True story/confession. I went to CVS to buy 2 medications for my kids. As I was making my way to check-out, I got distracted by the make-up section. After much deliberation, I picked up 2 items. I had a beauty discount coupon so I thought I would calculate if it was really saving me money or not. Anyway, after taking out the coupon and my CVS card from my wallet, I started walking to the cashier with only 2 of the 4 items in my hands. Guess which two?
Answer: Beauty items, not the medications. Luckily I remembered and hurried back to the shelf before I was actually in line!
Surprisingly, I’m one of the moms who feels the least guilt for working. I miss them like crazy and I feel all kinds of emotion for not always being available, but guilt, not so much.
If you read enough work/life balance posts or articles, someone will point out that it’s not really about choosing career over family. Over the course of a lifetime, you focus more or less on different things. That balance even changes daily. Some days, career takes precedence. Some days you focus more on family. At the end of the road or at retirement, you will probably have carved out enough time for work, family, self, friends and hobbies.
Right now, I’m experiencing the classic tug and pull between career and family. I do not have much time for myself, friends, hobbies or exercise. I know that. Recently, a friend of mine questioned my lack of alone time. I told her that my alone time is lunchtime at work reading a book or magazine or an exercise class on the weekends. In a good week, I eat lunch alone 3 times a week and work out once a week. I often run errands during lunchtime, too. On a hectic week, I may take shorter lunches or even work through lunch. Anyway, my friend basically told me that I don’t have enough alone time. In a way, she’s right. Everyone tells mothers to take care of themselves first. I’m not doing that because I really don’t have that much extra time.
Years ago, I remember telling an older friend, a first-time mother, the exact same thing. She was sort of bragging that she didn’t need friends anymore because she only wanted to spend time with her kids. Strange that she would tell that to a friend! Anyway I remember questioning her single-minded devotion to motherhood. Now I get it, sort of. I don’t think I’m in that same category of self-sacrificing all-encompassing motherhood, but I get the pull. I could spend hours playing and cuddling with my kids. Notes: This may not be so true if I stayed home but it is true for my evenings and weekends! Also, spending time with kids actually means a lot of diaper changes, dealing with tantrums, cleaning sticky stuff out of hair and less glamorous “duties” (just a reality check for those who imagine otherwise!)
I guess what I’m saying is that my life is very imbalanced right now and I’m mostly OK with that. In my 20s, I spent more time with friends than family. I went back to school in my 30s and worked on my career, although that was never my sole focus. My husband and I did all the things that couples without kids can do, from traveling with only carry-on luggage to waking up late almost every weekend. I do want to find more couple-time again but that’s another story. As for me-time? I had a lot of me-time in my 20s and 30s. For now, I have to count exercise and lunch hour at work as my alone time. Will I emerge years from now without a sense of identity? I don’t think so. By the time I had kids, I think I nailed down my identity. Identity is fluid on some levels but I don’t think I’ll lose myself in motherhood, as I might have if I had kids earlier.
I’m sure that as the kids get older, I will have more free time again. So despite my friend’s concern, I am not making any plans to find more me-time. For now, I just want to enjoy this time and getting lost in their childhoods.
This post about motherhood got me thinking about my life and identity. The author had always imagined that she would be a carefree laid-back type of mom, only to realize post-kids that she is more “Type-A” mom with need for structure and planning in her day. At the end she asks: Have you ever realized that something you always thought was true—or hoped was true—about yourself was all wrong?
When I was in college, I could definitely describe myself as laid-back and independent with a creative/rebellious spirit. I scoffed at friends who dreamt of a more conventional life with kids and mortgages. I must have read Hemingway or Scott Fitzgerald at some point because I also fantasized a lot about the ex-pat life in Paris. Obviously life didn’t happen as expected. I never moved abroad and ended up with a string of 9-to-5 jobs. I married and had kids. The only thing missing was the mortgage, due to high cost of homes in Los Angeles.
Later in life, I started idealizing a simpler life at home with kids (for at least one year, possibly with a part-time job or at least a flexible schedule). What I didn’t envision was working full-time and cobbling together childcare so soon after their births. Because my ideal didn’t mesh with reality, I held onto some anger for a long time about my life and bad fortune.
In many, many ways, my life did not live up to either my youthful ideal or to my later SAHM dream/ideal. This caused an unhealthy amount of anger and frustration. I’m trying to deal with this by moving on and accepting my life. Which means….I need to value the independent/resourceful side of myself as much as my carefree side. I need to value working and my ability to help to support my family. I have to accept that the 40-year old me is not very free-spirited at all. Who would have thought that I would end up driving a conservative car, dressing in a clean-cut preppy style, and reading Smartmoney over poetry*? I’ve changed so much that there’s no way the younger me would want to hang out with the 4o-year old me, and that’s OK. I also have to acknowledge that a tiny part of me is happy to work. I do enjoy having adult conversations, an excuse to shower and dress up, and quiet/alone time (even if that alone time is only during work hours on a non-hectic work day or during my commute).
Part of this acceptance also means that I have to accept my husband and family, quirks and all. Sometimes I get mad at my husband because he has held onto his more carefree, or should I say disorganized, ways while I have learned to be uber-organized. At the same time, I can’t blame him for that change. Perhaps if he were super-organized, I could slack off a bit but it is what it is.
I really want to move into the next phase of my life with less drama and more love. It’s so easy for me to accept my kids and love them as they are. I wonder why it’s so hard to do the same for myself and other adults?!
So, I am asking the same question, “Have you ever realized that something you always thought was true—or hoped was true—about yourself was all wrong?”
* Note: Ok, I was never crazy about poetry even in my free-spirited days. It just seems an appropriate in that sentence to illustrate the complete opposite of Smartmoney magazine!
Posted in Family, random thoughts
Tagged acceptance, bitter, bohemian, happiest mom, identify, moms, motherhood, sahm, stay at home mom, type A personality
I’ve been thinking a lot again about work/life balance because of Working Mother magazine. A recent issue profiled an MD, a supervisor and a high-power executive at a tech company about their work-life struggles. In general all their articles profile women in higher-income brackets, probably due to the demographics of their readers and the general assumption is that if these women can do it, people with more regular schedules can, too.
While I enjoy reading about these high-powered women and also about freelance WOHM moms, I feel that the majority of media ignores those truly in the middle-class (and lower middle-class). We don’t enjoy the kind of flexibility that higher-powered women enjoy and we can’t delegate away chores like those with financial advantages.
At my company, those in manager positions and above enjoy a higher autonomy. They don’t have to ask permission to work from home. They also have the money for nanny and cleaning help, something that my household has paid for but at a great sacrifice (and only temporarily). They can still enjoy many luxuries like massages, travel and dining out. True, they have greater responsibilities, too, and they’ve earned it. But their solutions often aren’t applicable to those those in lower income brackets. In other words, they can buy some balance while many people don’t have that same privilege.
That’s why I’m sharing my thoughts now, as a non-manager making a middle-class salary in a high cost of living area. Like many average working people, I don’t enjoy the flexibility of working from home or part-time hours, both of which I truly crave, so I make the best of my situation. Before I delve into my tips, I must say that we manage OK because my husband does have a flexible schedule and we have nearby parental help. The third part of the equation is flexibility at work, something that is within my control to a degree.
- Earn Your Stripes: What do I mean by this? I mean that before having kids, you should build a solid work reputation and prove your value to your boss, so that he/she trusts you to do your job without constant monitoring. If your boss values you, there is a greater forgiveness factor when you have kids and your finely balanced life is thrown off-kilter. There’s a chance that you’ll manage to keep your career almost on track or entirely on track if you’re a true superstar and that you’ll still get just enough family time to keep sane and happy. I have managed to “earn my stripes” so to speak at my current company and with my current boss. Although I am sure that he’s not happy about my increased absences, he and my co-workers have been super supportive because I still finish my projects on-time. Plus, I have a reputation for being efficient, productive and supportive of others.
- Learn to read your boss: Every boss is different. I’ve had bosses who valued creativity; one who valued initiative; another that valued anticipating his/her needs. If you can make yourself invaluable in ways that matter most to your boss, you’ll be more appreciated. This sounds like simple advice but I’ve seen many employees who focus mostly on what they want to do, without thinking about company goals or what makes their boss’s life easier.
- Take certain projects off your boss’s plate: With Tip #2 in mind, If you have a strong skill where your boss is lacking, try taking that project off his/her plate. For example if your boss hates to write, offer to do more writing-related projects. Same for reporting or spreadsheets or presentations. Ideally your strengths are his/her weaknesses.
- Take longer lunches: Because I’m a trusted team member, my boss doesn’t watch my comings and goings like a hawk. I appreciate this and I don’t take advantage. On most days, I actually take shorter lunches and when it’s super busy, I eat at my desk. However, if it’s a slow day, I can run errands and eat lunch in a little over an hour. Having that flexibility to get bigger chores out of the way allows me to have more free time during non-work hours.
- Just plain dumb luck: You can work really hard but your boss just thinks that everyone is a robot and can put in 110% with no risk of burn-out. I’ve been fortunate to have many good bosses. I’ve also been “fortunate” that for various reasons, my co-workers have had work/balance issues, too, so that the spotlight isn’t on me, the dreaded working mom of young kids (!).
I’m glad that I have this flexibility and while my life often feels unbalanced, this flexibility allows me to plow forward and enjoy parenthood without guilt.
Here are more interesting thoughts on the work/life balance:
Laura Vanderkam wrote a book about time management and while I haven’t read it, I was struck by the negative reviews on Amazon.com — basically her advice was mostly applicable to those with money and only certain types of careers like writing: http://www.amazon.com/168-Hours-Have-More-Think/dp/B0043RT8EU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329869680&sr=8-1
How do you manage the work/life balance? Do you have flexibility? I’m especially curious to hear from those in non-management level jobs who don’t have the funds to delegate away chores and errands!
Years from now, I’m going to think that I did not appreciate parenthood enough, especially during the first few months. I was tired and short-tempered. I went back to work only 3 months and spent more hours at the office than at home. I gave up on breastfeeding. I’m going to think all of this and have regrets.
That’s why I’m writing (and sharing) this to remind myself that despite working, I did enjoy motherhood. I did take moments out of my busy schedule, ignoring to-do lists and my poor dogs and showering, to just cradle a sweet-smelling tiny baby for the hundredth time. I did make sure that feeding time was fun and bonding, even if I wasn’t there for every mealtime. I did have time to play, even if I was tired from lack of sleep.
I’ll try to remember that even stay-at-home parents do not play with their kids every single second, even if they have more time at home. I’ll try to remember that we all do our best for our families.
In honor of Mother’s Day and my hard-working mom, I thought I would share my “wisdom” for all working mothers out there in hopes of ending any guilt they may feel about not staying at home.
I am not writing this from the perspective of a working mother, which I am, but from the perspective of a daughter whose mother went back to work while I was very young. She did not have the luxury of staying home and when our family needed more money, she simply went back to work. I don’t think she wanted to work but she did so without complaint. After several years out of the work force, she could not get a good-paying job; in fact, she toiled for many years with little financial reward. After many years, she found a better paying job and got several promotions at that company before retirement.
Luckily my mom worked mostly during the pre-Internet era; otherwise she might have hopped on parenting forums and blogs where there are endless working moms vs. SAHMs discussions with a lot of guilt-inducing arguments against working moms. For those women who do work, or are thinking of having kids and working, I hope my thoughts will obliterate any sense of guilt about working motherhood:
- I don’t want someone else raising my kids. This statement makes zero sense. If this were true, that would mean that most fathers don’t raise their kids because most of them work. While my parents worked, my grandmother took care of me during the day. I love my grandmother but I never doubted that my mother (and father) raised me. Her influence in my life was not diminished because she wasn’t physically with me all day.
- Staying at home does not automatically make you a good mother. Oftentimes there is an implication that the SAHM is a better mom. While I do agree that if you’re less frazzled and stressed, parenting is easier, I don’t agree that it makes you a better mother. If you are normally impatient or critical, you will still be so whether you stay home or not. If you’re naturally generous and giving, you will still be so if you work. I know many people who have difficult relationships with their SAHM because their mother was overbearing, cold, critical or impatient. I was fortunate that my mother is naturally loving, patient and kind and those are the qualities that make you a great parent.
- Kids are more resilient than you think (and don’t need to be the center of the world). Yes, infants are needy and should be held even if you have to keep them in a Bjorn 24/7 and you can’t shower or eat (oops…sorry for the sidetracking due to my recent experiences). However, once kids are a little older, it’s fine to show them a larger world with other caretakers. I think my grandmother generally followed the guidelines set by my parents; however, I’m sure she may have indulged us more or done things differently sometimes. In the end, it just makes you see the world through different perspectives vs. the isolated world of “Mommy and Me” times.
- It’s OK to want retirement savings (and vacations). Many women justify the cost of staying home by saying that they would make about the same as daycare costs. However, I know many who quit because they would only make $5,000 more per year after taxes, gas, drycleaning etc. While this amount may be true, $5,000 more per year can be critical upon retirement. $5,000 more per year can mean a well-deserved vacation. Most people also conveniently forget to factor in raises or promotions during those working years. More importantly, many forget that if/when they return to work, they’ve missed out on their prime earning years and may not be able to find a job at all. Sadly, I know several women in bad financial situations because they are afraid or unable to find work after years out of the workforce.
- You’re A Role Model. I read once that women who have daughters are more likely to work and that men with daughters are more likely to promote women. It makes sense to me. If you have a daughter, you want her to reach her full potential, and that may not only mean motherhood.
- Grandmothers are great! If after reading reasons #1 through #5, you still feel guilty, think about how much you can help your grown child when you retire from work and offer to help with grandchildren. That’s really all you have to do to alleviate any guilt from your absence during your child’s early years. I am fortunate that my mom is a very willing babysitter. While I think a child is fine at a good daycare center or with a good nanny, nothing is better than a loving grandparent!
I admit that I have mixed feelings about working, but I don’t want anyone to make me feel guilty or feel sorry for me because I work. Everyone needs to do what is best for their families. In this day and age, two incomes does not necessarily mean cable TV or fancy vacations, it can mean the difference between a stable financial environment and retirement. And if it does mean allowing for extra indulgences, that’s fine, too. Life is too short for guilt. Happy Mother’s Day!
For a hilarious take on working mother guilt, or anything related to motherhood, check out Rants from Mommyland.