I recently watched a documentary on CBC called “Motherload” that made a huge impact, resonating with me because it examined something that I have been struggling with lately. It’s as though they were looking through a window into my life. Watching me struggle, slip, fall, get up and stumble again as I try to navigate this tricky world of working mother.
I’m not sure why but I have been feeling like I was the only one suffering through this conflict of family versus career. It has seemed like everyone else had it figured it out. Like others were just sailing through, easy peasy. I thought something was wrong with me. I didn’t see that others were putting their best face forward as they faced the same battle every day.
Truth is…this isn’t easy.
Sometimes I feel lost. Sometimes I feel like a failure. Sometimes I feel like I could be so much more than I am.
What hit me watching this doc is that I’m not alone in this feeling.
Let’s go back a couple of years (or a couple of decades), I started University bright eyed and bushy tailed. Facing the world on my own for the first time. Living solo, learning how to balance the responsibilities of life. School, work, paying bills, doing my own laundry and cooking, all the stuff that feels like such a burden now, was so exciting to me then. I was inspired. I was on my way to be anything that I wanted to be. I had the whole world ahead of me and I was ready to conquer it all!
I was going to be something.
I worked the entire time I was in school, whatever job would fit my schedule. From retail to call centre, I did what would help pay my bills and still allow me to study and do well in school. I found my balance.
Within a month of my graduation I landed a pretty decent job for a new grad. I gained experience and eventually was head hunted by other companies to make a move. I did. A couple of times. Each new opportunity teaching me something, giving me more knowledge, more skill, more experience, more to offer. I moved up. I may not have been CEO but I was doing well. I was working with some wonderful people who had taken me under their wing. Talking to me about my potential and where they saw me going. I was invited to lunches discussing my career goals and there were offers, which I gladly accepted, to mentor me and help me attain those goals.
Then I got engaged. I got married. I had a baby.
The interest in me died. There was no slow dimming of my light. It was just snuffed out in one swift motion.
No one was interested in investing time, money and energy in a woman who was going to be preoccupied with family. Someone who would have to do daycare pick-ups instead of happy hour client meetings. I justified it to myself. Telling myself it wasn’t fair for me to expect more of them. Truth is, there was still a sting to the slap.
I reluctantly returned to work at the end of my maternity leave, feeling guilty for leaving my darling little baby in the hands of a stranger yet ready to do my best. All of the mentors had suddenly disappeared. In a meeting to discuss my transition back I was told that no one was sure what to do with me since I was most likely going to have more children. The message that I was not going to get ahead if I came in at 9 and left every day at 5 was loud and clear. I was given busy work, nothing of importance, nothing of significance and nothing that was putting to use what I had to offer.
I was a waste of time. I no longer had potential. I was just a mother.
It was then that I realized I was going to have an uphill battle. It was a battle that I chose not to take on. I made a choice. A choice that I am not always proud of. Although there are times where I am ashamed of myself for not taking it on and fighting for what was right, I know in my heart I made the best decision for my family. I chose my family instead of the fight.
It has been 4 years since I began finding my new place in the workforce and I continue to struggle. I feel as though I am caught between two worlds. Educated career woman and mother. I now have two full time jobs and to be quite honest I’m not being all that I can be in either role. I am capable of so much more.
I know that I can be a better mother. I wish I had more time to dedicate to them. I wish I could focus every second of my day on them. I would love to walk Mr. T. to school every day and pick him up when he’s done. I wish I could sit quietly with Ms. J during those couple of hours we are alone and prepare her for her first year of school. I hate myself when I am short fused because of the long day I’ve had at work. I beat myself up when I pick them up from daycare and buzz around the house trying to squeeze dinner, dishes, fun time, bath time, bedtime, laundry etc. etc. etc.. into a few short hours, instead of giving them my undivided attention.
I know I am capable of so much more in terms of work as well. My intelligence, experience, abilities are not being used to their full potential and I know that. My career path has changed drastically since I became a mother. Its place on my list of priorities has changed and it has fallen from the number one spot. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about my career at all or that I won’t give it my all when I’m working, it just means that I have other obligations that have to be fit in as well. Since my first child was born I have essentially started over career wise. My career choices are now dictated by my family obligations. I have to choose roles that will allow me flexibility, that are close to home and that will not take so much out of me that I am incapable of giving to my family when I am home. Those roles may not always challenge me the way I would like.
My choice to become a mother has hurt me financially. Two years of maternity leave has played a role in that, sadly both years that I was on maternity leave I did not get a raise. What does that say about how companies view women in their procreating years? While mat leave has negatively impacted my pay it’s not the only thing, higher paying roles mean more responsibility, possibly travel, more hours, all things that don’t necessarily fit with motherhood. With my skills, abilities, experience and education I should be making far more than what I am making. Men with far less experience than I are moving up the pay scale ladder as I watch them surpass me. Why is that? Most likely it is because they don’t have to take that career break. They don’t have to choose less demanding roles because they have to be home with the children.
I will admit that is a bit of a stereotype on my part because there are men who do make the same decision. Men who choose not to take those top jobs because they are aware that will mean they won’t be a huge part of the day to day family life. However, for me personally regardless of how involved my husband is, I am not willing to give up my time with my kids. It’s just not worth it to me. The old saying On my deathbed I won’t wish I worked more pops into mind. Why should it be one or the other? Family or career? No one told me that I was going to have to make these choices. I was led to believe that I could have it all.
Guess what? I can’t have it all.
Something has to give.
When a man does his fair share of the housework and child care he’s admired. Oh how lucky you are to have a husband that cooks. People were shocked when Mr. C. decided to take some of the parental leave with Mr. T.
Why do women not get the same praises? I didn’t get a pat on the back when I went back to work. No “good for you, you’re going back to help bring money into the house” It’s just my job. As a mother, as a woman I am now expected to take on both responsibilities. I am expected to be the primary care giver, house runner etc…while still maintain a full time job. It’s nothing special, it’s just what I am supposed to do. In fact, while men are praised for helping out, many women are made to feel guilty for going back to work. For leaving their children with strangers, for not cooking from scratch every night, for not being able to make every PTA meeting or soccer game.
Trust me when I say that your shaming of me will always be overshadowed by the guilt I bestow upon myself. The guilt I feel when I walk out that door in the morning knowing my daycare provider will be walking my child to school. The guilt I feel when I have to ask for a day off because my child is sick.
I feel guilty at home because I’m not entirely available and I feel guilty at work because I’m not entirely available. Where does that leave me? I will tell you, it leaves me feeling like a failure much of the time. Wondering why I can’t just make it all work.
Why can’t I just have it all???
I don’t know what the answer is. I write this because I feel lost. I write this because as I watched this doc I thought to myself “YES! That’s me!” I write this because I wondered why no one told me I was going to have to make these types of choices. I wonder why I didn’t plan better. I wonder why most of the business world hasn’t caught on yet? Why they haven’t realized they are losing some very talented women because they aren’t factoring in their “other” job.
I write this because when I begin to feel like I am letting everyone down I have to take a step back and know that I am doing the best that I can at the moment. I hope that other working mothers out there can take a step back and remember that when they begin to feel down.
My dream is that one day the world will catch on. One day women will not be forced to choose between career and family. They will be able to have their children and not be forced to sacrifice their career. My dream is that my daughter will truly be able to “have it all”. To follow her passion and have a career that challenges her and makes her happy but will be able to balance that with raising her children and will not have to give up actually being an active mother.
We have come a long way but we still have far to go.
I’m still in transition and transition can be scary and confusing sometimes. Life is full of changes and transitions and this is one of them. I didn’t realize just how much having children was going to change me, including my career. I am confident in myself and what I have to offer and I know wherever I end up my kids and my husband will be standing behind me cheering me on all the way.