Last week I resigned from my job to be a full time mama. Of course, as soon as you get pregnant you’re full time, all the time, for the rest of time; but last week I embraced the role of stay at home mom, thereby reducing my job load to one full time position. It feels good. I feel streamlined, like all the pieces are buzzing together rather than randomly bouncing off the walls. Not to make light of the processing that went into actually walking into the president’s office with a resignation letter shaking in my hands. I struggled to justify my desire to stay home after achieving success and great enjoyment from my career. Wasn’t I the culmination of what all those women before me fought for? How could I walk away from an opportunity to lead an organization in order to do laundry, make casseroles and schedule play dates? I felt like I was letting down all the women whose shoulders I stand on, while also making the journey more difficult for the young women rising up behind me.
I had dinner with a girlfriend this week who made the opposite decision, to continue with her career while her husband stays home, and we were discussing the extreme pressure on women with young children regardless of the decision they make about their career. This isn’t a new conversation, certainly, but it is constantly evolving as our society changes and women shift and buck with current trends and family demands. We were both struggling to prove ourselves and not appear too ‘emotional’ with male colleagues, the fine line that defines us. We also wondered at several points in the conversation why women make it so difficult for each other, placing such judgment on the individual choices we make (from breastfeeding, lordy, to childcare). And I was voicing my guilt that I had let down our organization, that now those in positions of hiring might think twice before considering another woman on the cusp of starting a family. It feels like I burned them, although there was really no easy solution: burn them, burn my family, burn myself … burn-out. Ultimately I had to make peace with the fact that all those women before me paved the way for me to have a choice.
Within a few weeks of trying to juggle the demands of work and family I quickly discovered that there was no way I could do it all. I felt selfish voicing this because I recognized that the component that would get lost in the shuffle would not be the career that I loved or the child that I loved, but myself. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice myself to this endeavor and this made the choice feel selfish. I have friends that I believe would echo this sentiment as the reason they decided to return to work, in order to maintain their individuality. The problem lies in the belief that we do have a choice, because the pendulum seems to have swung the other way. Most families nowadays cannot afford to have a stay at home parent even if they want to. So what will it take for our society to value the role a woman (or man) plays in the home? Isn’t there enough documented support that having a family member as the primary caregiver for the first year of life is the ideal situation? What will it take for our nation to get with the program? The paradigm of value itself must shift and I’m not sure how or when this might happen. I know that every choice we make in our life is political and affects the stream of history, so I’m acutely aware that my choice to stay home to raise my son was a political move in my community. I’m just not sure what the repercussions will be. What I do know is that it has given me a whole new level of empathy for working moms, single moms, moms in abusive situations. What will it take for us to place real value on the role of the mother in nurturing the cohesiveness and strength of our communities?