Coming off a week of solid family time, during which I was able to truly reconnect with my son (to the point of throwing my back out from carrying him so much) and my husband, I found myself placed right back into the common conundrum that plagues so many of us working mothers. I was faced with an article in my newsfeed this morning focusing on the same issue that’s been dominating much of mom media these days. Lean in to work? Or lean in to your family? Make a decision. And just like before, I found myself asking the same questions — Why is it a choice? Why do I have to choose? Why can’t I do both? In the article, Sara Uttech says that her greatest advice to other working moms is to not be afraid to ask for accommodations (like working from home sometimes), even if the response might be no. But what happens when simply asking is held against you? When it leads to the perception (real or not) that you’re not dedicated to your work, or that you can’t handle full-time commitments to both your career and your family? And what happens when that perception makes you start to question your own ability (and desire) to handle both?
It’s been made clear to me that advancement at work would require more flexibility than I am currently providing. I strongly believe that advancement at work should be based on performance, on quality and quantity of work, rather than on the number of hours I am able to log sitting at my desk. Yet the message I’m taking away is that I need to do more, to be more, all while trying to hold my marriage together, parent my child(ren) and maintain the tiniest semblance of the self that I have worked so hard to build and maintain over the course of my life.
On work days, I spend a total of about two hours with my not-quite-three year old son. One half hour of that is spent running circles around him in the morning while he sits on the couch and munches on cereal watching cartoons, while my husband and I try furiously to make sure we’re all packed and ready for our day. So when it comes down to it, I get to spend about an hour and a half of “quality” time with my child each day. With baby number 2 on the way, I can only imagine it will get harder.
Speaking of baby number 2, I already find myself wracked with guilt, and she’s not even here yet. By this point in my pregnancy with my first, I had already written him numerous letters, started a baby book, painted a mobile, bought tons of clothes…This time around, I can barely find the time to tread water, let alone move forward. I already foresee that my first letter to my daughter will be an apology letter for not finding the time to write to her sooner.
And my marriage…well, is it really any surprise that my husband often gets the short end of the stick that is my attention? There is only so much time in a day, and by the time I get home from work, spend a small amount of time with our son (which often involves a battle over bedtime), prepare what I can for the next day, and eat something, I usually find myself plopped on the couch like a potato, with little energy left for much else. It’s unfair, and it’s unsustainable, and I know it needs to change.
Through all of this, I am constantly asking myself why I feel the need to do more. Why am I not just content to do my job and not advance? Why do I get so fiercely defensive whenever the subject comes up or lose hope altogether and shut down emotionally? I think that ultimately, what it comes down to for me, is that I don’t understand why it has to be a choice. I do my job, and I do it well. I have a strong work ethic and have always been a competitive and driven individual. For the first time in my life, the glass ceiling doesn’t feel so “proverbial” as I feel my head constantly bumping against it. As a mother, as a woman, as a human, it goes against everything in me not to push back. Perhaps instead, I should be asking why that ceiling is there in the first place, rather than why I feel the need to push against it. Maybe I should ask others to take a hard look at why their perceptions are what they are. This paradigm has got to change.
But I will tell you this…If I am forced to choose between my work and my family, my family will win every single time. And I don’t mean in the small scheme of things, like missing dinner with my family occasionally. I mean in the larger scheme of things. If advancing means less time with my family overall, then I won’t advance, even though I know I can do the job better than most people in less time. I stand by my conviction that it should not be a choice. But if it is a choice, I choose my family. So for the moment, I am leaning out of choosing and simply living my life.