Babies & Work Part I : A Mother’s Career

I’ve covered a lot of topics here on Brimming, but one I haven’t covered much yet is work. This is pulling the veil back a little bit, but it’s a major element of my life that’s been weighing on my mind, so as with any other topic that’s been clanging around, I felt the need to write on it. I have so much to say on this topic this post got way too long, so I’m making it a two-parter. Next part coming tomorrow.

A little backstory: I’m a stay-at-home mom and have been since my son was born. I didn’t plan to be, it just sort of happened to make the most sense.

We moved to the Bay Area when I was pregnant to live closer to family. My husband got a great job with an income that could support us both if we kept a strict budget. There was little sense in me trying to find a new job here while 5 months pregnant, only to have to take maternity leave and then ultimately work to pay for child care. We moved things around financially, we live quite lean, and we make the one income work.

I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a real hit in some ways. I was a go-getter before having a baby. I was a gunner in my grad program, took my work very seriously.  While my husband was in grad school, I worked a job that was often close to 70 hours a week in order to support us both so he could focus on school. Sure, it’s what lead to my eventual burn out of the field, but it also got us through that time, and it made me proud to be able to support us.

Now, I apply these same qualities to motherhood and my writing, but it’s not exactly the same, not to mention these two paths aren’t paid well (as if social work ever was). While I know and can see in many ways the various, amazing impacts that my staying at home has had in my son’s life, my life, our household, I can’t deny that it’s still a struggle for me sometimes. Not all day, every day, but often enough. Like when I see that friend’s careers are really taking off, while mine is stalled. When I struggle to imagine expanding our family because we can’t afford it. It’s such a puzzle.

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I am so blessed to be able to be at home, and I also feel lesser by not bringing in income. Both are true. I love being home with my son, and I am often worried I’ll never make the same kind of strides in my career again.

I often feel guilty for not being a “super woman” who can take amazing care of her kid and be working and hustling, while still finding time to work out and impart self-care and make amazing meals and nurture the world. I cognitively understand that this is impossible. That these are the exact societal standards that we are collectively fighting against because of the very fact that they are impossible and make women feel like this. Lesser, put-down, unworthy, overwhelmed. This is not the way I want or should feel as a dedicated and educated mother. Or just, like, as a person who has inherent value because I exist (as we all do).

But what are our options when it comes to babies and careers? Is there any way we can have both without significant stress, strain and judgement on ourselves, or from others? Let’s examine the possiblities:

Don’t have babies? Nope. Wait to have babies? Nope. Have babies young? Nope.

Have a baby, stay at home? Definitely nope.

Have a baby, go back to work? Nope, nope, nope.

Have a baby, stay home part-time, work part-time? Maybe the best option, but rarely possible, because part-time work often doesn’t pay nearly enough to support a family, nor does it necessarily help to advance a career.

The choice to start or expand a family will, without question, have the largest impact on the mother’s career. No matter how you slice up and divide responsibilities in your household, the mother’s career will be impacted. Societally, (though, certainly generally speaking), a father’s career is not seen as impacted by having children, other than it endears him to us. “Aw, how sweet, he’s a dad now.”

Men definitely get a bit of a raw deal in the sense that they aren’t seen as important to parenting (which is bullshit), but they also get the benefit of not having to worry that having a kid will have them be seen as less of an employee in their employer’s view. (I say this generally, as my husband has been impacted at work. He’s been overlooked for business opportunities like international travel because he is one of the few on his team that has a kid. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. But at the same time, this is his choice at work, and I suspect his team and boss think of him only as a good dad, and not as a bad employee, which I am quite confident would not be true if the genders were reversed).

Even if a woman is lucky enough to work for a company that is family friendly and supportive, even if she is the breadwinner, still she will feel the impact of children in her career. Because she will feel the weight of guilt no matter what. The weight of shame no matter what. The weight of taking “time off” to be with her brand new beautiful child, after BIRTHING said child, even if it’s paid for and legally (and mentally, physically, emotionally) required. Not because she should feel those things, not at all, but because they will be put on her by EVERYONE else (if not herself).

And if she does miraculously manage to keep up because she is super woman, sleep-deprived and stressed though she may be, it will be at the cost of other major elements of her life (possibly her health, confidence, relationships, etc). Not because it’s right, and not because it’s fair. Our society is simply not set up to support women having babies. It’s head-shakingly, has-me-hunched-over-my-laptop-wild-eyed absurd.

Deep breath.

So what do we do? Many women are choosing to delay having children for these very reasons. Or having fewer children than they would like. Or are foregoing the option altogether. We are in a time where we get to choose, but this huge, monumental choice is so heavily influenced by what it would do to our careers and that is a major challenge.

There is no easy answer, there is no one right way to be in a career, to be a mother, to be a person. But the fact of the matter is, if we choose to have children, we have to take care of our children both actually and financially. Navigating the road of how to do that to satisfaction and fulfillment is often a very conflicting path filled with sacrifice and heartache. This is especially true for those of us creating our own career ladders, rather than climbing them. More on that to come in Part II.

Photo credit: Pexels

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