26 November 2017

Dealing with the Advice of Others

My decision-making skills has been called into question a lot since I moved to the Czech Republic.

The list of topics for which I've received unsolicited advice since moving here is extensive and includes:
  • Wearing of hats (children),
  • Wearing of hats (self)
  • Saying 'Na shledanou' ['Good bye'] with sufficient emphasis on the 'h'
  • Proper preparation of American Thanksgiving food
  • Ways in which I can make myself more attractive (losing weight, primarily, although apparently my posture is also causing offense)
  • Advisability of having pets (advice is fairly evenly split)
  • The right pet for me (a dog, personal preference be damned!)
  • The correct number of children to have
  • The correct gender of children to have (girls, it seems, although I have no complaints)
  • Proper care of husbands
  • Proper care of houses
  • How long my holiday abroad should be
  • The correct way to smile in a photograph (not to, apparently)
  • Care and feeding of children (many subcategories).
One category has grown exponentially in the last few months in particular: Mothers' working full-time, acceptability of.

This is a very round-about way of getting to the reason I haven't posted recently: I have a new job! It's incredibly interesting, rather challenging, and for a multinational corporation that you may have heard of. I have benefits! A career path! Lovely colleagues and a decent pay check! A budget that allows us to fix our roof and visit the American family more.

The hours are sometimes quite long - Multinational You Might Have Heard Of has something of a reputation for this. The commute is annoying. L and I spend a lot of time organizing logistics. But, overall, we're happy with the current state of affairs and the boys both seem settled and content. Smallest adores his nursery teachers. Smalls is full of envy of my security badge.

That's my perspective on the situation, but you'd get a very different view from some of the Czechs around me - without even having to ask!

'But surely you're not on the way to work?' one of our neighbors asked me last week, as Smallest and I waited for the bus. 'And full time? No, he's much too young.' [Looking at Smallest and sucking at her teeth.]

My neighbor is by no means the only person to respond this way. While I am a studious keeper of lists and accounts of wrongs against me [not one of my best traits, for sure], I must admit that even I have lost track of the number of people who have called into question my decision to work. Friends (though fortunately not too many), family, acquaintances, strangers - all categories have members who are loudly shocked and disapproving.


As an amateur researcher of culture behaviors and norms, I find this fascinating. In the UK, it was very normal for women to return to work a year or so after giving birth. In the US, a year of maternity leave would be considered exceptionally luxurious.

On the other hand, the Czech Republic provides an incredibly generous maternity and parental leave offer. Or offers, rather. Parents have the choice of 1,2,3 or even 4 years at home with each child.

While the Czech government gives many options, it seems Czech society is (in generally) less flexible. From my (many!) conversations on this subject, the general consensus seems to be that mothers who would return to work before a child is 2.5 or 3 years old has quite possibly forgotten they have said child and should be reminded of this fact with the appropriate levels of shock and severity.

Neglected and most-likely forgotten, Smallest (sans hat) forages for zucchini in the garden.  

I am at a loss as to how to respond. My natural response is to pleasantly nod to most advice and then do my own thing. However, this response tends to bring with it a host of negative feelings ('I did have a hat for him, silly woman - he just refused to wear it!' 'Does he really think I'm not trying my best with the blasted Czech 'h'?' 'Does he really think I'm an awful mother?') which eat away at me for the next few days.

Considering the sheer volume of incoming judgement and advice lately, this strategy is leaving me a little too well-nibbled by the negative feelings.

So, a new approach is necessary and I find myself asking a questions I thought I'd never have to ask:

Do you have any advice?

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