Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I Refuse to Choose Between Work and Family

I have read and listened to several pieces where women discuss working outside the home.  The most disconcerting aspects are how most, if not all, feel the need to choose between starting a family and pursuing a graduate degree and/or a career.  I have so many feelings toward this but the main one being: Why must women choose?  For that matter, why must men choose?

As a woman and mom who has specific educational and career goals, this topic is close to my heart.  After many years of believing that my first priority is mommying, I felt cloistered by the decision--the right decision--I made early to have Emily and Andrew.  All the passions that arose once I found the right major I felt forced to place on the back burner.

One specific memory is when pregnant with Emily: I told Ben I really wanted to get my masters.  I wasn't sure in what at the time, but I wanted to start preparing.  He supported me unequivocally; however, knowing I was pregnant and being an active member of the LDS church, I felt the Prophets and other leaders had deemed this decision unrighteous.

So when I graduated, and Ben began studying for the MCAT and doing all the other things necessary to prepare for medical school, I felt a surge of jealousy.  It hurt to say good-bye to him.  I felt abandoned and, worse, unrecognized for my natural intelligence.   But, I told myself, I was doing the right thing by choosing my family first.

Coming from the place I am now, not feeling pressured to stay at home with my kids as well as not believing in eternal consequences, I will say there is more than one option.  I, and others, shouldn't have to choose between work and family.  Instead, women and men should push for more family friendly work environments.

I have this vision of husbands and wives, partners, or any type of family group standing up to companies who do not allow flexible work schedules, telecommuting, or more paid time off.  All these companies--and especially the examples with which the heads of these companies set--are anti-family.  Studies have consistently shown that happy home lives correlate with content and more productive employees.  Think about the ramifications of making work places in such a way that all people--from the top to the bottom--felt they did not need to sacrifice their family's needs to keep their position or help their company reach their "bottom line."   I am not saying that there wouldn't be times when work would need to come first, I am suggesting that we band together to encourage companies to put families first.  To allow for a more balanced work/home life.  I mean, a family initiative within families is all fine and dandy, but change can't come until we make a concerted effort to alter policies and laws toward a more progressive and employee/employer-friendly workplace.

I don't know about you, but I will not let my decision to be a mom interrupt my desire to work; nor will I allow my desire to work interfere with my current and future family planning.  I will have as many, or as little, kids as I want without putting any educational/career goals on the shelf.

My question for you is, how can we make this work?  Any suggestions or alterations to my vision? Do you feel you must choose between work and family?


  1. Amber I love this post. It is difficult for you to take a stand about working outside the home given your church I'm guessing, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there are many LDS families who feel the way you do. Help educate me please.

    What I love about your honesty is that you, as mom, are not "back-burnered". Your needs are part of the over-all family equation. You want to work and that needs to be cnsidered. I've talked to so many mothers who are sad as they leave tiny babies to return to work.

    I go out of my way to buy from companies that have family friendly policies. When I see a company that has kids running around in the shop or a bouncy seat behind the counter I comment on how much that makes me happy. Bringing family into the business world only improves our business lives. When we learn to tolerate the WHOLE picture rather than compartmentalizing our lives we live more integrated. Continue to reach for all that you want.

  2. I LOVE this! I am in the middle of completely rethinking my own understanding of Gender roles, and I am hoping to create a life in the near future where my husband and I can truly be equals. Spending equal amounts of time with our pre-school aged children and equal amounts of time working to support our family. Why should I be denied any activity outside the home simply because I am a female? Why should my husband have to work many hours away from home limiting his involvement with his own children simply because he is male? We have already proved that it is completely possible for our family to live on one income, why not live on 2 part-time incomes instead? I also completely agree with you on standing up to companies. This mentality towards business is very anti-family. Have you read "The Mommy Myth"? It was a helpful read for me as I started to unwrap this onion. http://www.amazon.com/Mommy-Myth-Idealization-Mot...

  3. There's a series of books I read that are set in the future, and mothers who stay at home (which, of course, really means work at home) are paid a salary by the government. I'm not sure if it's the government that should be paying it or how the wage should be calculated or a slew of other things, but I love the idea of being recognized in a specific, economically viable way for the work I do. It's no substitute for snuggles and hugs and crayon drawings, but it's external validation. And that's important, I think, along with other forms of validation like childcare in workplaces, flexible office hours, and extended maternity and paternity leave.

  4. Aside from what's been said, family-friendly healthcare is important, as is establishing a support network of extended family or friends.

    I think that the most important changes happen on a personal level, and eventually on the cultural level; corporate behavior will simply follow suit. Choices will always have to be made: you can't be in a job that expects 60 hours a week and be struggling with a two year old at home and expect everything to just work. Once we become realistic about our expectations of balancing family and education/employment and admit that we can't do everything as if that were the only thing in our lives, things fall into place. To "have it all," one needs to plan, work hard, be communicative, and relax.

  5. It is a perpetual juggle. It isn't easy. But then working at home (without pay) isn't easy. I think the key is being open and flexible, including with your expectations, and that includes the fact that you and Ben will both be constantly tweaking the way you juggle.

    There will be compromises. The "have it all and do it all" myth is just that - a myth. I think we need to set aside our slogans and notions of what "it" looks life - "it" being the combination of elements of giving, taking, creating, learning, loving, feeling, being - and more - that comprise our journey.

    There is no formula, Amber. But with two of you willing to talk and reshape as you and your family recognize needs evolving, I think you have a better shot and "being and doing and growing" yourself and those you love.

  6. I found a list a few years back of family friendly companies. I've lost it- helpful huh? - but I wonder if we couldn't start by voting with our dollars. Some companies provide health insurance for part time employees. Some allow more flex time. But I think the truth is some industries are better built for flexibility then others.

    A woman I know, a new doctor and new mom, wisely said before you make any choices, you need to know what you think it takes to be a good mom. I'll add you must know too what constitutes success in you career.

    Personally, I know that compromises are necessary. I plan to do more out in the world, but even when I do, I know I'll need more give in my career to meet my needs as a mom. I have no clue how thatwill work.

  7. Amber, I realize we all have different experiences in life that lead us to think and feel certain ways. But I struggle with your mentioning the church discouraging you from getting a masters degree. The glory of God is intelligence and in my experience women are never discouraged from pursuing an education and getting the degree that they desire to have. Of course, families are encouraged as well, and mothers encouraged to be at home with their children where their influence is so beneficial. But must one exclude the other? I don't think so. And I don't think it's fair to imply that church policy would ever discourage a woman from gaining the education she desired, pregnant or not. In my experience, the church has never done anything but empower me to make choices that are the most beneficial for me and for the well being of my family... something that we determine on a personal level, within our own family unit. What works for us may not work for everyone else, but we have the agency and intelligence to make choices for ourselves. I'm truly sorry that you were ever made to feel like furthering your education would be unrighteous or worthy of discouragement. Having had such a completely opposite experience, I felt I would be remiss if I didn't add my thoughts to the discussion.

  8. Hi Jenny,

    You are right, women are encouraged to get education. It wasn't getting the degree that I felt discouraged from, it was potentially using the degree outside the home. There are dual messages: get a degree but in the context of supporting your husband in his career goals because he will be providing for the family. My criticism is not about the church policies regarding women and education, but about the disagreement between equality in marriage. I have seen my husband struggle greatly to provide for us, financially, when I was completely able to work and help him. However, we both felt it went against current teachings when it comes to mothers staying in the home. I am not implying that kids should go into daycare, I am suggesting that we move in a more creative direction. If my husband and I had thought that we both would take care of parenting and the finances, we would have done things differently while we both were in school. I don't regret the decisions we made, but it has helped me make different choices now that I wouldn't have otherwise. In the end, someone must take care of the kids. I am the best person for the job, and my husband would be as well has we changed positions. So I wouldn't pay for another person to do something that I am more qualified for (as most moms and dads are) and am sad that is the message you read from this post. I am advocating for more family friendly work environments that allow a couple to share work and familial responsibilities equally if the couple so chose. And I don't mean sending kids to daycare, I mean there are so many possibilities for a marriage couple who had the flexible options to create a home/work life that worked for them and provided the best, I mean the best (which is to say, the parents), care for the children and giving them the home life they need.

  9. Rachel, your views are expressed very eloquently and I will need time to digest all that you have said in response to my questions! I admire that you and your husband can work part-time and make the finances in your family work, it is something I've told Ben I would have done had we started out differently. As you said, owning a home isn't our priority either, we prefer to give our kids what they need and don't think anything outside of that is necessary for their growth.

    Your ideas on attachment parenting are fascinating. I, too, have witnessed the devastating effects of abandoned/neglected children. It is so heartbreaking that I went into an anxiety attack when I first had Emily thinking she would turn out that way! (Mental health issues, I'm telling you it is vile!) But, as you said, I learned to read her and Andrew's cues so I could give them the attention and love they need. I feel much more comfortable as a parent now, in some ways, and am grateful for my degree in helping that. As I am sure you are.

  10. Amber, on the contrary, I didn't get that impression from your post at all. It's obvious you are an advocate for providing the very best care for your children and that you feel that care should happen in the home. Nor do I struggle with the notion that arrangements that are a little less than traditional can work to benefit individual families. My brother is a stay at home dad with his four boys while his wive works outside the home, and he's great at it. His boys are happy, he is happy, his wife is happy. It works for them. They are also active, happy members of the church. And that, I think, is where you and I disagree. Because the church that I know is one that is supportive and loving of families, no matter their circumstances, or the decisions they make as to how children are cared for, whether it be inside the home, or outside the home in traditional daycare settings. Is their an ideal? Absolutely. But we are allowed, through personal revelation to make decisions for our family, even if they may differ from what others say is the "perfect" arrangement. No guilt. No pressure. No judgement.

  11. Jenny, I think your experience is beautiful; however, I have witnessed and heard so many different things than what you have described here. But, this is not a post bashing on the church, I wrote it to talk about my personal experiences and how I have grown as a woman. I really want to emphasize that I want to see workplaces become more lenient toward families so that we can all choose how to make things work in a manner that best supports our familial goals. Thank you for sharing your opinion and your own experiences. I have always admired you. : )

  12. Becky, it is experiences like yours that make my heart weep. Not because you chose the route that is best for your family, but that our current working system could not support you and your goals. I feel they lost a creative and wonderful asset by not allowing for flexibility.

    I suppose that most people would read this post and assume that I am currently working full-time, but, funnily enough, I actually have no desire to do that at this moment. Yes I want to pursue a degree, but that is something I am familiar with doing and know I can balance family and homework. (I went back to school when my first was 2 weeks old, school has much more flexibility than a job does.) However, there is no job that I could find that would leave me feeling more satisfied than I currently am at home. I am glad that I get to experience everything with my kids. But, I also know that many women want or need to work outside the home. I feel frustrated when I think about the balance of familial responsibility lies with the woman. I believe in equality and would love to see men and women creating and rearing families together in a way that suits their future goals.

    Thank you for commenting. I don't know if what I responded back with actually added to or subtracted from what you have said--my brain tends to go in all types of directions when I start thinking--but I will tell you that I shared much of what you said with my husband and friends. I think your story is important. You have made a decision that is best for your family and shown that you are a strong woman who will do what you think is right.

    I also want you to know that your frugal living is something I can relate to. Our house would be considered small to some people, but we have more than enough room to spare. I couldn't imagine us living in a bigger space when we don't need it. (As an aside, we are renting. Mostly because we have not settled down and don't know when that will happen. Haha!) Our kids only get new clothes and toys from grandparents and giving friends. And we are okay with that! We are living on medical school loans and cannot afford to do anything outside of our budget. But this has shown me that we can really get by on so little. Besides, I would rather give any excess we have to people who really need it. And that is because I am weird.

  13. Thank you for this insightful and important comment. I agree with all that you've said and would really like to see these things implemented in current workplace policies.

  14. No, not weird.

    I believe the universe gives us exactly what we need, when we need it. I also believe that what goes around comes around, so if you have a penny to spare, when you need it back, it will be there.

    My husband & I have always shared the work, but, due to his travel schedule, a good bit is mine. When he's not on the road, he works from home, which is nice. He just changed jobs and we are still adjusting to what this means. His last job was more seasonally busy, which meant he was home much more summer & winter. He was my main child care plan the last few summers, with some supplements from camps. But when he was gone, he was pretty much out of contact and couldn't be counted on. Such is life.

    I like to call it our little cash flow problem. We have a wonderful life, wonderful opportunities fall into our laps quite a bit. We spent multiple weekends in a row this summer at various friends and relatives waterfront second homes. Not a bad gig at all. We attended a number of concerts, operas and even a ballet performance this past spring and summer, for free. Just the other day I scored a pair of never-worn, land's end pink mary janes in my daughter's size for $3 when I was out thrifting. We live just fine off of what we make and look good while we're at it. We just don't always have the cash flow that we'd like.

    I now channel a good bit of that creativity and energy into being on the PTO at school, by leading my daughter's girl scout troop, among other things. I think that inspiring and molding young lives is a much better legacy than a well designed building any day. Good design is subjective, but a good person? Not so much.

  15. I am constantly at war with myself over this. I work from home...but wish I didn't have to. It's tough.

  16. It was hard to see exactly what I was writing 'cause it only shows that little square while you write. I just wanted to clarify my statement. I don't believe that ALL mothers who work outside the home psychologically can't handle staying home. But I do believe it sometimes happens.

    I also believe that some women are called to work outside the home in different capacities. Each of us has gifts and talents unique to us alone. God is going to need some of those out in the world, as well. There are SO MANY different reasons why a mother might work outside the home.

    I think the harder issue is choosing for oneself and then sticking to it. I know that I have really struggled with this principle since getting married. There are all these statements about not putting off kids. Yet, Xan and I felt very strongly that we should wait. So we did. And, we still are. It can be hard to not doubt the answer God is still giving us. Especially whenever I hear a talk about not putting off having children. Or I read about yet another of my friend's having yet another baby. Or when the job market is terrible and I feel like I'm floating from one temporary job to another. All I can do is stick to my guns and remind myself that I believe this is what God wants me to do. Sometimes he reassures and other times, he lets me try my faith.


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