In talking with my clients and friends, it seems there’s one wish most of us have in common: to “have it all”. We want quality time with our kids, to be a real, caring, patient mother. We also want a career – not just a job, not just to help with the family finances, but something fulfilling – a purpose. If not our mothers, certainly our grandmothers were expected to feel that being a mother was purpose enough. And it is. But even my grandmothers worked outside the home when their children were older. Womanhood, and motherhood, is fraught with changing seasons. Sometimes we can work this to our advantage. Because I didn’t have kids until my 30’s, I had already been Mary Tyler Moore or Ally McBeal, the independent career woman. I chose to stay home with my kids, feeling that I’d waited a long time for this experience, and I wanted to enjoy it fully.
That decision was immensely rewarding and unexpectedly difficult. I missed interacting with other adults. I felt guilty that I wasn’t contributing financially. However, I knew it was a season, and that I would go back to work as soon as my kids were in school. I was a teacher, so I assumed this would be somewhat easier than it is for many working moms; after all, I would basically working the same hours and days that they were in school. This worked well when I was an Instructional Coach because I didn’t have any “take home” work. However, when we moved for my husband’s career, I landed back in the classroom, which was much harder. I felt like I had to make an almost nightly choice between helping my kids with their homework or doing mine – lesson planning and grading. In the end, I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job anywhere: I was emotionally drained, all my patience used up at school and none left for the two kids dearest to me – my own. And I felt like I was always behind at work – that I could always be working harder, doing more. It wasn’t working. Something needed to change.
This is the dilemma of so many working moms: how to have a fulfilling, rewarding career, and be a fantastic (not just ok) mom to their kids. But there are inevitable trade-offs. Rewarding careers often require a lot of commitment. Is it possible to “have it all”? Maybe not in the purest sense. There are only 24 hours in the day, and we must make choices about how we spend them. That being said, when we stop to really examine our priorities and we’re willing to sacrifice a few things that don’t measure up, we can come very, very close. Employers are becoming more and more open to alternative working arrangements; a couple of my close friends negotiated a job-share when their kids were little so that they could each work half-time and spend the other half at home. More and more companies are open to telecommuting or offering more quality childcare options. Also, many women are figuring out how to work from home. While writing this post, I ran across an infographic stating that “96% of professional women believe having it all is attainable”. With that kind of optimism, surely many women have figured this one out.
In the next few weeks, I’ll post some questions to ask yourself when planning your ideal work/family balance, and ideas for making it a reality.