I have noticed a pattern.  Most of my friends who return to work after becoming a mom, even the ones who really want to work, hate their jobs.  Some of them hate their job because it keeps them away from their child.  Some of them hate their job because they find going back to work to be anti-climactic (it isn’t the relief and distraction they thought it would be).  Some of them hate their jobs because they hated their jobs to begin with.

Each of my friends has handled this dilemma differently.  Some have opted to become stay-at-home moms.  Some have powered through.  Some have opted to quit, stay home for a little while longer, and then look for a new job.  And some have held out and found that once they get into a rhythm, they are really happy to be back at work.

But all of this leads me to ask: why is there so little support for moms going back to work?  There is a ton out there about how hard it is to be a working mom, and that is great, but there is very little out there about surviving the first few weeks/months.  And it just strikes me as unfair that these women who are doing what is best for their families are struggling so much without substantial support.

Obviously employers should be doing more (transition plans, flexible schedules, part-time options, support for nursing mothers, etc.).  But I think there is something more needed.  Now, obviously, these moms don’t have extra time for a support group or anything like that, but maybe there should be chat rooms or lunch groups or, at least, an open dialogue about the fact that the transition is going to be really hard.

Has anyone else noticed this trend?  Found good ways to handle it yourself?  Supported other moms who are struggling with this?

A Sense of Obligation

July 13, 2009

I had lunch today with a very good friend of mine who is starting to plan her wedding.  She is very excited but also paralyzed by a sense of obligation to have the “right” kind of wedding.  What she really wants is a very small event with just close family and a few friends, but she has this feeling that she is obligated to do something bigger and more traditional.

As we talked about it and I argued that it is more important to have the right wedding for them- a small gathering with fried chicken and ribs- than it is to invite the cousins you barely know and colleagues you don’t really like, I realized that these feelings of guilt and obligation that she was describing are very similar to the feelings I get about working/life balance.

Many of us, I think, are often so focused on our intention to do what is “right,” that we are unable to do what is right for us.  While I am not a fan of the overly entitled, “it is all about me” attitude that is on the other side of the spectrum, I do think that part of becoming a true grown up is learning how to balance obligations and what feels right, especially when those two things don’t coincide.

I was just approached about doing a very large project for one of my clients.  While this is exciting, I am also aware of the fact that it would mean a lot more struggles in terms of work/life balance.  It means figuring out how much I can honestly take on and also how much I am willing to commit to, given my desire to be present for the little one and working at the same time.

So here comes the challenge of practicing what I preach and making sure I figure out that balance from the outset…

Taking the Plunge

July 10, 2009

I officially launched the website for my consulting business yesterday.  SCARY!  This is a move I have been putting off for months, but after a number of recent conversations I realized that I just had to do it.

One friend of mine, who is also in the process of building a business, was telling me how she feels like opportunities are just passing her by as she avoids promoting her business.  As soon as she said that something in me clicked.  I had been feeling exactly the same way- terrified that I was missing chances for work by not getting my name out there and beating myself up for it constantly.

But I also realized that the other part, for me, was being afraid of what I would do if suddenly I had tons of work on my plate.  How would I balance the work and taking care of M?  How would I find child care at the last minute?  Would I be capable of doing the work?  And then I realized: I can cross that bridge when I come to it.

I don’t have it all figured out in order to take the next step.  Of course the site had to be ready for the launch, but I didn’t need to have child care arranged.  Or even a plan for what I would do if I suddenly was overwhelmed with work.

In that way, I feel like launching your own business is kind of like having a kid: you are never really going to be ready, there is never going to be a perfect time and, in the end, it is just about doing the best you can with what you have.

So fingers crossed and here’s hoping for some good, interesting work coming my way soon.

Back in the Saddle

July 6, 2009

After taking a couple of weeks off due to travel, house guests, and work, I am jumping back into the saddle.  The past couple of weeks have been utterly insane and exhausting.  But I have also had a lot of fascinating conversations and interactions about parenting, working, balancing, and feminism.  Sometimes I am amazed at how many people are struggling with these issues and it is both reassuring and depressing that I am not alone.

I had a really wonderful conversation with one friend the other day as she prepares to go back to work after four months of maternity leave.  She was telling me how she is both excited and nervous about going back.  Excited because she is looking forward to using her brain professionally again, to spending time with adults, and even to having a break from her son (and, honestly, who among us haven’t wanted that sort of a break at one point or another).  One thing I really appreciated was that she said she thought she would value the time she had with him more once it was limited.  But she is also nervous about this transition.  She is nervous about leaving her baby with other people, about how it will change her relationship with her son, and also about how her ability to do her job will change- not that she won’t be able to do her job, but that her attention and priorities are different now.

I also read this wonderful letter on Motherlode that talked about similar struggles with going back to work- definitely also check out the comments, some of them are incredibly thoughtful and interesting to read.

Both of these women’s struggles really brought home to me how no one, not even the person who is absolutely clear about their child care situation- whether it is staying home or going back to work- escapes the angst, the sadness, and the insecurities that go along with these decisions.  I just deeply hope that we can support one another through those decisions, no matter which way they fall.

Unpaid Vacation

June 11, 2009

While I am happy with the decision I made to be self-employed and work from home while M is small, there are times when it is really tough.  The obvious one is when you have a big deadline coming up and your kid won’t take a nap.  But the other time that is really hard is when you are offered a job but are unable to take it.

This week I was contacted about a small job that needs to be turned around in two days next week.  Unfortunately, I am going to be on vacation next week (well, fortunately I am going to be on vacation next week but unfortunately I can’t take the job).   As a self-employed person, turning down a job is always a hard call.  But turning down a job as a self-employed stay-at-home mom is awful.

As a self-employed stay-at-home mom I often feel guilty about how little money I am able to bring in.  I know that the work I do for our family is invaluable, blah, blah, blah, but the truth is contributing financially also feels really good.  So turning down jobs suddenly becomes not only about the risk of turning down a job and the loss of the income, but also about the self-esteem blow that comes along with all that. 

I know I made the right choice by saying no and I know that my vacation is well-deserved and will be a lot of fun- I likely won’t even think about the job lost- but, man, does that twinge of guilt suck.

I was flipping through the channels last night and came across the Biography channel’s biography of Janis Joplin.  It was an all around depressing viewing experience, but one point struck me as especially poignant.  

They were talking about a vicious review of her that had been done by Rolling Stone where they criticized her for expressing her emotions during the interview, for not being rock’n’roll enough in her answers.  Mick Jagger or Bob Dylan, they said, would not have talked about their emotions like that.  This review apparently devastated her and was followed by an radio interview from which they played footage.  In it she talked about how difficult it was to be a female musician, that if you were going to truly make a go of it you had to sacrifice everything else- family, meaningful love relationships, a home life- and that took an emotional toll.

Hearing her describe it like that got me thinking about how far we have come.  Even if you just look at the music world, female musicians now not only are able to have families and still become superstars, but they are able to take their kids on tour with them (Dixie Chicks).  Even cooler, perhaps, is the fact that male musicians are also stepping up as active father figures, even when they are on tour (Gavin Rossdale).

While we still have a long way to go in terms of finding the right balance between work and family, at least that is a discussion that is now on the table.

The Loss of Happiness

May 27, 2009

A recent study on happiness found that women are less happy now than they have been over the past 35 years (so are men, but the decline is less substantial). What is more, while women used to have higher levels of happiness than men, our levels are now lower.  

Meghan O’Rourke points to one possible explanation, that it is due to the paradox of choice- the more choices we have, the more anxious we become.  This would also help to explain why it is all women who are less happy, not just mothers (working or not).

The researchers point to another possibility: “the increased opportunity to succeed in many dimensions may have led to an increased likelihood in believing that one’s life is not measuring up.”  This rings incredibly true to me and I actually think the two explanations, while different, go hand-in-hand.

I think that as the world has gotten smaller we have become aware not only of the many choices and opportunities in front of us but also of what others are making of those same choices and opportunities.  We are now more likely to come across people who have “succeeded” in ways we haven’t, which, in turn, makes us more  aware of our own “failings.”  And that is terrifying and depressing.

So how do we regain those levels of happiness we have lost? I think we are going to have to change how we see ourselves in the world, we are going to have to change the way we compare ourselves to others, we are going to have to change our definitions of success.  

Over the weekend I was talking with family about how I hate being in my 30s because I feel like I should have already reached a certain level of success or power and not only am I not there, but it is going to be a LONG time until I get there.  Reading this study makes me think that I need to change the way I see things a bit.  I need to start thinking less about where I should be or where I am going and more about where I am and accepting that for what it is.