Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mom Wars: Leaning In?

There is so much in the media these days about women in the workplace and whether you should lean-in or lean-out. I read this post a while back and I was sort of taken aback. I'm a working mom. I work full-time and am the primary bread-winner at the moment for our household. So it was sad to read that women who are "leaning-in" to their careers are reporting to be unhappy and feeling the toll on their families. But what really surprised me was the poll at the bottom. I selected the "Lean in" option and was shocked to see that only 9% of the poll-takers were with me. And then I was even more shocked to see that the majority chose the "Recline" option over the "Neither" option. I had thought that these days with the cost of living and the recent economy challenges that I was in the majority and that a lot of women were sharing my experience. I'm surprised to find out I may be in the minority on this one, and that's been further confirmed by the recent reports that more and more women are becoming stay-at-home moms.

When it comes to Leaning-in, for me I guess it just feels necessary. I have a career and my career is crucial to the health of my family. Making sure to make choices that will advance my career means my family is more financially stable. I have luckily been able to be at companies that are supportive of my home life. My current company for example is made up of many parents and my ability to work from home means that even when I work a lot I am at least around and I don't loose time commuting, and I know a lot of working women don't get that privilege. But I didn't take much time off for maternity leave, for example, because I needed to get back into the job and make sure I want adding value at the company. And while I would have loved more time off to be there when the Pepper was really little, I don't regret that decisions because it has paid off in other ways. And those other ways help our family because they allow us to live in a place we like or go to the better daycare or take that trip to visit D's family. It's a trade off. I often wish I had more time to spend taking care of the home and taking care of my child. But considering my life and the options I have, I feel good about my choices (most of the time).

Maybe one reason I feel ok leaning-in is that I have a great partner in my husband. I don't feel solely responsible for both our family income and taking care of the house. D and I both work, and D and I share responsibilities for cleaning, cooking, child care, even the Pepper's doctor's appointments. And D will offer to put the little one to bed if I have an invite to go have a late dinner with some girlfriends since he wants me to have that time to myself. Maybe I'd find leaning-in harder if I felt just as much pressure to do everything at home as I do to excel in my career. But luckily my partner helps me keep things balanced and I'm grateful for that every day.

As usual it's normally about trying to keep perspective. There is a lot of cultural pressure to be amazing at everything. Even if I choose to lean-in I try to remember that as long as I am being the mother I want to be to the Pepper that she and our family will be ok. As long as I am loving, and consistent, and that when I am with her I am totally present: that's the most important thing. It's important to stay reasonable, and this applies to leaning-in to work. I sometimes decline traveling for work if it's given to me as optional because I like to reduce the time I am away. But then I'll try to put some effort in elsewhere that fits with my family schedule better (maybe do some extra work on the weekend while the Pepper is napping).

One thing interesting to me is that most of the moms I know have a complicated relationship with their career status. The working moms, like me, have quilt about working and not being with their kids all day. As one of my friends said to me "you're a working-mom now, guilt is just part of it". But the stay-at-home moms also find it challenging. Many of them talk about feeling isolated and feeling like they are loosing themselves since they don't have time to do anything not related to their kids. One friend, an architect, worries that she will loose her skill-set by being out of the workforce for the next several years, and this is a skill-set she spent considerable time and money to build-up. Another friend told me about how now that shes not working, she really misses having her own money. I guess it's a case of the grass is always greener. Or it's just the result of needing to make decisions. Usually when you choose one thing there are other things you give up. It's ok to make sacrifices as long as you are doing it with reason and are keeping things in perspective. I'm a lean-in mom and I'm ok with that, but hopefully I'll have a chance to recline one day and see things from the other side.

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