There's been a flurry of news headlines in the past few months that have created quite the stir in women's circles, particularly working mother ones. Marissa Mayer's work-from-home ban seemed like a big setback for working mothers, and mentions of her nursery at work and two-week maternity leave didn't score her many points in the relatable scale. And then, Sheryl Sandberg's book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead," encouraged women to pursue their career ambitions and "lean in" instead of stepping out or scaling back because of family plans.
As a working mother, I think we're all way too hard on each other. There's really no right answer to the career/family debate. The only thing that matters is what works for your family at the time you're making the decision. For my family, we're able to juggle the demands of work and children on a day-to-day basis, but add any excessive travel to that mix and we're forced into a tailspin. For that reason, we've looked for work that has had limited travel expectations. In five to 10 years, this may not be the case; at that point, the day-to-day will probably be the insanity, and we'll be begging our employers to send us on business travel to get away from it all.
I know that being a parent has changed my relationship with time. I definitely think of how I spend my time in relationship to the pros and cons of what I'm giving up or gaining. For example, I prioritize my weekends around spending quality - fun - time with my kids. That means spending the least amount of time shopping - particularly grocery shopping. As a result, I do almost all my shopping online: Amazon Prime, FreshDirect, Zappos, Soap.com, to name a few. I've been known to place an order for Windex to arrive the next day. I'm sure I'd save some money if I scoured the aisles for sales, but I'd also probably spend more in last-minute purchases that were not on my list, particularly if my children had something to say about it.
When budgets allow for it, I'll also hire the occasional house cleaner and send my laundry in. The point is that I'm not pretending that I can do it all alone or the way my mother did it or my stay-at-home friends. I'm doing it the way it works best for my family. The time I give my children, I want it to be the best of me, and the time I give my work, I want it to be the best of me. It's not necessarily about "balance" (I'm not fond of that word), but more about being present and engaged in the moment. I don't believe our kids will keep inventory of the time we're not with them, but they will remember the time we were.
There are times I do lose it, particularly in the mornings when I'm trying to get everyone ready and out of the house. One of the best lessons I learned from my parents was about forgiveness. In our small house, there weren't many areas for them to hide if they were having a quarrel. They didn't argue much, but when they did, we were all well aware of it. However, they also apologized to each other in front of us and by doing so we learned that it's OK to disagree, but it's more important to resolve it and move on. In the same respect, I'm not advocating that we hide life's stresses from our children, but that when we behave less than favorably, we also resolve it in a way that models behavior we would like them to exhibit.
I'm sure the headlines will keep coming out detailing the path to the perfect life. And with each headline a slew of discussions around what we can be doing better. But, remember, you're the only one living your life, and since there's really no such thing as the perfect life…child…mother, I would refrain from the judgments - particularly the ones aimed at yourself.
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Based in New York, Anna Papadopoulos has held several digital media positions and has worked across many sectors including automotive, financial, pharmaceutical, and CPG.
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March 19, 2014