In my last post, I tried to explain why Sheryl Sandberg`s book, Lean In, resonated so strongly with me, after having felt so strongly pulled between work and my mother`s bedside last spring.
Sandberg fortifies my sense that I shouldn't have to choose, any more than the men do, and that it's okay to do my best at both work and home/family life, while accepting that I may fall short, in both fields, of other's standards. She offers examples of her own shortfalls, on both the domestic and the work front, from necessary compromises to downright refusal of certain unrealistic standards. For instance, she describes being mildly scolded by another mom for sending her son to school in a blue shirt on St. Patrick's Day (yes, a small incident, but if you`ve done the school run, you know the censure that can acompany such failings). I recalled her anecdote last weekend when my daughter told me that, on scoring a pair of ballet slippers in her daughter's size, she was gently chided by the consignment store owner who couldn't believe she was picking them up only an hour before her daughter's first ballet class. "Well, aren't you a last-minute mommy?" the shop owner said, teasing, yes, but also pricking the tender places she might have known to avoid. The dance class wasn't at a formal ballet school, but rather was a community centre "sampler." Yet enough of the other prospective wee dancers were fully attired already that our almost-5-year-old granddaughter asked her Mom to explain her own gear to the teacher. See how early it starts?
My daughter notes that for her the ballet class story is just funny. Rather than take it personally, she thought it was slightly bitchy of the store owner, but not a big deal, and certainly not enough to make her feel guilty. More mildly annoyed, she says, with the owner and with some of the other moms, but in a momentary, amused/bemused way. Hearing this, I admit that I pat myself discreetly on the back, hoping that perhaps I had a tiny bit to do with raising a daughter much less prone to guilt than I am. . . .and more comfortable in her choices for herself and hr family.
Personally, I know my daughter to be a wonderful mother in all the ways that count. And part of her wonderful mothering includes showing her daughter that she can't have it all but she can combine work and home "well enough." She was at a conference in Europe for N's first week at kindergarten, but she's made sure that Nola has a Dad who can look after her very well -- and Granddad pitched in to ease Dad's load for a few hours each day.
My daughter points out that she first discounted the conference when she realized it fell during N's first week at kindergarten. But her husband encouraged her, promising that he could handle the transition, and then Granddad and I added our support. (In fact, we even suggested they both go, as it's been a while since they had some couple getaway time). Without that, she doubts she would have gone. As it turns out, a week was barely enough for N and husband to notice she was gone, and Granddad felt very fortunate in having that time with Nola. If anyone felt a bit off-kilter, it was probably Nana, who was a bit envious of the retired grandparent and wishing I could have cancelled some of my classes to help out.
Indeed, daughter stresses, in the end she would not rate this work-domestic balancing act as "good enough," but sees it as awesome, and I'd have to agree.
Somehow, though, despite our being so impressed by our daughter as mother, by
Well, as it eventually turned out, I'd said something that seemed to insist I believed children could only really be looked after properly by their mothers, at home, full-time. I would never, ever say such a thing, my husband, my friends, most of my family, would tell you. I don't believe it at all. I can point to many friends whose children grew into fine adults, raised by moms who worked full-time outside the home. As well, we'd raised our daughters to have careers, to nurture those careers.
But here`s the scary thing: as mothers, our actions wield immense power, beyond what we might say. At some level, I clearly implied that being home with my kids was the best choice because, after all, that`s the choice I made. I`m happy I made it. And my husband was, and is, happy I made it because, of course, it made his career so much more manageable (a wonderful hands-on dad and pitcher-in on the domestic front when home, he was away ten days, back four, away ten, home four, almost regularly during firstborn's first six months -- the travel did get less, but I was often on my own with all four, and it would have been hell-ish to find childcare). He is, perhaps not surprisingly, more invested than I am in saying that I was a great mother, and in packaging my SAHM status into that "greatness." I've been insisting he play that down, insisting for several years now, increasingly aware of its possible implications. Added for clarification: I had a private music studio in my home while my kids were growing, fortunate to be able to work ~20 hours a week teaching piano, music theory, Orff pre-school groups, etc. while a baby-sitter kept my gang entertained.
Still, there's also a possibility that I was more pleased than I admitted when he made such comments. It's possible that I felt my choice negated by my daughter's direction; perhaps I worried, at some less recognized level, that she looked back and wondered how I could have been satisfied to stay at home. Perhaps I, too, wanted her to see how worthwhile my path had been, however different from her own.
I'd love to think I had no such motivation, albeit unrecognized. I'd love to be sure that my clearest message was one of untrammeled, uncomplicated support for what she's doing.
Because I`m supremely happy that my daughter is making another choice, as happy as I know Paul is. I`m especially happy that she`s found a way to make that choice work for everyone in her family. And I want to say that, more loudly and more clearly than ever -- with Sandberg`s help. If your daughters haven`t yet got to the stage where they`re making these choices, you`ve got time to think about this before you get blind-sided. Meanwhile, I`m embracing the chance to celebrate my daughters` choices and let them understand mine.
My daughter points out that even my phrasing her return to work as a choice reveals a certain -- hmmm, she's gentler here, but I think she sees an inability or refusal to see her family's reality, maybe even a generational naïveté, at worst an obduracy. I see her point. It's tough to see how they could manage on a single salary, particularly since hers is the job with pension and health benefits -- fewer and fewer positions offer this, these days. But I suspect my daughter would make the choice to manage both career and family even if she could somehow afford to stop working for a few years. Meanwhile, whether choice or not, this Nana thinks her granddaughter is lucky to have a father and mother who both love her dearly, parent her together, competently, and have work that engages them. What a world of possibilities she's growing into! As are her friends whose mothers or fathers integrate their work-home lives in other ways. There's really no single "best way" -- how can there be, when we're all so different?!
Just a reminder as I close by welcoming your comments: I used my daughter's story only to tease out the generational repercussions of my own choices, my own tangling with the work-family balance a woman must make. Any comments aimed against the choice of any woman who balances childcare with work may be met by my Full Mama Bear. Not because my daughter still needs my protection, but because all our daughters do. Daughters-in-law. All our younger sisters as well. Nieces, granddaughters. Sons as well, and sons-in-law. Brothers. Nephews. Parenting is a tough gig, and we struggle to do our best. We barely know what that is for ourselves, and we should be ever so careful about prescribing it for others. But you all know that already, don't you?! Now excuse my sensitivities (it's been a challenging post to feel my way through), and I'd love to hear from any of you but especially those who are experiencing or looking forward to the Mother-Daughter gig as it shifts up a generational notch.