Often times the most obvious answers to our struggles are well within our reach. The challenge is to see the possibility. When I talk to fellow working mothers we often couch our quest for balance in terms of a struggle, a fight, a series of woes ignored by the employers that need us and the people around us. Caught up in the mess, I found myself miserable juggling chores, demands at work, juggling naps and child care schedules, and desperately wanting more time with my husband and friends. The hardest part for me was that in the midst of trying to figure it all out I searched outward for some alternative arrangement. Every conversation with another working mother revolved around trying to solve the mystery of how she accomplished the daily routine and the endless weekly to dos. I searched high and low for a tangible model to grasp onto. I was convinced that somewhere out there there must be a magic key to juggling day care pick up schedules, feeding the family, and working like I don't need the money. After a while I reached a startling conclusion: happiness is, and has always been, well within my grasp. During my commute to work one day I just decided that I was going to choose to be happy and fulfilled by this crazy working mom scenario. Instead of constantly fighting it, I decided to embrace it wholeheartedly for as long as it is mine. I reminded myself of all my many blessings. I replaced my frustration with my and my husband's inability to finish the "to dos" with compassion for what we both have on our plates. I started looking ahead to all of our hopes instead of worrying about what we are or are not doing now. Basically, I started checking every negative thought that crossed my mind and tried to temper those moments with a choice to think about things differently. I know how corny this sounds, but it has been 5 months and I am happier than ever. It worked!
And while I do not mean to suggest that every mom can somehow obtain a state of balance or bliss with a simple change of attitude, it sure doesn't hurt to check in with ourselves and consider whether a little change of attitude can't at least get us a little closer to happiness.
Not sure about everyone else, but I am still recovering from the holidays. Unlike my 20s though, it wasn’t the travel or the booze that beat me up. This year it was the obligations, the traditions, the dinners . . . all of which ended up feeling like a full time job! When I returned to the office on Monday, January 3rd, I was actually relieved for a little break from the chaos.
In past years, the holidays represented a break from the tiresome days of late nights, pressure, and deadlines at work. It was a bona fide excuse to put my electronic leash down and just walk away from my job and ignore it for hours, maybe even days! The holidays used to be time to snuggle up with my family, drink hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire, wrap and unwrap gifts, and have some simple fun. For the most part, the holidays still represent all of this to my daughter and my husband, but this time around they felt like a chore to me. It wasn’t that everything lost its magic, but it was that keeping the magic alive was harder than my full time job!
The family traditions that grew in my husband’s family over the last 20 years are beautiful. But they are not the traditions of a family with small children. They are the traditions of adults -- late dinners, wine, presents late on Christmas Eve, and big roaring fires. Through the eyes of the mother of a toddler they became events certain to stretch the limits of both my daughter and myself. This year I spent the holidays running interference on fire places with no safety screens, stair cases with no gates, piping hot ovens, hors d’oeuvre plates with all manner of choking hazards magnificently arranged, and glass ornaments hanging at exactly 2 feet from the ground. All of us were sleep deprived . . . sometimes because the events started approximately an hour after my daughter’s bed time, and sometimes because it simply did not cross aunty’s mind that turning on the lights in the spare bedroom and flushing the guest bathroom toilet would wake the baby. By the end of the holiday season, I declared that I was starting a new round of family traditions that were kid friendly and the rest of the family could come see the baby on the baby’s terms next year. Meanwhile, my husband declared me the Grinch who was trying to steal his family’s Christmas traditions. In just three short days I found myself wanting a vacation from the holidays. It was hard on me, it was hard on my baby, and even my husband found himself incredibly frustrated with the tension between his family’s insistence that the baby join the party and their total lack of common sense regarding all things baby. He even said of some of the relatives, “it is hard to believe they are parents.”
We are still at an impasse on the future of Christmas. I want to focus on the simple stuff like silly footed PJs with snowmen on them and baking cookies. I want to read Santa Mouse by the fireplace (with a safety screen) and share hot chocolate for dessert. I want to stay in my PJs until noon and play with all the new toys on Christmas morning. And most of all, I want to relax and spend the time working less, not more. My husband cannot imagine Christmas as anything but what he has known for decades, while I continue lobbying for a new rendevous with Santa. I can’t help it. I am the one putting together outfits, meals to-go, back-up plans, presents, and all the other things that go into pulling it all off. My husband doesn’t even notice how many times he has loaded and unloaded the car or carried everything but the baby down the stairs because he is just focused on the fun. In a way I think he has the Christmas spirit more than I after it all, but no matter how much I try to get on the same page as him I am finding I am simply scrooged. And although I am not the “my way or the highway” type, I think Santa is going to back me up on the idea of reinventing Christmas – at least some of it – so that it is truly our very own to enjoy, not survive.
TIME Magazing published this article today about the outcomes of the children of working moms: http://healthland.time.com/2010/10/18/working-moms-kids-turn-out-fine-50-years-of-research-says/
PHEW! I think every mother often reflects on whether they are doing what is right for their children when they go back to work. We all go back to work for a variety of reasons, but one thing never really changes -- we love our children dearly. This study won't inform every aspect of our own situations, but it sure is nice to know that my child is not doomed by my choice to return to work.
Hope you all enjoy the article!
There has been a lot of news about working mothers, the pay gaps, which employers are best suited for working mothers, etc. Here I am, a working mother, and I have to say, the problem baffles me. I just read this story on MoneyWatch (http://moneywatch.bnet.com/saving-money/blog/family-finance/working-moms-yes-youre-paid-less/3159/) and this one on Business Week(http://www.businessweek.com/careers/workingparents/blog/archives/2009/06/the_motherhood.html) considering why working mothers earn less than women without children.
What baffles me about the whole issue is that when I read the comments on blogs or websites from readers, all of them are focused on perceptions about what a working mother accomplishes versus her peers and what she should be compensated for that work. Many comments reflect a view that they perceive the working mother as a slacker who doesn't work as many hours as they do or as hard as they do and therefore doesn't deserve to be paid equally.
In my particular case, I do not earn less . . . yet. But immediately I am having to accept the fact that I have to adjust my approach to my job and my career, and I suspect by child number two I will finally take a real hit. My husband and I participate equally in managing our household and caring for our child and we are very committed to our careers. But there is a big difference for both of us in terms of the impact of our new parenthood status. My husband is supported at work, and his company offers benefits to him as a parent that are invaluable to make sure he is given tools to allow him to take care of his child and his job. When my husband has to juggle the responsibilities, he is offered flexibility and he is not judged negatively for having to stay home to care for his daughter, but rather he is honored for his sacrifice and contribution to his child.
That is not my reality. For me, the bottom line in terms of my compensation will not depend on the quality of my work product, my contribution of billable hours to the firm's bottom line, or the satisfaction of my clients. On all of these things I match or exceed the standard in comparison to my peers. It will depend on the values of the people for whom I work. My managers who have families or share my values recognize my hard work and my skills and treat me like an equal. My managers who do not have children react angrily when I tell them I cannot take on an additional assignment or that the deadline they propose is not realistic -- I perceive that in their minds they don't understand why I can't just pull a week of all-nighters to do whatever it takes. For my part, I am torn. I want to be a team player and I hate seeing my peers abused with endless assignments, impossible deadlines, and zero respect for their needs outside of work. On the other hand, I find myself grateful that my new life as a mother has offered me the perspective to realize that my career cannot be sustained as a series of work-till-I-drop sprints in the midst of what is already a double-marathon every day. My work product is excellent, and I contribute intellectual capital to all the cases I work on. I am also more efficient than many of my peers and I work very hard. But I am putting my foot down more often and instead of allowing my supervisors to overload me with work that I can never hope to actually complete I am saying "no" to attempting the impossible at the cost of my family, my health, and my sanity. Instead of just working day-to-day, I now have a long-term perspective on my career, and that is a positive regardless of my parenthood status.
So what is it that makes the working mother worth less to those commenting on the web (who sadly, reflect mainstream social thought more than I would care to acknowledge)?
From where I sit, parents are incredibly valuable to our society -- the creators and caretakers of our collective social capital -- the generators of tomorrows scientists, teachers, farmers, lawyers, doctors, businessmen, athletes -- they are responsible for our future. Yes, I chose to participate in our future. Yes, I view my responsibilities to educate, mentor, and provide for my daughter very seriously. I suspect that all parents who also work in professional jobs are attempting to raise competent, balanced, healthy little members of our society. I accomplish a lot every day, at work and at home. More importantly, I am not contributing less to my job when one analyzes me based strictly on numbers, but I am much more proactive about managing my managers and my caseload so that I do not burn out. So what is it that makes me worth less? Is it really that I can't just be a "yes" man anymore? It certainly isn't about whether I measure up intellectually to my childless counterparts. Is it that we do not believe everyone, with or without children, should be supported in living a sustainable life and participating in both a challenging career and nurturing a family?
What I don't get is why we aren't talking about the measuring stick itself?! We aren't really talking about whether working mothers can do as good of a job as their male counterparts, we are talking about whether working mothers can call home last minute and tell their spouse they won't be home for dinner . . . again. We are talking about whether working mothers can put in 50 or 100 hours a week and still manage a household. We are talking about whether working mothers have someone at home to do the laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, clean the house, make cupcakes for a kindergarten class and decorate for the holidays. We are talking about this balance in terms of gender, and so we talk about working mothers and not working parents. If we ever manage to make the collective social shift to truly dividing the household management equally among both men and women, then I suspect that, consistent with the Businessweek article, what we might really see is a pay gap between parents and non-parents. But right now, motherhood is a gender issue -- plain and simple. There are exceptions -- wonderful, beautiful exceptions -- but as long as mothers disproportionately carry the burden of "balancing" their jobs and their family's needs, we are going to be talking about the pay gap between men and women.
Yes, I "chose" to have children. And yes, if you asked me to choose between my children and my career, I would choose my child. But in the social context of our current economic state and the reality that most households need two incomes to make ends meet, how can we continue to treat parents, and especially mothers, who have valuable intellectual capital as marginal citizens when the truth of the matter is that they have already given us something extraordinary that no brown-nosing, "yes" man, work-a-holic could ever hope to accomplish in a lifetime on the job: a future.
Every so often one discovers a miracle in a bottle or a jar. In this case, I found mine in a tube that fits in any travel bag. Between the hormones and the fatigue, my skin visibly changed post-baby and I really struggled with keeping my face clear and fresh. After trying several exfoliating treatments on the market, I stumbled upon Kate Somerville's ExfoliKate. This treatment works. It REALLY works. And the BEST thing about it is that you can apply it in the shower. Perfect for the time-crunched working mom! I use it 2-3 times per week in between my shampoo and my conditioner, and my skin has never glowed like it does now. My face is as soft as Olivia's when I emerge from my Kate showers. It's been four months for my face since Kate Somerville first entered my life and I can truly say that now that I've found her, I just can't imagine life without her. Thanks Kate!
Available at: http://www.katesomerville.com/
More great news for the working mother -- see who made the top 100 companies for working mothers:
The National Law Journal
Lower productivity is one theory as to why female partners at law firms earn less on average than their male counterparts. But it's not true, according to research by law and business professors from two universities. "Our data show that women partners outperform their men counterparts," they wrote. "If these women are underpaid and undervalued in terms of rank despite their conformity to a lockstep pattern, the inequalities could be due to intentional discrimination."
I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it.
The first child surely finds a way
to change the way we live our days
mostly for good
though if I could
some things would never go away
In the life of the working mom
nothing quite supplants the f-bomb
it’s used to profess
our level of stress
so we can go home cool and calm
now I mourn the four-letter word
and the fist, and the honk, and the bird
I never knew
I would bid them adieu
‘til the day something shameful occurred
on the day our baby could walk
it turned out he also could talk!
a parrot on cue
he chirped one F – U
and left mommy and daddy in shock
my message to parents out there
someday you will learn not to swear
even habits this deep
you’ll replace with a beep
the day you have your little scare