Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Six Degrees of Ambivalence? The Mommy Track and the Return to Work

The countdown has begun. Not to the end of the current administration, although personally my own happiness meter will be off the chart when that day arrives. The countdown I'm referring to is my own personal one - in less than 72 hours, give or take a few, I will be a gainfully employed contract employee. The wait is over, the looking is done (for now, or until August, whichever comes first) and now it is time to answer the most important question to ask before starting a new job. What am I going to wear?

Seriously, the countdown is one that takes me toward my career and away from my family. It is so strange, being a child of the 70's and growing up to believe that women could and should do anything, be President of the United States, for example. And here we are in 2008 and for goodness sake, a woman is one of two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. But, and I do mean, but, I feel like I am living in a pre-1970's world where most of the women I know are SAHMs, running along the "mommy track." Most of them have advanced degrees and years in the employment arena, but have made the choice to stay at home and spend these years being a mother. I've been home most of my kids' lives, but always working from home. Working relentlessly from home. In fact, the times I have been fully employed elsewhere have almost qualified as a vacation because when I come home I get to be a mom and attend to the household, instead of trying to fit in work, homelife and mothering in that way too short a time zone known as a day.

Yesterday I caught some of Teri Gross' interview with Meg Wolitzer about her new novel, "The Ten Year Nap," that presents a fictional depiction of women with advanced degrees who choose to stay home with their kids, only to question the decision 10 years later.

As someone who waited to have kids until my 40s, if I waited 10 years to get back on track, I don't want to even think about just how far out of the job market I would be. I already find myself waking up in the middle of the night with too much anxiety about how young my kids are, how old I am, how many productive working years I have left, retirement funds, college funds -

Before I spin off into another anxiety attack, I'd love to hear from those either following or leaving the 'mommy track' - do you experience regret, relief, remorse, redemption? All of the above?

And what did you wear on your first day back to work???


Kathy Leftwich said...

Interesting insights, Lisa. As one of the advanced degreed, highly experienced women who is now relegated to sibling referee and playdate scheduler, I can only envy your return to the working world. I'm afraid I've waited too long. Who knew the journalism world could completely change in 15 years? That skills I'd honed over time would be irrelevant when I was ready to use them again.

Do I regret leaving the work world? Yes, but I would do it again. There is no right or wrong, but you do what you can. This topic is also a major theme in own blog, cunninghand.blogspot.com

Wear something you love.

Boobies&BodilyFunctions said...

I just found some clothes I love - what a relief!

I've been in the job market throughout my raising my kids (the last eight years) and I'm blown away at how young the job market has become, despite all the old ladies like me who are working!

I did hear something that I will take as a tide that is hopefully turning back toward our direction: someone in HR related that the current newbies in the job market are remarkably difficult to work with and don't make very good employees because they have never had to deal with receiving constructive criticism! These are the kids of us helicopter parents, always hovering, always praising, the ones always getting a medal no matter how badly their team actually did. Fascinating to hear that these same kids, now grown up and in the "real world," have no experience of learning how to take criticism as part of their learning.

There's hope for us yet!

Bouldermomma said...

I just returned to the full-time work-away-from-home world, after almost eight years as a home-based, shower-in-the-afternoon freelance writer. I initially went freelance because my company, Pets.com, was shut down. Then, I had children, and freelancing was the perfect career for a woman who wanted to be with her kids and work.

My boys are now 4 and 1, and I must say that going back to work full time has been one of the hardest things I've ever done. I love the job. But the guilt I feel over leaving others to care for my kids all day is at times unbearable. I think part of my guilt is driven by the ambivalence I have always felt about my own mother's career. She was the first practicing woman attorney in Northern Colorado, paving new ground for other ambitious women to follow, and yet she didn't have much time to spend with her children. As a feminist, I've always been so proud of my mother's accomplishments. Yet, as a daughter, I've always wished my mother had been more present when I was growing up. After becoming pregnant with my first child, I vowed to give my baby what my mother could not give me: time and attention. And yet now that financial concerns have pushed me back to work full time, I'm beginning to understand the many pressures my mother must have been under as a single mother devoted to caring for both her family and her career.

Anyway, from one Northwestern alum to another, I love your blog and couldn't resist posting on this topic. Best of luck on your new job.

Wear something that makes you feel smart, sexy and beautiful.

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Liz said...

Hi-- my first time visisting! I'm also an educated, highly experienced stay at home mom -- like many amazing moms in my neighborhood. I freelance, I get to stay home with my 2 year old son, and I don't regret it. Hopefully that won't change, but I believe experience is experience. Sure, technology may change, but you can learn technology. I feel incredibly lucky that I can be at home and have just enough of a career to be living, not just doing all the time.

Oz said...

After three months of maternity leave, I went back to work fulltime, but worked from home two of those days. Though I'm thankfully for my employer's flexibility and loved spending more time with my son - and I really think it eased my transition back to work - working from home was much harder for me than either being at home or at work. I couldn't focus on either my child or my work, though I know working from home is a great option for some people. At work, I'm able to come in and just crank out all my work - and I can eat lunch (who knew eating a meal in one sitting could feel so blissful?). That said, I did decide to cut down to four days per week after three months back at work to try to spend more time with my son and also keep myself in the work world.

I always said when we have another I'd stay home until the youngest was in school, but now that I have a child I'm not so sure. I like working. I like