When a Career Woman Becomes a Mom

Let me preface this post by saying that I've never been what you would call a "feminist". For a long time it was even a stretch to call me "girlie". I was the only girl born to either side of my family among all my cousins. I hated dolls. My best friends in high school were guys. Even when I made global news about breast milk pumping in airports, I was speaking up out of frustration over the lack of basic facilities for handling a bodily fluid need, not to declare a women's rights war over the sexualization of women's breasts (to clarify: I don't have a position one way or the other here, just that whatever works for a mom and her hungry baby is what matters). I say this just to set the stage for where I've come from in my perspective on this topic. 

There's an unrest among many women in my position. We are career women who have embarked on parenthood. We have heard and embraced the ideas of, "if you can dream it, you can do it" or, "the old rules around women and their place in the home and society have changed - take advantage of the doors the women before you have opened and define your own path." We have done just that.

I grew up with this mindset, no holds barred. Anything a guy could do I could do better, and I had the best of both worlds as far as I was concerned. I could tumble like a boy, but then squeal and refuse to eat the worms they dug up by virtue of being a girl. There wasn't anything I wanted to do but couldn't because I was a woman, and I worked hard to live without any regrets in wondering what I could achieve. I went to the best school I got into and accepted the best job offer from the best company I received upon graduation. I went on to live in several of the best cities in the world and eventually got a job at a company ranked #1 in the world for "Best Place to Work". Because that's what you do, I thought. In my lifetime women had the same rights as any man, so I had no excuse but to live that way thoroughly and strive to enjoy the same level of accomplishment that any man could. I never felt a sense of obligation to do it because I was a woman, I did it because I was striving like any young adult would in the effort to pave my own way to the "American Dream."

Thinking Ahead

As for planning for a future family, well, I didn't really. I was never someone who envisioned my wedding day or pre-named my future children. It's not that I didn't want to get married or have children, or that I thought girls who did envision these things were wrong. I just didn't want to wait longingly for something that God may not have planned for me. What if He intended for me to be single and I wasted my whole life wishing for a husband? What if He didn't intend for me to have kids and I built my whole life around having them? I loved kids and was always attracted to caring for them, but I didn't mentally prepare myself to have some of my own. 

In part, I was too busy working on my career. Some colleagues were parents, but if they were they often found daycares that were open for more than 12 hours a day, had live-in au pairs, or would dart out of the office at 4:30PM while the rest of us silently (and ignorantly) grumbled. I was rewarded for giving my all and working endless hours, but if I ever pushed back with personal boundaries on my schedule or task overload I was swiftly reminded of the sacrifices of the career women around me. The female manager that missed her childbearing years for her career wasn't going to let me off the hook to leave work in time for a date. The female supervisor that was sour about someone else raising her children via daycare wasn't interested in my work-life balance efforts. If they were going to sacrifice to be where they were, I sure as hell would have to as well.

Luckily for me, God did have both marriage and a child in His plans for me. This week my amazing little girl turned 18 months old. She is full of smiles, is busy learning words, has big plans to convince us to take her outside, and loves kitty snuggles (read: whaps). I look at her with awe and gratitude, especially when the buzz of the day winds down and I fill my free moments looking back at pictures of her. My husband and I stare at the baby monitor while she sleeps and say over and over, "she's such an angel". And we believe it with our whole hearts. She is an angel, a gift, and a life-altering wonder.

My Cup Overflows

Here's the thing... I'm stuck. I'm a career woman and a mother. Read that again. I'm a career woman and the all-encompassing nature of what that means. I'm a mother and the all-encompassing nature of what that means. I'm both. This sounds like "having it all", and that's certainly true in some ways, but the reality is that my cup overflows... life is streaming down the side of my cup and into a puddle on the floor where it gets run through and stomped on and lapped up by the cat. It's chaos. Abundant. But chaotic. And the crazier thing is there are other women that I know have it harder than I do. WAY harder. Multiple kids, kids that are high needs, single moms, moms that work for an hourly wage that is lost when a kid is sick, moms who rarely see their kids because the family needs a second income to get by, or hopeful moms who can't wait to conceive after years of trying. I'm not any of these moms, and I struggle. I have my mom nearby for part of the year and I struggle. I enjoyed an incredible 6 month paid maternity leave and I struggle. I have a little angel child that sleeps better than I ever imagined and an amazing, supportive husband who runs home from work when I need back up and I still struggle. Why do I struggle? Because I'm a career woman and a mother. I'm both. And neither relents for the other. 

I'm not alone, but it certainly feels like it when I'm asking for flexible work hours or having to dart from the office to care for my sick baby. I'm not the only one, but it feels like it when my colleagues wonder why I'm missing happy hour, again. The questions around my commitment to my career-woman responsibilities start to rise, so I shift my attention back to work. Only moments after my daughter sees my wandering eyes looking towards my laptop does she find a way to break a rule and win back my attention.

The Good Fight

The career-woman mother still has to choose between the two. I know career women that continue with their careers and come to a partial peace with putting their kids in day care. They field emails by day and wage daycare-germ wars at night. Warriors. I know career women who leave their well-earned careers and fully commit to being a mom and a housewife. They agonize over the pull between their love for their child/family and the deep fear of being left behind in the work world. Soldiers. I also know women who decide to leave the office and create their own businesses while working from home (with or without childcare help at the same time), hoping to achieve the ideal balance of being a mom while contributing to the world through a passion or cause. Heroes. When we all come together in a rare moment of connection, we look at each other with a cocktail of emotions, mixing trepidation, comparison, connection, and compassion. We are all torn. The many hours of sweat and tears poured into our careers are hanging in the back of our minds while we relate to each other about the very real adjustments of parenthood. We ask each other how we are handling the changes, and none of us really can say with confidence that we feel settled. If we are vulnerable, we commiserate and look at each other without a solution. We, the answer finders, the do-it-all and let-no-hurdle-stop-us workers, we find ourselves at a loss, baffled that in this day in age we are still so far from a solution. We say with enthusiasm, "There's got to be a way to make this better!" "Maybe we should team up and start a business to help other career woman who are also moms." We race through ideas and feel connected in the conflict. 

But when we part ways, we go home, feed our babies, dunk the spaghetti-sauce-covered kids in the bath, read stories with different voices for each animal, and rock and sing our kiddos to sleep. We snuggle them just a bit longer and feel grateful to be a mom, sneak out of their room and head to the kitchen, corralling the remains. And then we grab our laptops and tablets and reignite our minds with ideas, work, articles and trainings. We squirrel through our to-dos, realize laundry is still sitting in the washer and wish there were more hours in a day. We think back about how women before us kept their homes immaculate and kids well fed and dressed, and we can't help but wonder if it would be better to go back to a time where there wasn't the temptation to mother and work. With a pang of guilt, we wonder. We would never want to give our babies back for our careers. We also can't fathom a life without the intellectual invigoration of being able to dream big and achieve goals like our male counterparts do. While we aren't the first generation to have the luxury of choice, we are one of the first to have the option to pursue any career we like and don't have the societal guarantee of being a mom and a housewife. This is a double edged sword that seems to have more vivid pain points than ever before as the family unit struggles and women start to put their foot down in search of a better way.

What We Preach

From my perspective, there are two important pieces that are missing to make "a better way"; a larger recognition of how much things have changed for women and how little has changed around them, as well as an honest conversation about what will never change because it was by God's design of women. I look back at myself as a younger woman and wish there was an emphasis both on how I could do anything and how I was made with an incredible gift to bear children and the responsibilities it brings. I wish I was encouraged to grow both gender neutrally and gender specifically. Where there were conversations about feminism and women's rights, I wish there was less focus on women being treated like men and more focus on how the design of women gives them a different strength and daily demand - one that men will never get to fully experience and one that requires a different way of working. And I wish that in discussions about things like government-mandated maternity leave we can recognize women aren't asking for an exception (or in some people's eyes, women being entitled to paid vacation *eye roll*), it is women needing society to wake up and realize that they can't have women and mothers in the workplace without the workplace supporting the true form of who women and mothers are. We women are privileged, we are capable, but we are also limited just as men are limited. Stay-at-home husbands still can't carry a child for 10 months, birth them, breastfeed them, or answer the cry of "mama!"

The Result

So, here I am. Mother of one. Employee at the #1 "best place to work" with a generous maternity leave and an 80% work arrangement that is supposed to provide "flexibility". Still torn in two. After 18 months of my sweet girl's life, I have realized that no company - even the "best" one to work at - can take away the sting that a mom feels when she leaves her baby with someone else while she goes to work. Or the punch she feels when she gets a mediocre performance rating at work because she can't compete with her non-mother or sacrifice-all-mother counterparts. I look at my family and realize that there's a need for me that no one else can fill as the mom and wife. My career, despite all it has given me in experiences, colleagues, travel, and accomplishments, is limited compared to the gratifying peace of knowing that my family is cared for, well fed, bills are paid, cat is spayed, Daniel Tiger is played, dinner is made, because at home I've stayed. Even if I don't do any of those things, I'm still a hero just because I'm a mom who kisses boo boos and sings silly songs. Who breaks out the finger paint during the day and scrubs it off the couch at night. Who packs the diaper bag with snacks, toys, books, blankets, sunscreen, tissues, bandaids, wipes, hats, gloves and lovies better than Mary Poppins. Who wears workout pants like they are jeans and just might also call them her pajamas to make it all happen in a day. And who fears, deeply, that the identity she built and the blood, sweat and tears she poured into the career she left will fade too quickly away behind diaper cream and sticky handprints on the coffee table. That her social life will be limited to mommy gab of diaper blowouts and Pinterest recipes. And that the day she does try to return to her career roots she will get a judgmental scowl at the "gap in employment" listed on her resume. 

Despite these fears, I'm taking a leap from my career-woman post and gambling that I'll find a way; at least a way that's better than the grind of trying to do both. I'll support my husband's efforts to provide for us financially, and he is supporting my part-time involvement with a nonprofit that keeps my mind active and my soul fed. I will teach my little girl that motherhood and being a career woman both have their place in different life seasons. I will strive to empower and encourage other career-woman moms when they feel disconnected from their former selves. Most of all, I'll never cease to support the progression of finding "a better way," knowing that my daughter too will be capable, driven, and a potential mother facing the same questions. May we progress to a place where women give each other a hand in this struggle (rather than compete), where the work world accommodates both a man and a woman's schedule, and where the decision to bear and raise children is seen as a gainful, beautiful choice that only enhances a woman's ability to achieve her full potential.

As a side note, please do let me know what resources, companies, or organizations you've found that focus on supporting the modern version of a career woman who mothers! Let's support and build them up!

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