I’m certainly not the first person to delve into this subject, but it’s a concept I’ve been thinking a lot about.
Can women have it all when it comes to a fulfilling career and a family?
BTW: I just felt very Carrie Bradshaw typing that sentence.
WM vs SAHM
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s when I was still in school, I was told women could, and should, have it all. I truly believed it.
My parents completely paid for my college education. I knew there was no way I was going to waste my parent’s money by one day becoming a stay-at-home-mom. Not that I think there is ANYTHING wrong with women (or men) who stay at home to take care of the house and family. It’s a really tough job! Many of my friends are SAHMs and I respect them immensely. To be honest, I often envy them.
I also knew when I met the right man, I wanted to start a family. I always wanted to be a mom.
Because of these two ideals I had for myself, whether I realized it or not, my destiny was to be a working mom. And that was okay, because society kept telling me I could have it all and it was going to be great.
In my twenties, I worked at large PR agencies in Chicago. It was a predominately female workforce. We celebrated many baby showers, which were followed by maternity leaves. My co-workers always came back to work when the eight weeks were up. These women were my first role models and examples of what happens when you have a career and get pregnant.
As I climbed the corporate ladder, I began to feel less fulfilled by my job. My husband was about to start his own venture, so I left agency life and went to help him launch his business.
While we were getting our footing with the new company, I did odd jobs to earn extra money and figure out what my next steps would be professionally. I freelanced for my old agency, worked part time at a furniture store, and even tried my hand at acting for a little while (that’s a story for another day).
Here Comes Baby
Baby fever hit on my 27th birthday. My biological clock sounded the alarm that very morning. I was ready. I talked it over with Aaron (he was not as ready) and decided we would keep working on the business, but in a year we could start a family. A year later we were having some success with the business and we were ready to grow from two to three. When I got pregnant, the thought never even crossed my mind I would stop working and stay home with baby.
My husband and I always laugh because we NEVER discussed childcare when I was pregnant. Yet, it was a given I would continue to work after she was born. We worked for ourselves and always brought her along to our office. Tiny babies sleep a lot and it was really easy to have her with us.
Then one day she was about six months old, sitting up, on the verge of crawling and we realized it was no longer feasible for us to be the primary caretakers during office hours. We needed help. We hired a full time nanny and I took Fridays off to take baby classes and spend the day with her.
Since I was my own boss I could arrange this schedule. I loved my daughter, but had just turned 30 and was still very much trying to figure out who I was. I liked my time away from baby, but I cherished my time as a mom too.
At this exact time, our business was going well. It was still small, mainly the two of us, and one or two other people working for us at a time. I was having it all and it was going so well we decided to add another kid to the mix. We got pregnant again and moved to the suburbs.
It was certainly more complicated with two kids, especially two under two. However, we had a nanny, and now living in the suburbs my parents lived around the corner. Motherhood and career were still a manageable combination. Also, at this time, I was doing a lot of freelance PR work and helping my husband with the business. This all gave me a sense of purpose, but the flexibility to get my “mom” time in too.
Then our business started to take off. We found ourselves in a position with things going so well we needed to hire more people. We decided I would stop all my “side hustles” and commit full time to the business.
As our business grew, so did our kids! They were getting older and becoming aware of my absences from school pick-up and other places where mommy should be. I felt some guilt, but I was enjoying work and the professional success I was having.
Over the next few years we hired more people, opened an office downtown and worked ALL THE TIME. Even when I was physically with my kids I wasn’t engaged or present. I was glued to my phone and email. It was not a healthy way to live.
The Breaking Point
The breaking point came about two years ago. I was exhausted and resentful. A very bad combo.
I give my husband a lot of credit. He noticed and whisked me away on an emergency vacation. On this vacation I got some R&R, which always helps put things in perspective. We also came up with a plan to hire more support at work. Not right away, but as soon as possible. This gave me some relief and I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
I wasn’t going to stop working, but I could transition out of my current role, which I had outgrown. I realized although this was our business, I still needed new challenges and opportunities to experience professional growth.
Today, we have a whole team of people at work. It’s so helpful (but brings its own set of challenges). But there is help, they are awesome people I love working with and I am grateful.
Now my kids are in elementary school and really busy learning and at after school activities. I am constantly thinking about all the things that need to happen with them.
Working and raising kids is no joke. I come home from a very full day and have to put food on the table, help with homework, buy presents for birthday parties, fill out permission slips, bring the school snack, pack lunches, etc.
Being organized and having to-do lists makes it easier. Having a full-time nanny makes it all possible.
I still want to be mom and do all of those mom things. I still want to be a kick-ass boss lady and do great work. I still want time for myself so I don’t go crazy.
More of What We Need
Do I still think women can have it all?
I don’t think so. However, I don’t think this is a problem unique to women. It’s hard for men, too.
I see my husband struggle with his drive for professional success and his desire to spend time with me and our girls. An evening of hanging out and watching TV sets him back hours at work. A weekend of spending time as a family cuts into his time to get caught up from the night we spent watching TV. Then there are the nights he has to attend events, network, and schmooze causing him to miss family dinners and quality time.
What should we do?
We’ve been so much better about making space and taking breaks. My husband and I try to share more of the household roles and spend more time individually with the kids to give the other some time on their own. As I type this, he’s downstairs watching Netflix with the kids giving me some free time.
We are also trying to shape a culture at our company that gives our team dedicated time off, a more flexible work from home policy, longer maternity leave and paternity leave.
I know other companies are starting to focus more on work life balance as well. I’m hopeful that with this awareness there will come a time when maybe we can’t have it all, but we can get more of what we need.