People throw around the term "mommy wars" a lot, but as a mom for more than nine years now I've never felt any of the fire. Oh maybe someone's comment about their choice to stay home makes me feel a little guilty about my choice, but cowardly anonymous internet attacks aside, I don't feel like it's mom vs. mom that's the issue -- it's moms vs. working life in general that's the real problem for most of us.
My sister, an attorney, sent me this departure memo that appeared in Above the Law from a mom who was trying to juggle a law career and her family and decided it was just too much. In it she outlines a typical day, and concludes that she just can't do both anymore so she is leaving the practice. I've read it countless times, and it's haunting and heartbreaking in its familiarity.
4:00am: Hear baby screaming, hope I am dreaming, realize I’m not, sleep walk to nursery, give her a pacifier and put her back to sleep
4:45am: Finally get back to bed
5:30am: Alarm goes off, hit snooze
6:00am: See the shadow of a small person standing at my bedroom door, realize it is my son who has wet the bed (time to change the sheets)
6:15am: Hear baby screaming, make a bottle, turn on another excruciating episode of Backyardigans, feed baby
7:00am: Find some clean clothes for the kids, get them dressed
7:30am: Realize that I am still in my pajamas and haven’t showered, so pull hair back in a ponytail and throw on a suit
8:00am: Pile into the car, drive the kids to daycare
9:00am: finally arrive at daycare, baby spits up on suit, get kids to their classrooms, realize I have a conference call in 15 minutes
9:20am: Run into my office, dial-in to conference call 5 minutes late and realize that no one would have known whether or not I was on the call, but take notes anyway
9:30am: Get an email that my time is late, Again! Enter my time
10:00am: Team meeting; leave with a 50-item to-do list
11:00am: Attempt to prioritize to-do list and start tasks; start an email delegating a portion of the tasks (then, remember there is no one under me)
2:00pm: Realize I forgot to eat lunch, so go to the 9th floor kitchen to score some leftovers
2:30pm: Get a frantic email from a client needing an answer to a question by COB today
2:45pm: postpone work on task number 2 of 50 from to-do list and attempt to draft a response to client’s question
4:30pm: send draft response to Senior Associate and Partner for review
5:00pm: receive conflicting comments from Senior Associate and Partner (one in new version and one in track changes); attempt to reconcile; send redline
5:30pm: wait for approval to send response to client; realize that I am going to be late picking up the kids from daycare ($5 for each minute late)
5:50pm: get approval; quickly send response to client
6:00pm: race to daycare to get the kids (they are the last two there)
6:30pm: TRAFFIC with a side of screaming kids who are starving
7:15pm: Finally arrive home, throw chicken nuggets in the microwave, feed the family
7:45pm: Negotiate with husband over who will do bathtime and bedtime routine; lose
8:00pm: Bath, pajamas, books, bed
9:00pm: Kids are finally asleep, check blackberry and have 25 unread messages
9:15pm: Make a cup of coffee and open laptop; login to Citrix
9:45pm: Citrix finally loads; start task number 2
11:30pm: Wake up and realize I fell asleep at my desk; make more coffee; get through task number 3
1:00am: Jump in the shower (lord knows I won’t have time in the morning)
1:30am: Finally go to bed
First of all, good for her for knowing she can't keep doing what she's doing, and good for her that she can economically make that choice to leave her job -- not everyone can. But it's incredibly depressing to me that she has to make this choice, that it has to be this hard.
We were raised (and are raising our daughters) to thrive in school, to climb corporate ladders, and go out and conquer the world. And so we do as society cheers us on with a resounding echo of "you go, girl!" ... until we have children. Then all the cheers are replaced with guilt trips and no concessions to help us keep going.
Yes, our children are our first priorities, and we love them more than life, but having children shouldn't mean women can't work. Anyone who says moms who have careers don't love their kids as much or aren't as good of parents as those who stay home don't really even deserve any acknowledgment in this argument. But for the rest of the world who says, yes, women can have it all, they're certainly not helping.
Also -- and I'm know I'm opening up a whole other can of worms here -- but men have also got to start stepping up their game; and maybe even more importantly, we've got to put our control issues aside and ask and let them do some more stepping. Where is this woman's husband in any of this?! Even the most involved husbands and fathers I know, don't come close to doing their share of the household management (e.g. buying gifts, making sure everyone's schedules are synced, packing snacks for the car trip, etc. etc.). Even when both partners work equal hours, it's inevitably (and yes, I'm sure there are a few exceptions though I don't know of any) the woman who shoulders more (much more usually) of the familial responsibility. It's exhausting, and I don't know why we accept it that way, or why we put it on ourselves that way.
I'm one of the fortunate few who has found a work situation that is flexible, that does allow me to balance my children and a career, however precariously. And my husband is incredibly involved and helpful. Still, my day isn't that different from the one the woman outlines above. For me it's working. For now. But I know so very many talented, brilliant women who want to or need to work but can't find such situations, and so all of that hard work and knowledge is just lying there depressingly dormant.
It's baffling to me that more employers can't figure out how to help women make it work, who don't see what they're missing out on with this enormous talent pool when they don't find flexible and creative ways that allow moms to work. It's a shame not only for the women but for the companies, organizations, and society as a whole that are losing out on such amazing employees.
Does this woman's letter break your heart?
Image via nandadeviest/Flickr