Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What Is Your All?

I am part of a Women in Science group at my work where the conversation often turns to the topic of family-work balance and if women can really have it all. Usually the all is implied as maintaining a rewarding full-time career (usually in a high profile position, but not always), while still spending ample time with your children and partner, and being happy, chipper and stress-free at the end of the day. A quick Google search will supply you with hundreds of articles on the topic with people on all sides of the debate. Nope, sorry, you can’t. Yes, yes you can! You can….just not at the same time. But what’s the real answer? Can we have it all or can’t we? Should we work harder or just stop trying? If I don’t want it all is that OK?  If I don't, will they take away my Feminist pin? What kind of stress are we putting on ourselves trying to achieve it all? And what kind of message are we sending to the young women and men who will inevitably fill our shoes?

While searching for some answers I came across this article: Why It's So Damaging To Tell Women They Can't Have It All (And Why I'm So Tired Of Hearing It) written by Kathy Caprino, a Women’s Career Success Coach. In her article, Caprino suggests a more positive way to frame this discussion. She says “Thinking about ‘having it all’ is a waste of time and a negative way to view your life. Think instead about, ‘What do I love, what do I need to do to be happy, and what decisions can I make today that will honor my needs and wants'?"  This really resonated with me, because, as an employee, mother, and wife, I feel like I am constantly trying to make someone else happy and I often neglect how I feel about something in order to placate a tense situation at work and sometimes even at home.

About a year ago, the Women in Science group hosted a presentation that was advertised as Join us while Mrs. X shares her secrets for finding that work-life balance! I was really excited to attend because I was newly pregnant and was already wrestling with how I would manage wanting to spend as much time as possible with my baby and husband while still working a full-time, sometimes demanding job- in which I was looking to climb the ranks-coupled with a long commute. The guest speaker was a woman who works for our company. She is the head of her division, is married with one child, and over the course of her career has been in charge of starting offices all over the country for various companies. During the presentation she told us that her career was and is very demanding. She has moved all over the country. She works a lot of hours. She was often gone for long periods of time on work travel. But she didn't regret it all because she wanted to have a career and she was exactly where she wanted to be.

When asked for advice on how to pursue a career while still having time to spend with family, her advice was as follows. Never work part-time because you wouldn't be taken as seriously as a full-time employee in your office. Never become a stay-at-home-mom because it would take you out of the work force for too long and it would be really hard to get a job when you were ready to work again. If you want to get ahead in your career, she suggested working hard and ‘playing with the big boys.’ Sometimes that means working long hours and missing soccer games. Sometimes that means your child spends more time in daycare than you would like. She also informed us that her husband had a very flexible schedule and he was able to work from home a lot. He often had the responsibility of picking up their child from school, staying home if their kid was sick, helping with homework and doing much of the day-to-day stuff that comes along with having children. She took a two-to-three week vacation with her family every year to relax and bond and after that was over she was back at work. When I left the presentation, I was kind of upset. I felt like she didn't really give us any useful advice on how to put equal energy into both work and family because her husband was responsible for most of the day-to-day childcare. I also felt like she was judging people like me who were thinking about doing some of the things she was suggesting we not do.

After stewing about this for a bit, I eventually just got mad at myself for thinking badly about this woman. Why was I judging her when she was clearly just telling us what worked for her and her family? She wasn't giving bad advice, in fact she touched upon some very important issues that mothers face when they have children and work. In her situation, her husband's job was more flexible.  Hers wasn't flexible at all.  They both had to make sacrifices, just on different levels. She had a clear vision of what her all was and it was just different than mine.  I eventually had my son and I realized what my all was.  I also realized that every women's all is different. 

I’m passionate about my career, but I am more passionate about my family. Right now, for me, my all is being able to stay at home with my son while still pursing a career I am passionate about on a part-time basis.I went back full-time for a month and I had a very hard time being the employee and the Mom I wanted to be. For me, full-time means a lot of travel and long hours. When I was at work, I was anxious about not spending enough time with my son. When I was home, I was tired, a little stressed and anxious about travelling for work. So I decided that for now, working part-time is my best option. I could be making more money and taking on more responsibility but I am simply not OK with the extra demands of travel and full time work now that I have a child. So for now, the career part is on the back burner. It’s not on hold, but it is moving a little more slowly than it would if I didn't have a child. And that’s OK, because I made that choice with my husband and I have the full support of my family and (most of my) colleagues. It's a choice many of them made when they were raising their kids. I know that working part-time is not an option that many employers offer and I consider myself very lucky that I am able to work at a job I love with people who aren't concerned with the amount of hours I work as much as the quality of work I do. (I think more companies should take this approach, but I suppose that is an entirely different post).

I should be a little more clear on something.  I guess I should say that I have the support of most of the women and men in my division who have children. There are a few women who I work with (who have not had children) who have actually questioned me as to why I decided to have kids and not work as much, in a very audacious and brazen way I may add (and it is only women who have questioned me, likely because they wrestle with the same questions).

The following are questions that I have fielded within the past year, and my answers:

What is the point of getting your degree if your career is just going to take a back seat? I still get to work in the field I obtained my degree in and I contribute on a high level to research projects going on in the division- I have the best of both worlds, really.  And furthermore- even if I chose to stay at home full-time---higher education doesn't just prepare you for the workforce.  It helps you make informed decision in your daily life regardless of what you decide to do after college! 

Isn't your research important to you? Yes.

Aren't you bored? No.  My little guy keeps me on my toes from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. I get to play, sing, act silly, and teach him all about this wonderful world. I get hugs and kisses and giggles all day long and  I LOVE IT!

I think that even if  daycare costs more than I made, I would still work. Good for you, but that's not for me! (Thanks, Amy Poehler!)

Why is your career less important than your husbands? It's not. We both make sacrifices. If there is a day that I work and we need to take our son to a doctor's appointment or he is sick, or whatever, my husband takes him. On the days I don't work, I take him.  If we both have busy days we figure out whose day will be less likely affected by staying home and we go from there. We both make sacrifices. We had a child. It's no longer about me or him. It's about all of us.

Aren't you bored??? Nope. Really. Come spend a day here and I guarantee you'll have more excitement than a day in the office.

I suppose I had the same feelings before I had children, but I have since realized that it doesn't do anybody any good to judge your female coworkers or male coworkers for that matter. At the end of the day, we are all Moms and Dads who are trying to set strong examples for our children while honoring our own needs and wants and we shouldn't be judged by the path we take to get there. (As long as that path isn't harming anyone).

Looking back, I think the presentation on family-work balance would have been better with a panel of women who are in a variety of different situations. It should have been more of a discussion and celebration of the number of choices we have rather than one person addressing the group because there isn't just one way to do it. It should have directed the discussion to the fact that there are many different alls and women shouldn't be judged for the decisions we make when it comes to bettering ourselves and our families. Everyone has different wants and needs, especially after you have a baby and I no longer care if the new postdoc looks at me and thinks I’m wasting my education or doesn't understand what all the "fuss about babies is." Carpino suggests re-framing our mindset to think “I know what matters most to me, and I’m honoring that, every day, with every choice and decision I make.” And I feel like I'm doing that.

What about you? Are you honoring what matters most to you? What is your all?

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