the crying, the lack of sleep and the poo.
As my ‘baby bubble’ passed, I began teaching design part-time at my old university. While my daughter was young I found the defined hours, the straightforward nature of the work and the energetic student interaction ideal.
However, project work soon called and I felt ready to go back, or so I thought. In reality I found the demands of working by myself on long term projects conflicted harshly with the needs of my fresh young family.
While I was attempting to resume my practice, my husband was running his own IT consultancy and his hours and travel were intense. I found I was stretched finding time to work, arrange child care and keep the usual household gaff in order. The line between work and home became blurred and stressful.
Even with the best husband in the world, I felt lonely, useless and exhausted.
Eventually, a series of family tragedies found me at the brink of emotional collapse. I gave up all project work (well, except our house renovation) to focus on myself and my family. If you had asked at the time, I probably would have said I was leaving architecture for good. My husband also reduced his hours to spend more time at home during a very difficult period.
I’m pleased to report that, with the birth of our second daughter and the completion of our long term renovation, things are decidedly rosier. Now my youngest is turning one and I have made the unexpected decision to turn my ‘casual sole-practitioner thing’ into a true practice and this time I’m not trying to do it alone.
So far it feels great, but perhaps I’m just a glutton for punishment.
It certainly helps that my husband and I are now able to be far more creative with our work/family arrangements. At the moment our routine has him working mornings while I take afternoons. While the details will need to change soon enough, I am thrilled with the ‘sweet spot’ we have found in this moment.
Now my eldest is at primary school I can see there will be a day when this architecture + motherhood thing won’t be quite so complex. But for the moment keeping the work/family equation in happy balance is an ongoing project for us all.
Despite the immensity of the challenge I know it is worth it and in fact I feel a better person and architect because of it. I am more patient, I say no to things more often. I am learning to listen to my intuition and to work through issues rather than around them. Best of all I have developed an amazing confidence in my ability to tackle the future, whatever it may bring.
Architecture + motherhood may be a difficult beast, but I am finding it a beast worth taming.
Story via Parlour: Women, Equity, Architecture