I am writing an ongoing series about my thoughts on feminism and modern motherhood, at least that’s what I said I was doing a long time ago. Oops. I guess it’s time to get started.
Once upon a time, in my twenties, I wanted to go to medical school. I started out pre-med in college, and then changed gears. Then, in my early twenties I decided again to go, and for some reason that I cannot remember (fear of failure/anxiety I’m assuming), I didn’t. When I was twenty seven and deep in the throes of a quarter-life crises I read an article by Roger Ebert discussing his work with an anaplastologist, and it felt like a punch in the gut. That was it! That was what I was meant to do! A wave of relief washed over me; I had found my calling (I still get all tingly when I read that article). I had some work to do, pre-requisites to take, and a move back to Chicago was in order, but I was excited. We went to New Orleans and I celebrated. I came back pregnant.
When I turned 30, I had a little panic. What was I doing with my life? I was in a career so far outside what I had ever imagined, and unsure how to proceed. Medical school began to creep back into my mind, and a lovely girl from my Sunday school class who was both a med-student and a mom was kind enough to meet me for a drink so we could discuss what it was really like to balance both. She was blunt and encouraging. She told me I definitely could do it. She was doing it, her friends were doing it; moms go to medical school all the time! She walked me through her experience both overall and day to day, and I realized that yes, moms can do it. I couldn’t do it. It was a relief and a disappointment at the same time.
When we’re growing up we are told we can be anything, when we’re fully grown we’re told to lean in. When I tell people I wanted to go to medical school they still say “Go! You can totally do it!” What no one tells us is we will be stressed and exhausted and wonder if it’s all worth it all the time. People don’t really bother to tell you that while you can go to medical school as a mom, or have a huge career you will be exhausted to your bones every second of every day. Some women don’t feel much guilt, and they shouldn’t. I’m not one of those women. I do feel guilty about being away from my kids, and it’s not just guilt. I miss hanging out with them. I like them, and enjoy their company. It doesn’t feel worth it to me to go back to school while raising young children. This isn’t a post about working or staying home (that one is coming), but rather about how hard we should work when we do, not for our children’s sakes, but for our own. I’m not trying to tell you how to be a good parent, I’m just trying to figure out how hard we should be on ourselves. I think, in my case, it really comes down to how hard my husband works, and how I feel about my job.
I think “leaning in” is wonderful as a concept, and I think it’s a very important thing to do for your career and as an example for your children, but it’s also a really difficult thing to do when your career is not equally matched with your partner’s. If one person has a more demanding career, their schedule is going to win. It’s not that my husband’s job is more important than mine, and it’s not that we need his money more than mine. We don’t even have a primary bread winner. It’s that his job relies on a real schedule. He has client meetings and court dates, he travels for work. I sit in my office most of the time, and while I have to be physically present to do my work, most of what I do isn’t so urgent that I can’t take the kids to the doctor. So, I take the kids to the doctor. This isn’t to say that my husband doesn’t do his share. He has taken them to the pediatrician a million times. He’s taking our daughter to the dentist next week. He is as equal a partner as he can be, and he works really hard at it. It’s just that he has obligations he can’t shake and we don’t have family nearby, so I do more.
Did I mention yet that I’m tired? I don’t mean to complain. I “have it all” and it’s great (sort of). It’s just that a little more honesty would be nice when we’re telling our kids they can be anything when they grow up. They can be anything, but they can’t be everything. They need help and that’s what people forget to explain. If you want a big career and you want to move away from your family, marry someone who wants to stay home or work part time. If you want to be half of a power couple, live near your parents. Even if you have a nanny. Especially if you have a nanny…nannies get sick sometimes, usually at the worst times. Or maybe you and your partner will be lucky and both have really fulfilling jobs and not feel like shit all the time for not spending enough time with your kids. I hope that happens for you!
I generally love being a working mom. I love getting out of the house every day, I love the example I set for my kids, I love the way it gives our lives structure, and I have a lunch hour, and my husband and I get to go on dates while the kids are in daycare. A lot of it is great. I just don’t actually enjoy the work that I do, so it doesn’t always feel worth it. It’s hard to justify being away from your kids to do something totally unfulfilling, even if your salary allows them to have an enviable lifestyle. It’s also hard to know you probably won’t change what you’re doing even when everyone says you can, because you’re just so tired you can’t.