After an article about “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” was published in The Atlantic Magazine, it seemed like there was renewed vigor in the discussion of women’s liberation, working motherhood, the realities of our modern world and situation as women, etc. It really got me thinking about these very important topics. It is undeniable that being a women with a successful career and family is a major challenge. It is a struggle for anyone, but add to the stress with the current financial situation, job market, school-debt load, and limited maternity leave, it’s hard to even imagine how anyone manages and comes out on top!
For me, trying to balance my career with my family has been an ongoing evolution, involving a myriad of unexpected twists and turns, and a lot of self-evaluation and sacrifice. I began my first few weeks of motherhood adjusting to a new city, a newly minted physician husband, and a serious intent on heading right back to work in patient-care. After my self imposed “two months” passed, I reevaluated my priorities for my new family, and postponed finding that full-time or even part-time pediatric practice position. I kept telling myself that in another month or so I’d start looking. Instead, I began to network and carve out more creative opportunities using my skills, while making the sacrifice to take time off from the traditional “clinical practice” track. As my family grew, I have continued to seek out these more flexible venues to use my skills, and I feel grateful for this flexibility and ability. This does not mean that I love every minute of being home (most of the time) with my children. Being home with kids is hard. Much harder than any other job I can really think of, but that is alright because it is important. Needless to say, this goes hand-in-hand with many moments of doubt, confusion, and soul-searching, but for this moment, really pursuing these alternative venues is the best choice for my family.
When my son was six months old, I had a bit of an internal freak-out. I’d grown up in a family where my parents defined their lives mostly by their work, and I thought that is what I was supposed to do with my life. I falsely believed that by working full-time outside the home, I would prove that I had “made it”. But, every time I thought about leaving my son to do a job that I wasn’t 100% in-love with, I just couldn’t make myself go that route. In addition to my personal mixed feelings, my husband works a ridiculous number of hours every day and week being a resident in medical school. To be honest, I’m the only stability in my children’s day surrounding the family. My husband might be home for dinner, he might not be home until the next day, or for some rare occasions, he might not be home for a week or even a month. It’s grueling, and often brings out the worst parenting in my over-tired, over-stressed self. All of this being said, the one constant is that I know I am doing things differently for my children. I’m able to be around for the early formative years. It is actually debatable in the literature if this matters for the children in the end, but for me it matters. I’m providing them with the polar opposite of what I had as a child. Don’t get me wrong, my parents made the right choices for them, and they managed to provide for me in all ways continuously even if they were often at work themselves. And, I think I turned out alright!
The realities of modern life and most careers (I’m fortunate to be in the flexible field of nursing!), make it more difficult for individuals and families to make the choices that I have made, and often women must return to a more traditional (full time out of the home) working situation. As previously mentioned, I am the product of two parents who worked long and hard (often 12 hour days) throughout my entire childhood. This does not mean that you will miss out on the experience of having a family, nor does it mean that you will end up not being able to provide physically or emotionally for your children, it just means that you have to work hard to make important choices and actions to meet your family’s goals.
There are many different ways the work/life “balance” can look. I have some close friends who intended to stay home with their children full-time, but after the first couple of months they knew that they did not want to continue staying home. This is not a failure in any way. Staying home is very difficult, and not for everyone, just as working outside of the home is also difficult in its own way and also not for everyone. Some mothers decide to work part-time, and be home part time allowing for an experience in both “worlds”. Other families decide to let the father be the stay-at-home parent. I think the bottom line is that you need to make the choices that work best for you and your family. If staying home with your children is going to make you the happiest, then it’s important to try and make that happen. And if working outside the home is going to make you the happiest, either full or part-time, then make that happen. If you yourself feel fulfilled in your “balance” then you will be a more patient, kind, and open parent. I’ve said it before, and it is always a recurring refrain: Happy parents make for happy babies!
With all of this being said, you might still be wondering, “Is there really an achievable work/life balance?” I’m not entirely sure what the answer is to this question, and it most likely depends on your own values and feelings surrounding what this balance means to you and your family. Sure, as your life evolves with your child(ren), so will your feelings about work and life and everything that goes along with it. Take the time to be honest with yourself and your partner about expectations, feelings, frustrations, and accomplishments, and revisit and reevaluate often. Set attainable goals for the moment, and revise them along the way to make the most of your home life and your work life. Get creative and find new ways of accomplishing everything you would like to do, and if need be, know that it is okay to take a step back for a moment or two.