They often feel stretched too thin or are overcome with guilt that they’re not giving 100 percent to both areas. Ultimately, many women feel they must sacrifice one or the other.
I was very fortunate in that I never felt I had to choose.
From Business Owner to First-Time Mother
I became pregnant with my first child three months after I co-founded BVOH Finance & Accounting Search. I never considered not coming back to work after I gave birth, though, and I’ve always known that was the right decision for me.
While it’s true that having a career, running a company, and being a committed parent are incredibly demanding priorities, they’re also incredibly rewarding. And I’ve felt that committing to both my kids and my company benefitted both areas of my life.
That’s not to say this road has been easy. Becoming a first-time mother on the heels of starting a company was very challenging, and my maternity leave was unexpectedly extended because the first nanny we hired did not end up starting as planned. The challenges with childcare had begun! Parenthood is profoundly challenging under any circumstances, as all parents know, and things rarely go according to plan.
But I remember on my first day back at work, as I walked down Market Street toward the office, I felt a sense of anticipation and, somewhat surprisingly, freedom. Freedom to pop into a coffee shop without juggling an infant, and all of the accoutrements you travel with when you have a newborn. In that one second, my life felt like my own again, and to only be responsible for MYSELF during the workday was a luxury stay at home moms rarely experience.
I realize that “having it all” is a paradigm not all women have or want. Some don’t have the familial, social, or economic support to create this path, even if they do want it. Others value being a stay-at-home mother more than having a career, and I respect women in each of these circumstances.
Self-Awareness Leads to Happiness
Personally, I’ve always felt that working outside the home was easier than being a stay at home mom. In my own experience, staying at home, particularly with a newborn, was lonely and isolating. You never get a break and must always be “on” for your children.
Working in my job, in contrast, seemed much easier. My time and schedule were my own, and I also realized immediately how hyper-productive I could be. Thanks to my new-found efficiencies that motherhood taught me, I could get more done between 8-5 than I ever did before. I stopped wasting valuable time in order to get home and be with my family.
I admire and respect stay-at-home moms very much, in part because I know I couldn’t do it. To me, that’s really at the heart of the question about women’s empowerment and increased support for mothers. Each of us should have the opportunity to make a choice based on our own self-awareness.
There are many women who are far happier staying home with their children than they would be building a career. The thought of having someone else raise and care for their children is unpalatable and I completely understand that sentiment. Then there are others who are passionate about their jobs and enjoy the interaction and intellectual challenge and would miss that if they were home full time.
“I admire and respect stay-at-home moms very much, in part because I know I couldn’t do it.”
The more space we have to decide what works for us individually, without fear of external judgements, the better choices we can make and the happier we will be. Because my career is one of my passions, I knew that giving that up to be home 24/7 would not be the best choice for my family. Yes, I’d spend more time with my sons, but they wouldn’t be getting the best version of me during that time.
When I’m engaged in my career, I’m happier and more fulfilled. When I’m home, I’m fully engaged and dialed-in to the kids. I have the energy and patience to give them my best. Ultimately, I’m a better mom when I’m working than when I’m not.
Continuously Finding Your Balance
Deciding to be a working mother isn’t a one-time decision. Neither is how you structure your work-life balance. As your children get older, your career advances, and your family needs evolve, you’ll find yourself needing to adjust course to find an arrangement that fits. That’s normal and healthy — and essential to continued fulfillment in these areas.
I never felt the “emotional pull” to be home more when the boys were babies and toddlers because I felt confident in our child care strategy; I always knew they were cared for and safe. I do not travel for work and so was also able to spend time with them every morning and every evening. I was at their school for all of their big moments, and many (though not all) of the small ones. We all enjoyed this time together and I never took it for granted.
But as the boys have gotten older, I’ve felt the tug of wanting to be around more. They’re 11 and 13, so they’re at an age where they really need to feel heard and emotionally supported. This is the type of support that only I can give, (versus a caretaker) and I want to make sure I’m present in their lives to give it. These are the days that I’m creating more flexibility in my work schedule because I don’t want to miss those moments.
Even still, I don’t feel guilt about being a working parent. I’m just aware that as my sons enter a new phase in their lives, they may need me in a different capacity, and I’ll adjust course to make sure I’m there for them.
That dance of finding balance is always happening, no matter how old your children are.
The Positive Effects of Choosing Yourself
Continuing my career has enhanced my relationship not only with my sons, but also with my husband. I believe that our boys have benefitted from growing up in a home environment that challenges traditional gender roles, one in which both parents have thriving careers. They’ve seen me work hard running the business while also being there for them and their dad, and vice versa, and that sets an important precedent for how they’ll view women’s roles throughout their lives.
Because my husband and I have both worked as long as we’ve been parents, I’ve always felt we were on a level playing field. We both support the family financially, so there’s never been any question of power dynamics around money.
We’ve always had to co-parent around one another’s work schedules, so both of us have been involved with taking the boys to school events, doctor’s appointments, sporting events, and the like.
Continuing to have a career has also given my husband and me common ground on which to stay connected intellectually. We both are really passionate about our work, and we’ve always been able to talk through strategies and business challenges with one another. That’s helped us maintain a strong intellectual connection, and it’s brought us closer as we navigated working parenthood together.
“My goal in sharing my decisions is not to “sell” being a working mother, but to show that every woman has the right to decide how she wants to structure her life.”
In addition to seeing their parents work as a team of equals, I believe our sons have benefitted from hearing us talk about our work. They’re still young, but they’ve retained a surprising amount about business, leadership, and management challenges just by picking up on conversations as my husband and I discuss our days.
Both kids are surprisingly familiar with business vernacular, and they’ve chimed into conversations with some pretty interesting perspectives that have helped me view problems in new ways. Whatever field they choose professionally, having that background will only help them, and I’m proud that my husband and I can provide them with that environment.
But this is just our story. My goal in sharing my decisions is not to “sell” being a working mother, but to show that every woman has the right to decide how she wants to structure her life, whether she decides to stay at home with her children or continue working on her career outside the home.
Reframing the Choice
Too often, women feel that they’re forced to choose between their careers and motherhood. I dislike that paradigm because it inherently forces you to give something up.
Instead, I encourage women to choose happiness and fulfillment — whatever that looks like to them. Doing so reframes your decisions as active, positive moves instead of feeling that you’ve lost something by choosing one or the other.
Fortunately, the world is becoming more supportive of women finding the right structure for ourselves and our families. We just need to allow ourselves the freedom to do it and to evolve along with our ever-changing desires and needs.