One Month

Today marks the beginning of the one-month countdown until I plan to go on Maternity leave from work.

This still terrifies me.

It’s plainly obvious that my career (along with life in general) from here on out will never be the same. What it will be like post-kid, nobody can say, and I, like anyone, have a healthy amount of anxiety about the unknown.

So I’ve been doing a lot of reading and reflecting about work, work-life balance and life as a working mom. And a number of pieces have really resonated with me.

From Seth Godin on “Why we work”:

1. For the money
2. To be challenged
3. For the pleasure/calling of doing the work
4. For the impact it makes on the world
5. For the reputation you build in the community
6. To solve interesting problems
7. To be part of a group and to experience the mission
8. To be appreciated

The Dutch Paradox on women working mostly part-time, and how they don’t seem to equate work with pleasure (from Slate):

“We look at the world of management—and it is a man’s world—and we think, oh I could do that if I wanted,” says Maaike van Lunberg, an editor at De Stentor newspaper. “But I’d rather enjoy my life.”

And from Penelope Trunk, on Working (or not) Moms:

So. Now I’m a stay-at-home mom. I’m working about 35 hours a week, but relative to how I had been working, this is part-time work. It’s scary to tell people I’m not working full time because all the good jobs will dry up. And it’s scary to tell people when I’m not home with my kids because I only get one chance in my life to do that. The labels are most scary because they tell you what you gave up. And the scariest thing about adult life is what we give up.

It’s also hard for me to remember that the way thing are going to be for the next few years is not the way they’ll be forever. Raising kids is hard, important work. Work I want to do. But I also find the work I already do to be challenging and rewarding, and I am reluctant to step away from that entirely. A whole year off seems both too long and not long enough at the same time.

What I would really like is to focus on being happy and fulfilled, in whatever form that takes, and not worry so much about how other people label it.

I’m still mostly uncomfortable about the whole thing, but found this article in the New York Times most closely mirrors my own thoughts about the feminism, the tradeoffs, the costs and the rewards.

And at the very least it’s a glimmer of hope that maybe that the time off will be a very good thing, for me, my family, my career and my peers.

This, I would argue, is why the workplace needs women. Not just because they are 50 percent of the talent pool, but for the very fact that they are more willing to leave than men. That, in turn, makes employers work harder to keep them…. Women started this conversation about life and work — a conversation that is slowly coming to include men. Sanity, balance and a new definition of success, it seems, just might be contagious. And instead of women being forced to act like men, men are being freed to act like women. Because women are willing to leave, men are more willing to leave, too…. Looked at that way, this is not the failure of a revolution, but the start of a new one. It is about a door opened but a crack by women that could usher in a new environment for us all.

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9 thoughts on “One Month

  1. RC

    You are very fortunate to have the choice to stay at home for one year. In the US most women have to go back to work after 6 weeks off because most companies don’t pay them longer than that. You can re-evaluate as the baby gets older if you want to go back to work or if you would/can stay at home longer. I wish you lots of luck and a baby that enjoys sleep. =)

    peechie Reply:

    Believe me, I’m reminded every day how lucky Canadians are compared to those in the US. I can’t imagine only staying home for 6 weeks.

    I’ve also been talking with my boss(es) about returning part time at first (probably in the Fall, long before my year is up), which they seem pretty amenable to, which is awesome. I think the biggest challenge for a lot of working women is that their only choices have been (and are often still) all or nothing when it comes to work, so it’s no wonder they’re choosing not to return.

  2. Derek K. Miller

    I worked part-time when my girls were little, so I could stay home with them and my wife could return to teaching after maternity leave (which was still 6 months then, not a year). The grandparents helped too, so I could keep working some. I regret nothing at all about doing that, especially now that the girls are becoming teenagers and I have terminal cancer.

    Yes, that gives me some perspective. The only good thing to come out of my having cancer and being home on medical leave since 2007 is that I’ve been able to spend more time with my kids: I’m here when they leave for school, and when they get home. If they’re sick, no problem. If they need to come home, no problem. We would have found ways around that if I were still working–we did while I was!–but now that any thoughts of a long-term career for me are gone, I can be happy that I’ve come to know them, and have them know me, better than might otherwise have happened.

    So much in raising a family is ephemeral. Just when you think you have something figured out, whether it’s bedtime when they’re little or your place in their life when they’re older, it changes. It’s worth being there for a chunk of it.
    Derek K. Miller´s last blog post ..Facebook would have been good for my grandpa

  3. clara

    You said, “What I would really like is to focus on being happy and fulfilled, in whatever form that takes, and not worry so much about how other people label it.”

    That pretty much nails it. The whole gig is hard, full of difficult decisions where you least expect them. But if you have a compass, then at least you keep your self-doubt to the bare minimum and can shrug off the unhappiness other people will try to put on you.

    I am one of those people who is home full time because she can’t go back to work part time. It sucks in a lot of ways – I think I would be way better at stay-at-home-parenting three days a week than five. But overall I am happy with the choices I’ve made over the past five years. (And they have been my choices, which helps.)

  4. Darren

    This is probably the worst time to raise this unpopular point, but you’re very rational and we’ve been Internet-friends for a long time.

    I want to dispute (a little) that “raising kids is hard, important work”. This feels like a careful lie that every parent tells themselves to justify the time-intensive, repetitive experience that is raising children. It’s ‘hard’ in as much as there are sometimes long hours and the tasks can be unpleasant, but it’s surely not ‘hard’ in the sense that it’s difficult. How do I know this? Because most humans on the planet do it successfully.

    As for ‘important’, this is obviously in the eye of the beholder. It’s obviously vitally important to a child’s parents, but totally unimportant to everyone else. There’s none of this in your post, but one of the great falsehoods of our times is the ridiculous false sacredness with which we treat childbearing and raising.

    I hear a lot of parents refer to raising their children as “the most important job I’ll ever do” (though I know that’s not what you’ve said). It feels odd to say that about a job that nearly everybody else does, too.

    I fully acknowledge that having children is apparently profound and life-altering experience, but I wish we’d dial back the rhetoric in which we equate raising children to doing important work.

    Footnote: Let me preemptively quash the old “you don’t know, because you don’t have kids” response here. It’s faulty logic. After all, I haven’t been a firefighter or a lawyer, but I can reasonably speculate on the experience of those professions. In fact, I’ve got plenty of insight into parenting, because I’ve been the owner of parents for 36 years, and observed plenty of other parents in action over that time.
    Darren´s last blog post ..Two peculiar calls to action and one preemptive sign

  5. Darren

    On a less cynical note, I thought this was a really interesting piece on parenting–“all joy and no fun”. It’s eight months old, so you may have already seen it:
    Darren´s last blog post ..Two peculiar calls to action and one preemptive sign

    peechie Reply:

    I appreciate the comment about “hard, important work” since I struggled with that line a bit myself. I have always felt a bit awkward around the significance we give birth and death – the only two experiences it’s guaranteed everyone on earth will go through. If they are so common, why are they so “special?” Or perhaps it’s exactly because it’s a universally shared experience (thus bringing the collective “us” closer together in those times) that makes it special? Anyhow, as I said, it irks me in the very back of my brain.

    I do still believe, though, that parenting is hard, important work. It just depends on your definitions of hard and important.

    I do not think it’s hard in the way some jobs like lawyering or firefighting or leading a nation can be hard. But hard because it’s time-consuming, unrelenting, physically punishing, intellectually draining and (as that great NYMag article points out) generally completely thankless. I think I’d be doing myself (and other parents out there) a disservice if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that raising kids is hard work. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be an industry built around paying other people to do it while we go do something else.

    As for important, I think you’re missing the fact that kids don’t exist in a bubble. They will eventually turn into real humans and begin interacting with the world. And I do think it’s very important that anyone who chooses to foist another human upon the world puts in the time and effort to turn them from creatures who should live with wolves into productive members of society. Or at the very least, sufficient enough members that they aren’t a burden.

    I don’t know if raising my kid will be the “most important job I’ll ever do.” Frankly, it’s hard for me to think of it as a “job” at all (work and job being far from equals) when it’s something I chose to do completely outside of a job. Like, owning a dog isn’t a “job” but it is “work.” And training the dog so it doesn’t bite other people or shit on their lawns is important.

    I’m under no illusion that I’m owning a dog, or having a kid, for any sort of “greater good” – it’s an extremely selfish act and I don’t think any parent deserves a prize for it. But for those of us propelled by biology or what-have-you it’s still hard work, and it’s important to society that if we do it, we do it with some degree of competency.

  6. Darren

    Indeed, it’s the very burden that so many parents shirk that has probably made me cynical about the way we currently talk about child-rearing. If it’s important work, it’s the only kind where the only qualifications are genitals. As a result, the outcomes of this work are extremely varied.

    I agree that we shouldn’t position having kids as a job. However, that’s one of the most common terms I hear parents use to describe their work. I’ve always been interested in conversations that run along the lines of “well, if it’s a job, how much is it worth? How much should it pay?” But that usually just gets me a punch in the face.
    Darren´s last blog post ..Two peculiar calls to action and one preemptive sign

    peechie Reply:

    I’ve also always thought those “housewives are worth $250k/year” (or whatever the figure is) pretty silly. It’s not like if you choose to work outside the home, the need to do all the housework and child-rearing goes away. And families without stay-at-home parents are certainly not all paying for maids, cooks, chauffeurs, nannies, cruise directors, etc. It’s not like housework and errands show up suddenly when you have kids. Last I checked I still had laundry and need to eat and have shelves covered in dust, despite my current lack of offspring.

    I think it’s an unfortunate side-effect of those feminist movement aftershocks that women not only CAN have it all, but SHOULD and should WANT TO excel at being both a perfect housewife and a driven, successful career woman. And really, you very rarely see this kind of pressure or level of expectation for fathers, so I think it’s okay to say it’s mostly about women.

    Rather than celebrating the fact that women have a choice on whether to stay at home, work at home or work outside the home – and that none of those need preclude being a good mother – we tend to focus on which part of that complicated equation she’s failing at the most. And in all of it, we lose sight of the thing that matters: is this kid going to grow up to be a senator or a serial killer?

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