Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Culture of the Working Mom

I grew up in a house where my mom didn't work when I was younger, and even when she went back to work, she was really around. While I think most of my friends' moms either didn't work or were teachers, so they were around after school, I was SURE that I would be a working mom. It didn't really seem like an option. We (girls) all went to school and believed that we could do anything, so how could we stop whatever it was that we accomplished at work to raise kids? I can only think of one friend of mine in the States that doesn't work (though I have to admit that I have lost touch with a whole lot of people...).

It's also so clear to me that your 30s really matter in your career. I see that the women at my office who have really moved up ALL kept working, and kept working hard (like most evenings and many weekends as well). Granted I work in the most aggressive field - finance, but still. I very firmly believe that if I get out of the workforce I will pretty much lose any career momentum that I have gathered (even with a top MBA degree and a good public university degree or two). Yes, I can probably get a job again, but I will have already shown that my first priority is not my work. While you can SAY whatever you want about your priorities, when you leave your job to raise your kid/s, you have spoken very loudly. This is something you will have to bring up in an interview, whereas if you keep working, you can choose to bring up the fact that you have a child or not. This is a message that I may be comfortably sending at some point, but it's a really hard decision.

Yet - I really don't get how we can be moving forward in traditional careers (both Matt and I work in banks) raising good children who are good and respectful communicators who listen, have opinions, feel confident and proud of who they are, and who do things that challenge their development (my baby sits at home - or in the playground or mall - all day with Rose, and while Rose is FANTASTIC, it's just not the same as fun classes, mommy-baby groups, etc.). That's not to say that it can't be done - I just don't get how it will work. Will anyone else teach my kids manners? Will they discipline them? Teach them not to whine? Interesting also is that the person who is taking care of my baby is from a very different culture. Trying to teach her not to go to Sam when she cried (when we were sleep training) was painful. I make sure she leaves Sam alone with a few toys and books so she can play by herself at least a few times a day. This would never happen in the Philippines (or at least not in her village). I don't even know about other differences that I may not be aware of.

While that culture of MUST WORK was what I think was imprinted in my brain, I now live in a place where I have nearly no friends who have young children and work, so this makes me challenge my assumptions on a daily basis. Literally.

This piece in the New York times has brought up the issues that I have been thinking about and struggling with for months (probably like every working mom!).

As we think about moving back to the US (at some point...? it's been FOUR YEARS, and we came for ONE!!), and I try to imagine what our life would be like there, I really can't. I can't, because I have never really seen it. I don't know what a kid's life is like when his parents are not available from 7:30 until 6:45, as is our situation now. What do you do for the summer? Are there camps for the entire day? I don't know how the kid copes (especially when they're a crazy sleeper, like my kid), and I don't know how the mom/parents get everything done. When do we make the food? For us? For the kids? Do the laundry? Clean the house? Shop? Will I ever go to my kids' sports events? Will we have healthy dinners? I just totally don't get how it all gets done. It sounds totally impossible, and even if it's possible, it sounds like no fun at all. Yet everyone does it.

Whatever I/we decide, I will regret in some way. Whatever I/we decide I will have to justify to someone (and myself) for years to come.

The clear answer seems to be to either have a job that requires fewer hours or have a job that is more flexible and on your own time. Who knows - lots of stuff to think about - what I want personally, what's best for our family (as a whole and each of us individually), what's culturally acceptable (ex-pat Singapore culture? American culture?), what will make me happiest, what we can afford or choose to afford. Not easy stuff.

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