Thursday, July 17, 2008

on working and motherhood

one reads constantly in the newspaper and in magazines, in books and of course all over the blogosphere about mothers stressed out from trying to have it all. there seems to be a whole movement of educated moms who are opting out of the workforce to stay at home with their kids. these übermoms seem to look down on those moms who choose to remain on a career track, just as working women once looked down on stay-at-home moms. it seems that position has shifted, at least in North America, if not quite yet here in Denmark (where the cost of living reality mandates a 2-income household). i've heard some whispers of it coming from the other side of the sound in Sweden and the article from atlantic monthly that i linked above actually does reference Sweden.

simply the whole need people seem to have (especially on scrapbooking blogs) to declare what kind of mom they are with a series of letters WHOSM, MOUWSH, MWHDOH or whatever they are, is but a symptom of it (*magpie, please please don't take offense, i'm not targeting you here, it's everywhere on the 'net). what is really wrong with being a mom and having a fulfilling career? why has it come to a point where we feel we should apologize for that?

my daughter is 7 and i have felt, even since the very beginning, where she was born 10 weeks early and we lost her twin sister when i became gravely ill with the first case of listeriosis in denmark in 25 years, that i would be so much more for her as a mother if i devoted some of my brain to work on a regular basis.

for 3 and a half years, i had a rather high-powered and stressful job. and by stress i mean real stress, not whiney newspaper, oh-goodness-call-my-coach-because-i-can't-figure-out-how-to- live-my-life stress. like having way too many tasks and not enough resources (people-wise or time-wise) to do them all kind of stress. like not having time to pee during the day kind of stress. but, i really loved so many things about the job. especially that i traveled a good 150 days last year. all over the world.  

through it all, i wasn't a perfect mom, but my daughter, who grew from a 4-year-old to an amazing, smart and strong 7-year-old, thrived. i took her with me when i could (she got to go to manila four times and singapore once in three years), a result of which she is a total hotel snob. she was accustomed to my being away, as she hadn't ever really known any different (in my previous job, i was in the US at least one week a month). 

yes, i bought my way back into our home after each trip, bringing her something from each location--an olympic pencil case from beijing, some little beaded animals from cape town, a gap sweatshirt from london or tokyo, a totally cool lunchbox from busan. trying to teach her along the way that having something unique that not everyone else has (arguably this isn't true of gap sweatshirts, but since there's no gap in DK, it is here) is something to be valued. and teaching her that travel is to be valued.

the hard part of my previous job wasn't the travel, it was when i was in the office. it was mandated that one had to be there 8:30-5. this meant that with my hour-long train ride each way, i could never be the one to pick her up and i was rarely the one making dinner. many days i didn't get home in time to eat dinner with her and my husband. i was usually home by bedtime, so i could read to her, but it admittedly wasn't enough time together.

it made us feel like we couldn't waste our weekends and that was stressful. i would feel a bit panicked if all that laundry wasn't done on sunday evening, not really knowing how to face the week without it in order. but, for the most part, it all hung together and the happy moments far outweighed the unhappy ones.

now, i'm in the luxurious position of having a great job that i love, traveling (less than before, but still enough for me to feel happy), being able to work mostly at home, so that i am here to hear about sabin's day and pick her up after school and make dinner together with her (got my new stove installed this week!). so, it is possible to "have it all," but sometimes you have to put in the hard work for a time to put yourself in a position for it--to gain a reputation that will allow you the luxury of being able to design such a solution.

the hard work i put in on the career front also enabled me to raise a confident little girl who fearlessly got on a transatlantic flight by herself 3 weeks ago and will get on one again to come home this sunday. so we both benefitted from my pursuit of a career. would she be as worldly had i been a stay-at-home mom? no way. might she read a little better and speak english with less of a danish accent? probably. but that will come and she's by no means behind. am i better for her during the time we spend together because i have time away from her? without a doubt! do i feel guilty about the choices i've made? not even a little bit.

we all make choices in the way we live our lives and you just have to be at peace with the ones you've made. i fear there are an awful lot of people out there who aren't and are spending an awful lot of time justifying to themselves and others and condemning others' choices to feel better about their own.  oh well, wouldn't it be boring if we were all exactly the same?

i really recommend you read the atlantic article if you're interested in thinking more about this subject.


Mary said...

You said it beautifully---everyone makes choices, and I love that you articulated that the hard choices in the beginning opened up a world of better choices for you now, and for your daughter for a lifetime.

Everything is a compromise. Everything. You are doing the right thing for you, your daughter and your family. The right thing is different from family to family.

I loved this post.

julochka said...

thank you mary, i really appreciate your thoughtful comment. it took me quite some time to write this one, i've been pondering it for awhile and then the atlantic article finally gave me the push i needed.

tangobaby said...

I love this story for so many reasons. First off, I have to say that I had a stay at home mom, but it was a different generation.

I look back on my childhood and was happy that my mom was there (although there were many times I wished she wasn't home after school) but for her sake, I wished she had done more outside the home. I feel now that her world became very small because it was so devoted to me and my sister.

What I love about your post here is that you're raising a smart, brave and strong little girl who will someday carry those traits into womanhood.

What's most important is that children know they are loved in whatever amount of time you spend with them.

Jaime said...

Why do people have to have such strong opinions about the way other people live???
I agree with you....we are all different, and what is right for one, may not be right for another.
My mom tried to stay at home for my brother and I, but discovered that she was a much better mom when she could be out in the world and work part time. I'm grateful that she made a decision based on what made her happy and fulfilled in life. We turned out just fine (I think?!).
You are raising a strong, independent girl who will be able to make decisions for herself, not based on what others think, and that is a beautiful thing.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

This is interesting to me, not having children yet and aware of all the choices there are.
We ought to really embrace the choices that are available, and be glad that the world has changed so much that most of us are fortunate to be able to have the lifestyle we want. I agree with you about putting others down only to make oneself feel better- it says a lot about that choice made if a person needs to justify it.
I'm glad you wrote this- it's a sensitive topic and this was well thought out and obviously comes from the heart and experience.

Magpie said...

i think i am a better mother for having a job outside of the house - it keeps me sane. at the same time, having a life outside the office also helps to keep me sane. balance. it's all about balance.

(no offense's hard to define yourself in a tiny paragraph...)