By Karen Hendricks
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!