Torn Between Family and Career

By Karen Hendricks

Mother’s Day, 2005 – while I successfully balanced motherhood with a part-time position in radio.

It’s probably the most controversial, emotional, gut-wrenching decision every mother will make:  Should I continue my career or stay-at-home with my family?  There is no easy answer, there is no right answer, and sometimes our answer to this question changes through the years.  Personally, my answer has changed what feels like a gazillion times.  I left a full-time position as a television producer—a job I absolutely adored—to stay-at-home with my first daughter.  But a part-time job as a radio newscaster was too wonderful to pass up.  Enter my second daughter and my son. I continued working in the radio business, with a very flexible and understanding employer, until cutbacks ensued.  A part-time position as an event coordinator/PR director was the perfect fit for a while.  That position morphed into a full-time opportunity as a PR director and although I loved the position, it was extremely challenging to be the kind of mom I wanted to be at the same time.  The position demanded more than 40 hours of work per week, and after five years, I made the decision to put my family first and wrestle back control of my time.  Lucikly, I had formed my own LLC a few years earlier, even had a few clients on the side (in my “spare time,” ha ha), and I was able to transition to working at home, for myself.  It is a wonderful feeling being able to set my own schedule, work load and focus.  I think I have finally struck the right balance, allowing me to continue the work that I love, but also being able to devote time to my growing family whom I love more.

I recently picked up the book Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood by Samantha Parent Walravens.  What an amazing collection of dozens of short essays by mothers who have all struggled to answer the career vs. family question.  It was perfectly-timed reading material, as I was developing the idea for this very website/blog, Off the Merry-Go-Round.

Many of the essays tugged at my heart-strings, as I could relate to the writers.  The author/editor of the book, Walravens, sets the scene for the essays to follow, in her introduction:

After ten years of changing diapers and chasing toddlers, helping with homework and volunteering in the classroom, I decided to reach out to other women like myself to see how they were dealing with the disconnect between motherhood and professional ambition.  … Whether at work or at home, they reported feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, most, if not all of the time. 

I saw an opportunity.

By admitting they couldn’t do it all, women could achieve a sense of freedom.  By writing about it, they could achieve a sense of community. …

As these stories illustrate, there is no perfect mother, nor is there a perfect balance when it comes to kids and career.  Caught between the heady “have it all” idealism of our feminist foremothers and the rigid realities of the corporate world, women today are creating new paradigms to navigate the conflicting worlds of paid work and parenthood. 

Her motivation was right on target with my motivation for starting Off the Merry-Go-Round.  The rest of the book was a page-turner for me!  I’ve gathered a few highlights that especially spoke to me:

My four years of motherhood have taught me that there is no such thing as a perfect balance, particularly for those of us who have been both blessed and burdened with a first-rate education and a work life we care about, or need.  We cannot help but think about the road less traveled.  Stay-at-home moms will wonder about where their career might have gone if they had continued to work, and will encounter the economic vulnerability that comes with not working.  Women who work full-time will feel the guilt of being absent for so many of the tender moments that childhood brings, as well as the pressure to try to “do it all.”  Those of us somewhere in the middle – part stay-at-home mom, part career mom – experience some combination of the two:  regret about not doing more at work, regret about not being fully engaged at home.  (Carrie Lukas, page 22)

The days are truly long but the years are short.  I started to think about all the times I answered an email while my children told me about their day at school or was too busy working to read them a bedtime story.  And while at the time what I was doing seemed so necessary, so important, I was ignoring the posted speed limit for that particular place and time.  (Sara Esther Crispe, page 41)

Today, with the advent of blogs and all other forms of online communication, millions of moms are rewriting the definition of success by telling their own stories.  The real stories from the trenches of motherhood have emerged. (Alaina Sheer, page 81)

Then, there are the people who tell me that with today’s economy the way it is, it is no longer a viable option for women to be home with their children.  I’m here to prove that it is still a wonderful choice readily available, especially for women with intellectual prowess.  We live simply, but with a much higher quality of life…. (Bracha Goetz, page 93)

Learn more about the book Torn by visiting Samantha Parent Walraven’s website.

How have you answered the career vs. motherhood decision?  What happened as a result–regrets, fears, support, contentment?  We look forward to reading your words of wisdom and building a sense of community on Off the Merry-Go-Round.  Please leave your comments and replies below!

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Torn Between Family and Career

  1. I learned the true meaning of REVERENCE from my days of early motherhood and having to leave home and children to go to an employer to earn my pay for support….I did learn from my employer and the people I worked with but at the same time experienced intrigue and uneasiness learning and seeing how people in difference societies and economic backgrounds ….that all have to learn how to work together…..react in life’s journeys and I suffered from being with people too far removed from the common senses in life….it was like having a double career, children and an employer. If your financial situation allows you to be with your family and you have satisfied some experience with a career and employer, it will help your family in the long run to be together. Knowing and being with your family is what a lot of families nowadays do not experience in America.

  2. Becky you bring up a good point about family. According to the latest statistics, there were 5 million stay-at-home moms in 2011 — same as in 2010 and down from 5.1 million in 2009 and 5.3 million in 2008 (the estimates for 2010 and 2009 are not statistically different). In 2011, 23 percent of married-couple family groups with children under 15 had a stay-at-home mother, up from 21 percent in 2000. In 2007, before the recession, stay-at-home mothers were found in 24 percent of married-couple family groups with children under 15. (So that’s one in four households.)

    On the flip side. 55% of moms were in the workforce. That’s the proportion of mothers in 2010 with a recent birth who were in the labor force–decreased slightly from 57 percent in 2008.

    I’m not sure where they calculate moms who work part-time and moms who work from home. I guess that’s a gray area. I think it’s very hard, not impossible, but challenging to impart a sense of family when both parents are working full-time, let alone when a single parent is working full-time.

    I’m so sorry that you experienced hardship balancing work and family… and sounds like your co-workers presented some challenges. But it also sounds like you are a very devoted mom. Hugs to you!

  3. I’m eager to read this book. I think it helps to know we are not alone in the challenges faced and that finding a way forward is possible. This is what I love about this website. Being at home with my boys is #1, but I believe it’s healthy to do something–f/t, p/t or volunteer work–that keeps you active, learning and, maybe more importantly, financially stable. True, the emotional aspect is what’s most challenging and at times, a complete energy drain, and things don’t always work out the way we envision it! Looking back and regret add nothing–we can only make the decision that’s best for us/the family at the time and do our best in the moment. Talking about it is ok and helps us learn what works for others–creative problem solving at it’s best. I’ve discovered it takes support/encouragement from family and friends, a bit of long-term planning, flexibility, and lots of patience…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s