Which Way are you Leaning?

What’s a mother to do? We give birth, we take our child home, we start to care for it, and then we are faced with the decision—to go back to work or not.  Of course, some of us will have decided prior to having our child that we won’t return to the workforce because we don’t want to, or financially it doesn’t make sense.  Some of us know we will return to work and it becomes an issue of how soon, and then there are the rest who are on the fence.

And here our quandary begins. Perhaps we’ve invested time in our careers and are making our way up the corporate ladder and want to continue our climb. Perhaps we have a profession we’re passionate about. Or perhaps we need the money, want continued contact with adults, or know that work gives a sense of purpose you haven’t found anywhere else.  You weigh the pros and cons of staying home with your child and not working (maybe temporarily, maybe permanently), and you weigh it and you weigh it and you weigh it. And while ultimately you go with the decision you feel is best you can’t quite shake that nagging voice in the back of your head. Am I taking something away from myself if I stay home? Am I taking something away from my child if I work?

And now the dialogue is no longer being kept to ourselves, or amongst our working mother friends. It’s being discussed out in the open. Oh goodness! Why Women Still Can’t Have it All by Anne-Marie Slaughter was published in the July/August 2012 edition of The Atlantic. Her article encouraged a dialogue between working women, to understand the obstacles women still face to reach the highest professional levels while raising children, and encouraged men, who are expressing a desire to be more involved in the raising of their children, to join in the situation.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, encourages women to be “at the table” professionally, take risks, and pursue your desired career. She also mentions men playing more of a role in the rearing of the child and household responsibilities.

I can understand why reactions to both the article and the book have been strong.  Each gave me pause. What do you mean women can’t have it all? And Lean In—I didn’t realize I was leaning out.  Do I really have to do more than what I’m already doing?

What really bothered me wasn’t the article, book or their content. It was the emotions they were triggering in me—guilt, anger, relief and hope.  Quite a range of emotions, don’t you think?  I still have guilt about putting both boys in daycare when they were young. I know I am a better mom than I would have been a stay home mom (I think stay-at-home moms are amazing), but it didn’t take the guilt away. I was angry because I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at in my career while fighting hard to maintain boundaries specific to the hours that I work and the time I spend away from the family because of it.  I felt relief because someone was finally talking about this—I’ve often felt alone in my daily struggle to do what’s best for my children, spouse and myself. Lastly, I felt hope. Hope that we’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg and more conversations will take place between spouses, partners, companies and communities. That we will reach equality in the home and in the workforce, and as a country we’ll figure out how to better support families so that we not only can survive but also thrive together.

The question, “can women have it all?” makes me think should we want to have it all? and what does having it all mean? I think our kids should have it all—involved parents working for supportive companies and communities that value our future generation more than sustaining a culture of workaholics.

We’ve got some work to do, and I’m leaning towards whatever will get us there.

Which way are you leaning?

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