Photo courtesy of scienceofrelationships.com
Before I had children, I never considered what would happen with my career, much less my life, if I had children. When I became pregnant for the first time, my husband and I were both criminal lawyers and I was in the process of opening a wine bar with my best friend on a busy Toronto strip. Clearly, the pregnancy came as a surprise and the timing couldn’t have been worse. The bar was set to open in two months and I was still working almost full time hours in law.
The pregnancy was tough. I was driving throughout the GTA to attend court almost every day and then making my way to the bar to oversee renovations, staff hiring and decorating, and when the bar opened, working and managing until close (which often meant midnight or 2am). While I had originally planned to put my legal career on hold, the bar needed the extra funds at the beginning to help cover operating costs. Combine this with pregnancy fatigue and needless to say, this was one of the most difficult periods of my life.
Despite the insanity, I was glad for the experience, knowing that I was advancing my career and gaining invaluable lessons as a budding entrepreneur. Like most people, I measured a lot of my own value on my accomplishments and what I did for a living.
After my son was born, I quickly realized that I was not going to be able to work outside the home for some time. With the two-hour feeding schedule, the sleepless nights and the fact that my son refused the bottle and would scream mercilessly if I was not there, it was clear I was not going anywhere. We had prepared for this eventuality and had hired a full-time manager at the bar. I also put my legal career on hold.
When my son was a little over a year old, I started working at the bar again four nights a week and even managed to do a few trials and legal written work from home, with the help of my parents and husband. However, a few months in, I found out I was pregnant again. My best friend/business partner and I knew the bar wouldn’t survive another absence so we sold it when I was seven months pregnant and I stopped practicing law altogether.
Prior to having children, I had no idea what a mind-blowing experience it was going to be. I was completely unprepared for how much I could love another human being and how much they would change what I value in life and the way I look at the world. I am also very grateful that I was able to be present for most of my children’s first milestones and watch their little personalities grow and develop.
On the other hand, these last years haven’t been without their difficulties. Having to constantly fulfill others’ needs all day, every day, sometimes made me want to pull my hair out, and spending so much time with toddlers and housework was often tedious. Amidst the sleeplessness, stress and loneliness, I wasn’t able to imagine a future outside of child rearing. It had become so all-encompassing that I couldn’t picture a time when my children wouldn’t need me 24/7 or when I would regain an identity outside of motherhood.
And during this time, although I don’t like to admit it, I often held the foolish, however common, view that measures success by career advancement, instead of the equally, or more important work of raising children and developing close bonds with them. So despite what I knew to be objectively true – that I was doing my best to raise secure and confident children – I wondered if I had made the right decision to stay home and whether it had been irreparably detrimental to my own “success”. I even had trouble admitting to people that I was a “stay-at-home” mom, afraid of receiving what I perceived to be looks of condescension or pity. Watching my husband continue to advance in his career while mine had completely stalled, and even watching him go out the door every morning knowing he was going to spend the day interacting with adults, didn’t help matters either. Until this experience, I had never realized how closely linked my sense of self worth was to how I measured up to societal standards.
On the other hand, I know that many other women are forced to go back to work after a year’s maternity leave even when they would much rather stay at home and raise their children. And others still are judged for going back to work “too soon” after their babies are born – whether it is because they want to or have no other choice. Some even judge those that stay at home, or don’t “lean in”, as betraying the fight for equality. As women’s decisions around motherhood are evolving, men have also started to be judged (sometimes positively, often negatively) if they choose to be the one staying at home to raise the kids.
It seems like we just can’t win, no matter what we do. Or perhaps we have to change the way we think about this work-life-motherhood balance thing altogether so we can all win….
Stay tuned for Part II: How to Have It All