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?

Getting over Business Trip Guilt

Do you have a job that requires you to travel? I do.

I used to love business travel. Seeing new cities, experiencing new places and sights. It seemed so glamorous, so exciting, so adventurous, and so important. Once I had my children, business travel became less attractive, mainly because of the guilt I’ve felt every time I leave them.

It took me several years, but I finally realized the guilt I felt over being away on business wasn’t as much about the kids as it was about the responsibilities I was passing on to my husband while I was away. When I’m away, he becomes a single parent. He has to get everyone up in the morning, and put them to bed at night, he’ has to get them fed and dressed, he had to drop them off and pick them up from school, and then get himself to work. The guilt was all consuming prior to and during each trip. My priorities of family and work clashed, and I couldn’t get them to equalize. The reality is my family is my number one priority and always will be. My job helps provide for my family and gives me an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way. It also requires me to travel from time to time.  I thought by preparing as much as I could prior to going away, and fretting over the extra burden I was putting on him, I was somehow making up for my upcoming absence. The reality is, in a relationship, or more importantly a partnership, one person doesn’t bear more of the burden than the other, they share in the responsibility. Occasionally they will need to pick up the slack when the other is absent. What I didn’t realize was the stress I was feeling over my upcoming travel was affecting more than just me. It was impacting my husband too. Thankfully a third party helped enlighten me to think of the situation in a different way.

My husband is a very capable father, and when I’m away, he has an opportunity to have our sons all to himself. While I’m away, they could do different things, like going to a new restaurant or playing a fun activity, outside our normal routine. I need to take advantage of travel too. I get some needed alone time and have an opportunity to learn and connect with others, things that are very energizing for me.

I know we appreciate each other a little more upon my return. When I recently shared with my sons that I would be leaving for a trip I was surprised to hear how excited they were by the prospect of me leaving. “Oh, Mom, can you bring us back something?” my oldest son asked. “Yes,” chimed in my youngest, “will you bring us back something, please?” I had to smile. It reminded me of my own childhood when I anxiously awaiting my father returning from his business travels bringing something small, like a Hostess Fruit Pie or a pencil he picked up along the way.  It was more symbolic than anything, it reminded my sisters and I that he’d been thinking about us while he was away and we’d been thinking about him too.

I now understand guilt doesn’t help my husband or I when I travel. Travel creates an opportunity for us to appreciate what we have when we are together and apart. Its our chance to do something different and enjoy each other more when we reunite. Thankfully my travel is infrequent, or my guilt might be tested again. But even if that work requires more travel in the future, my husband and I will make decisions together on how to make it easier for each other to get through the situation. After all, it isn’t just one of our burdens to bear.