For those of you who have not heard, I am taking a class at UVA this fall entitled "Sex Differences: Biology, Culture, Politics and Policy." I have many thoughts from this class that will find a home here over the next weeks. Hopefully I'll be able to sleep at night if I put these thoughts somewhere!
Based on my experience in this class, I do not think our institutions of higher education are preparing young women for a realistic view of life with children. Well, yes, that statement is based on my own experience primarily but has come to my attention again as I witness these young women grapple with the choices they face.
Now that I am in my 30s, I have been a witness to so many kinds of careers and so many types of women that I think we could do a better job showing our younger women the buffet of options. I know I perceived success-after-college with a sort of "executive" mentality so perhaps this revelation does not apply to all women. I knew I would have children along the way, but "ideally" I would have this satisfying career at the same time. I had no idea what motherhood would mean to me. I doubt any woman ever does until it happens to her. I have shared my few life experiences with my classmates and they seem to want to hear more.
Tonight I want to list many ways you can combine work with motherhood that are not "either-or" or the vague "flex hours" terminology I think gets thrown around. I hope readers will post what they have witnessed which will help teach women how to negotiate their unique work-family balance. I know when I was in college I assumed I would 1) stay home or 2) work 8-5 and have a Nanny or even a Stay-At-Home-Dad (SAHD). I had no idea of the shades of grey that are the realities many mothers deal with today.
So here we go, starting with myself:
1. I describe myself as a Stay-At-Home-Mom. Business day can include volunteer work with children in tow. I am taking a class which has been a great gift to my psyche, and I know I am very lucky to have the support to fit this into my life. My mother, my mother-in-law (MIL) and my husband have all watched the children while I go to this 4 hour activity in the middle of a business day, once per week. The non-business hours when children, husband or house do not need me I am on the computer or meeting with fellow volunteers without children. I did earn some money in the past 3 weeks managing a visiting lecturer to UVA and did most of the work from my computer or my BlackBerry (the best Mother's Day present yet!). 20 hours of work, never needed to hire a babysitter until the actual event and that was only so my husband could attend with me.
2. Stay-At-Home-Mom-That-Works-Too. I have a friend who is primarily a SAHM but then works away from home in the late afternoon hours. She swaps daycare for the one hour/workday her hours overlap with her husband's. She also volunteers heavily and, like me, is a SAHM that is not really staying at home all day!
3. Back-To-School-Mom juggles her own course work with volunteer work and changing the world one neighbor at a time. She has worked many jobs in the hours when her husband was home from his work and could be with the children. When she needs time during after-school business hours she gets help from her community and occasionally family.
4. Academic Mom that Currently Takes 3 Month Old Baby to Work. This option is what I want to educate women about so they can work toward this goal if staying at home during the early months is not possible or preferred. This Mom has older school-age daughter, has MBA and PhD, works part-time and her exclusively breastfed baby is with her at work. She described to me how most of her positions in University environments were always very supportive of her creating a schedule that would work for her family. She confidently shared how it "always worked out" (Corporate America, Interview Her!). As baby gets older, she will roll with it and figure it out. How many of our young women know how to figure it out as they go? I think they are all "figuring out" their 5- and 10-year plans instead! (I want to post about expectations with a new baby someday too.)
5. Starting-Her-Own-Business-Mom. She homeschools which gives her great flexibility (yes! another post someday, by a guest-blogger) in finding hours to work on her business. She also relies on her husband, her father and her community for the rare hours she has to herself.
6. Owns-Her-Own-Business-Mom. I have three of these on my radar. All brought baby to work (two boutiques and one hair salon). I know specific details of only one: one boutique owner has breastfed her 2nd baby into toddlerhood and she has a large space for him to play/nap in the back of her store. There are extra hands on deck in the store for help with customers. Her older child is in preschool now.
7. Full-Time-Teacher-Mom was able to stay at home while her children were infants and her schools always rolled the red carpet back out for her return. During a few weeks with one baby she did rely on her mother, sister, and grandmother-in-law for childcare so she could finish out a school year. In that time I think she discovered how truly difficult it can be to be a breastfeeding working mother in our country. She did it though and hopefully she will share the details of those weeks so readers getting ready for motherhood can learn from her experience.
8. Physician-Mom. Had her first baby her first year of residency at the age of 26ish. Early years were tough I am sure but she and the family have made it through, that baby is now 17 and applying to colleges. She relied on her husband in the early weeks, then a day care provider who watched each of her 3 children until they were old enough for Montessori preschool. She breastfed her third child for 18 months. Yes, she pumped for most of them! Amazing.
9. Corporate-Mom. I have two of these friends, I'm sure their situations are very different but this they have in common: each friend telecommutes much of the time, travels some of the time and has a nanny a bit of the time. One has a husband I know can work from home some of the time. I hope to get their stories here too!
10. Opt-Back-In-Mom. I have a friend who recently returned to work as a therapist. She is easing back in as she builds her case load. She was out of this field for about 8 years as she mothered two children until they both attended the same school for a full school day. The transition is tough but she is plugging away. It is inspiring to see her back to her career and I would love her to share her perspective as well.
Enough for tonight. Time for you to elaborate on the way your life with children is different than what you thought it might be or what kind of childcare arrangements worked best for you when you went back to work. I and my classmates want to know!
*power talk = the intense high speed conversation maintained by two multitasking moms. It lasts approximately 10 minutes and in that amount of time both women barely take a breath, insert positive reinforcement for their children's good behavior as insurance to not get disturbed in their spoken word when it would be inconvenient, and manage to keep the train of thought clear enough to feel like they had a real adult conversation when it is complete.