As I've mentioned before, I really am just an average working mom. At least, I am an average employee: I’m not in management. I do a decent job. I'm not terribly important. For the most part, I’m OK with this. But sometimes, I get into a bit of funk:
I struggle with my professional purpose - I question my value as an employee versus my value as a mom. I get discouraged with the day-in, day-out, and I wonder why I am fighting so hard, (or perhaps not fighting hard enough) to get to work each day, and to make my work worthwhile, while at the same time sacrificing a more present role in the day-to-day life of my children to a nanny with whom I not entirely pleased. Would they be so sassy and emotional and cunning if it were me looking after them every day? If I’m not making a significant impact to the world in a professional sense, perhaps my efforts and energies would be best focused on my children? But could really be happy and satisfied looking after my three little munchkins all day, day after day…?
This past week, I was in such a funk. While I’m sure that several successive hot, humid days, hot, restless nights and resultant crappy sleeps were significant contributing factors to my discouraged state, knowing the cause isn’t necessarily enough to alleviate the problem.
But, when I read "Why Women Still Can't Have It All", written by Anne-Marie Slaughter for the Atlantic, on the evening of a humidity releasing storm, my funk and the heat wave resolved almost simultaneously.
Here's what I read in Anne-Marie Slaughter's article which made me feel better:
“Many of these women are not worried about having it all, but rather about holding on to what they do have.”
I don’t fit into Slaughter’s demographic of the “highly educated, well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place”. I suppose it's possible that I could have aspired to be, but I never chose to pursue a graduate degree or a high-end profession that could have led me to a ‘leadership rank’, even before I started a family. I’m not that driven, and I don’t think I want to be. It’s not that I’m not worried about having it all, but I think I decided that I don’t really want it all anyway, even before I had children.
“To be sure, the women who make it to the top are highly committed to their profession. On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of them have something else in common: they are genuine superwomen... These women cannot possibly be the standard against which even very talented professional women should measure themselves. Such a standard sets up most women for a sense of failure.”
See. I was right. Those highly successful, government officials or leadership types really are exceptional people.
“In Midlife Crisis at 30, Mary Matalin recalls her days working as President Bush’s assistant and Vice President Cheney’s counselor: … ‘I finally asked myself, “Who needs me more?" And that’s when I realized, it’s somebody else’s turn to do this job. I’m indispensable to my kids, but I’m not close to indispensable to the White House.’”
This really helps put things into perspective for me. Not that I’m about to quit my job anytime soon, but when I’m having a frustrating time with work, it really does help to remember that to my kids, I am the most important thing in the world.
“Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s indefatigable chief of staff, has twins in elementary school; even with a fully engaged husband, she famously gets up at four every morning to check and send e-mails before her kids wake up.”
OK. So maybe I can try harder to get out of bed earlier. Maybe not at 4 a.m., and not for doing e-mail, but I’m sure I could adjust to an earlier start in the morning in order to fit in some reading or exercise… something that could help me feel as though I have more control over my day.
“Women who have children in their late 20s can expect to immerse themselves completely in their careers in their late 40s, with plenty of time still to rise to the top in their late 50s and early 60s.”
This really took the pressure off for me. The idea that I still have almost 10 years to balance the care of a young family with my job before I will really be able to more thoroughly devote myself to a career. Phew. I never thought too much about how much time I still have for my career development. In the next 10 years, I may even have time to get another degree or maybe change my path completely. It was reassuring to know that there is still lots of time to figure it all out.
“One of the most complicated and surprising parts of my journey out of Washington was coming to grips with what I really wanted.”
Since I don’t think I really know yet what it is that I want, I should really stop stressing about it so much. I guess I should be grateful for the family-work life balance that I have, enjoy the ride, and make the best of situation I have right now, in order to try to figure out what it is that I want anyway.
“It’s all fine and well for a tenured professor to write about flexible working hours, investment intervals, and family-comes-first management. But what about the real world? Most American women cannot demand these things, particularly in a bad economy, and their employers will have little incentive to grant them voluntarily.”
Wait. I do have flex-hours, and a very family-friendly employer. I am lucky to have the job that I have. I really shouldn’t stress about these things. I am fortunate and grateful.
Maybe I don't have it 'all', but for now, I think I have just enough.