The Choices We Make: Moms and Careers

More than one woman wrote that she wished someone had told her that you really can’t do it all when motherhood enters the picture. Some really hard choices have to be made. Learning-Grace.com

A mom friend recently posted on a parents Facebook group, asking fellow parents how they knew when it was time to go back to work after having kids and if they returned to their former careers. A very long, honest, and beautiful conversation flowed from that post about the choices we, particularly women, have to make, what we wish we knew, and how can we be there for our kids.

More than one woman wrote that she wished someone had told her that you really can’t do it all when motherhood enters the picture. Some really hard choices have to be made.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s many of us cut our teeth on the idea that we could be anything we wanted to be: entrepreneur, businesswoman, doctor, lawyer, scientist, with the assumption that we could have a family life, too. We were not tied to the same gender roles of our mothers. The world is a better place for it. But, many of us didn’t realize the impact of the mommy track until it was too late.

One comment on that Facebook thread read:

I wish instead of my mom telling me to go for my dreams and I can do anything a man can do. I wish she would have told me one day I may have a family and the juggle is hard so maybe focus on a career with flexibility—no one told me this. And I did not anticipate it at all and was smacked in the face HARD with this reality when going back full-time.

We were told that we could have it all: rewarding career, family, health, wealth, happiness. We were given the idea that as women we could do it all, too.

We can’t.

Psst, it’s not just you—no one can.

We all know we have to make choices in life, but this is one that so many of us never expected to make. When you work hard to climb the corporate ladder, establish yourself in your field; when you feel like you have this thing that is all yours—your career, your reputation, your professional niche—it is heartbreaking to watch it slip through your fingers because you made another beautiful choice—to have children, to become a mother.

We all deal with it differently. I left the traditional workforce when I had a good opportunity to start my own freelancing business, knowing my current occupation just was not compatible with family life. The vast majority of my coworkers (men and women) were either single, like myself, or married with no children or with grown children. The job was all-consuming and, while extremely rewarding, required one to make work the first priority. And so, when I realized that I might be starting a family in the near future, I stepped away as gracefully as possible. Do I miss it? Yes, terribly sometimes. But when I calculate the personal toll of returning to this line of work, I decide to stay put and work on my own businesses until I see something that feels right for all of us.

Other mom friends go back at two to three months after having their babies. They struggle mightily with this. They endure their coworkers’ sideway glances when they leave at 5:00 on the dot to pick up their little ones from daycare, or close their ears to gossip about their extra breaks to pump milk. They are passed over for deserved promotions because they are seen as less committed for taking care of their families. Some friends have changed to jobs that have fewer rewards but greater flexibility to try and find the middle ground. All of us career-women-turned-moms fear our years of hard work, education, and skill building will be lost if we take too much of a break—that we’ll lose our worth.

And that is nothing more than a lie.

Our worth cannot be found in what we are to other people: a worker, a professional, a caretaker, a provider. Our worth is in who we are: loving and compassionate; caring and committed. At home or at the office, know your worth. It is far more than you can imagine.

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The Stay-At-Home Job

This mothering “job” is giving me some good skills that will benefit my future workplace. If only I could put them on my resume. learning-grace.com

Is being a stay-at-home mom (or dad) a career? No. There are no promotions, no pay raises, no vacations, none of those career-y things. But, I would say it is a job. A very, very demanding and often isolating job with very few of the “perks” of a job, job. Yes, it is an incredible privilege to stay at home with my children during these early years. It is also much harder than I had imagined.

I’m not writing this to whine. In fact, this is something very different. It’s a response to a few articles that are making the rounds saying that being a stay-at-home parent is not a job nor a career, nor something anyone should complain about. There’s always one or two of these going around seeking to polarize parents—particularly moms. Parenting is not a contest. The one who makes the most sacrifices doesn’t win.

But I digress. There was one article I read last week in particular that came down pretty hard on the stay-at-home crowd for complaining about what they do. Yeah, it can get excessive in some instances. But, I need to ask a question: when’s the last time a day went by when you didn’t complain about going to work or something that’s happening there? We all do it. Stay-at-home moms included.

I think complaining seems so prevalent among the stay-at-home crowd because there are no divisions. There is no “home” and “work.” It’s all the same. And every day (and often night) is the same. It can be relentless. There’s no place to get away from the other. It’s that intensity and it’s also the inability to point to my day and say what I accomplished. Most of those things I do accomplish, sweeping the floors, cleaning the kitchen or doing the laundry for example, begin to unravel the second I finish them, and that simply exhausts me at times. There’s very little in my day that’s tangible—and I’m a results-oriented person.

Right now my actual career is on hold . . . or possibly slow motion. I’m still working as a freelancer, but certainly not gaining the experience and momentum that I would have if I were still at the job full-time. However, this mothering “job” is giving me some good skills that will benefit my future workplace:

  • I know the value of time. What I can accomplish in the last five minutes of naptime is amazing.
  • I can prioritize and stay on task, even when people are screaming at me (and flailing about on the floor).
  • I know how to ask questions to get to the root of the problem. (Did you really lose the car, or do you just want to keep it away from your sister?)
  • I understand the power of consistency and staying on-message. Two words: sleep training (and potty training).
  • I can stay focused while those around me are convinced the world is coming a part at the seams (because S said “bacon” and we don’t HAVE any bacon, Mommy!!!).
  • I know the power of stopping to take a few deep breaths.
  • I’ve learned to appreciate small victories as we work toward big goals.
  • I can make people feel like doing the hard stuff was their idea all along. (Let’s all sweep! Isn’t this fun?)
  • I know that the person who makes the most noise may not be the one who needs me the most.

Now, if only I could put that on a resume.

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