This weekend I went to my husband’s class reunion. Because he attended a Catholic high school, we attended Mass as part of the event, during which the alumni were asked to state their names and where they were located. Not surprisingly, everyone shared their career path as well.
It is insteresting to me that we now associate ourselves almost primarily with our careers. Our priest once asked us to tell him “who (we) are,” and of course we answered something associated with our professions. And he told us we were wrong. “You are not your job. You are a person with interests and passions, and while those may be a part of your job, your job does not define you.” I think about this all the time, especially now as I search for a full time job, reguardless of whether it sounds like something in which I’m interested.
So, flashing back to the reunion, this was on my mind as I spoke with the wife of one of the alumnus. She asked me what interested me in my field, what kind of position I wanted, if an advocacy group sounded exciting. And while we discussed much of this at length, it seemed clear that she was much more career driven than myself. We are both mothers, and we are both engaged in the same field. And while I didn’t put my career on hold to start my family, I certainly would prefer to be home with my children, teaching them and learning from them. This is something I didn’t share with her at the time, because I felt almost guilty for not wanting to persue my career full steam ahead at this moment in my life.
I think that, when a woman makes up her mind to plan a family, she finds herself almost immidately torn between career and family. I know that when I was working full time and only had one child, I felt so guilty that I was allowing someone else to raise my daughter. I felt like it was my job, a responsiblity I had chosen when I decided to have kids, and something no one else should get/ have to do. But when I stay home with my children for several days in a row, I miss my adult conversations, projects that have nothing to do with cooking or cleaning, and the sense of self-worth that comes from having a career.
It is nearly impossible to choose between these two evils, and thus the third factor slides in to make the decision for you. Money. I don’t mean it in the sense that it would be nice to take our kids on vacation, or maybe buy a new car. I mean the necessities of money. Like, “Can we afford to take our kid to the doctor for that month long runny nose?” kind of necessity. That “OMG she got knocked out when she fell off the swing; can we afford to take her to the ER?” kind of necessity. That “Well, it looks like we are having peanut butter and jelly on crackers for lunch and dinner,” kind of necessity. Living without a vacation for a few years, or fixing up a car instead of getting a new one, or buying clothes at the consignment shop instead of the mall are compromises we make when we can afford to be stay-at-home moms. But when the well-being of your children is at stake, giving up the joy of watching your child take its first steps, or write their first letter, or climb the monkey bars all by themselves for the first time should be easier. But its not.
I told myself that, if I decided to get a full time job, it would be something in my field, something I could be passionate about, and something that I could use to show my girls that when they grow up they can do everything they want to do. I suppose I’ll get to teach them a new lesson now: You have to pick what is important to you, even if it means going to a job you hate everyday for 30 years and missing all kinds of important moments in your family’s lives, so that you can give them the opportunity to have those moments.
In the movie Everybody’s Fine, Rober DeNiro’s character finds out that his job stringing phone lines from one side of the country to the other caused him to miss out on so much of his children’s lives, and a close connection with any of them. And he found out how much those lines impacted his children, directly or indirectly. I think that this is a big part of the worry working mothers have. What if my child has a closer connection to her babysitter than to me? What if my daughter learns to tie her shoes the way the nanny does instead of the way my mother taught me? What if she decides to lie to me about going to a party instead of going to soccer practice, and I don’t know the difference because I’m not around to find out she didn’t even make the team?
And so, I ask you, main stream media,”Are you mom enough” to give up the kindergarten play and singing the ABCs and teaching your child animal sounds so that you can provide health insurance and put food on the table? I’m trying to be, but no matter what, I’ll be left feeling like I didn’t do enough one way or the other. At least I’ll give my children the opportunity to do the things I did, and maybe they will have a different view of what their career should be.