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?

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.

To assume…

May 18, 2009

The other day while we were out and about, F, M and I ran into a family friend who hadn’t seen M in a long time.  She told us how cute he was and then immediately asked, “so where is he in school?” There was an awkward pause and then I said, “he’s not. He’s at home.”  F, bless his heart, then jumped in and said, “yeah. He’s home-schooled.”  She replied, “Oh.” And then turned to talk to someone else.

I was stunned and embarrassed.  I felt like there was this huge weight of judgment hanging in the air, that I am depriving my son of important educational experiences by taking care of him myself.  

But then I realized.  She is just another symptom of the Type-A city in which we live.  This woman is in her fifties, does not have young children, and still managed to assume that our one-year-old should be in school, not daycare, school.  There is so much pressure to succeed, not only professionally, but also through your kids.  Your kids have to go to elite colleges and the preparation for that, apparently, starts when they are one.  Otherwise, forget Harvard.

M will, eventually, go to daycare or preschool because I do think that the socialization that happens is important.  But right now, even with all the career angst and struggles to keep my professional life afloat, I am very grateful that I am lucky enough to get to have this time with him.

One part of David Leohardt’s recent interview with President Obama struck a chord with me:

LEONHARDT: Did Michelle ever make more than you did?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, sure.  Probably only for a brief time, because I was working three jobs most of the time that I was in the State Senate…. But when I started campaigning for the U.S. Senate and I had to drop some of those jobs, then she carried us for a couple years.

While I am happy that he acknowledges that she did earn more than him for a while, why couldn’t he just have left it at that?  There was no reason to explain it or to minimize it.  Now, to be fair, the rest of the interview’s discussion of feminist issues it very good.  But it just irks me that there is that underlying defensiveness.  Especially when, according to Liza Mundy’s biography of Michelle, the time when Michelle was earning more was also a time when Barack was pretty much MIA when it came to family responsibilities. 

It got me thinking about an exchange I had this weekend with a guy I hadn’t seen in a bunch of years.

HIM: What are you doing these days?

ME: I started my own consulting business working on leadership development and program development for non-profits and educational institutions.

HIM: Wow. I think of that as something that people who have been working for longer do.  Is it going ok?

ME: Yes. It has been great.  Within two weeks of starting the business I had a clients.  It has slowed down some with the economy, but that is ok because it allows me more time with my son.

HIM: Oh, so it is only part-time. That makes sense.

I was pissed.  I felt like within thirty seconds someone who is supposed to be a peer (not to mention a friend) had cut down my professional life completely.  He was clearly defensive about his own professional life- he is working the same job he has been for a bunch of years and is in school so there is no reason to be defensive- and it felt like he needed to bring me down, to prove that I wasn’t as accomplished as I might be.

Why do people do that?  Why can’t President Obama just acknowledge what he what brought in financially without caveats or explaining?  Why can’t this guy just be happy for where I am professionally?  And why is there no recognition, on either of their parts, of the fact that we are also doing the lion’s share of the child care as well?

Did you hear that?

April 10, 2009

My husband and I finally got around to watching The Wire on DVD.  For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is well worth it- smart, painfully real, and touchingly human.  One of the things that I have noticed most is their use of crying babies as a background noise in various scenes (when people are shooting up drugs, when people are hanging out in the courtyard, etc.).  It is incredibly haunting.

And it got me thinking about how attuned my ears now are to babies crying.  Whether it is the neighbor’s kid, a baby in a supermarket, or my own, every ounce of my body goes into alert mode whenever I hear it.  It is a remarkably powerful evolutionary tool that those tykes have.

I wonder- is this something that decreases over time, as my own child gets older?  Or will it forever be a part of my spidey senses?

Neighborly Love?

March 23, 2009

Whenever I watch movies or TV shows that show neighbors sharing their sugar and eggs or sitting out on their porches talking to one another, I think, “who really lives like that?”  Most of my neighbors have been strangers or someone you said hello to in passing, and that is especially true in Type-A city where it is almost like the monuments are a constant reminder of the importance of stony silence.

That said, we have a new neighbor.  She seems to be a single mom of a 3-or-so-year-old-boy, or at least the dad doesn’t seem to be around.  And they have been having some troubles.  The boy has been trouble getting to and staying asleep in his new bed- he keeps climbing out of it.  This has resulted in nights of screaming crying on his part and screaming on hers.  There have been times when my husband and I have stood at the wall, waiting to see if she is going to hit him. 

I was talking about this with someone recently and they suggested that I should say something.  My reaction was, what can I really say?  “I hear you screaming at your kid- here’s how I think you should parent…”  She offered that maybe I could share a parenting hotline number, but again that feels intrusive, especially when she doesn’t seem to be physically harming him (in which case I would, of course, call the police).  And the truth is, I feel for her.  I can’t imagine being a single mother, living in a new place, with a son who is struggling with the transition. 

I don’t want to be that nosey neighbor who offers cookies glazed with unwanted advice.  But when do you offer help?  When do you act like a neighbor?  And what is the neighborly thing to do?