The media is obsessed with examining the pursuit of women trying to “have it all,” almost always blaming feminism. But I just experienced what that ideal really means, at least to me.
I had a phone interview with a prospective employer. She was impressed by my credentials, I was attracted to the job. We discussed pay, logistics, etc. and then I didn’t hesitate to mention my son, who is now two. “Finding a job that values its employees’ commitment to their own lives, particularly their children, is paramount in my decision,” I told her. “I don’t want to apologize for sick days, or pretend that I’m not a mother.”
Her response: “I feel you. When I first started working I was one of the first faculty hired and no one was having babies, certainly not talking about wanting them. Things have changed so much, at least around here, that I now stock kids’ toys in my desk’s bottom drawer in case someone needs to bring her child to work.”
I got the job. I was hired because I am qualified and enthusiastic. I took the job because I will be valued for those skills and not devalued for being a mother. I feel so much better knowing this going in rather than wading in the waters to figure out the climate of my new workplace.
My scenario exists in the slightly more flexible world of academia. I am taking a part-time teaching job at a local college while I continue to work on books and articles at home, while raising—and prioritizing—my child. But my experience is something all working mothers (and that’s each and every one of us) should think about. We need to put our wants and desires above those prescribed for us by everyone else.
The only reason we have the FMLA, flex-time, job sharing, or any semblance of prioritizing women and mothers in the workplace is because some of those very mothers demanded it. Women like my new boss benefitted from it and now she’s in a position to make sure others can as well. We still have a long way to go before women are forced to feel torn between career and motherhood, but we’re not going to get there unless we keep talking. Feminism has given us this opportunity; the lesson is that having it all is possible if you speak up for what you want to have.
I have good news for anyone who’s lived most of her life as a narcissistic, materialistic navel-gazer: if you have kids, you have a second chance at becoming a better person.
I am fortunate to have been raised by conscious parents and lived most of my life tuned in to how my actions affect others. I’m green (the for-real, every purchase is evaluated kind, not the “OMG, this Prius is so cute!” variety). I started volunteering in high school and kept it up for most of my adulthood. I donate monthly to a handful of charities. But these actions, while incredibly important and valuable to me, have become so routine that I’ve lost that sense of purpose they once provided. I don’t get as excited about what my $20 to Amnesty International is doing; I just write the check.
But as I have begun to filter the world through my child’s eyes, the passion in my compassion has returned with full force. My son is just shy of 2 years old and he has learned to recycle, gets most of his books from the library, and excitedly donates the change from mommy’s purse to every charity cup he sees. These actions are, of course, a result of my guiding hand—and I understand his excitement often has more to do with fine-motor achievements (I got the nickel in the slot—hooray!) than a passion for empathy. But he’s going to get there, and sooner than I ever did.
I take the responsibility of raising a kind, conscious and compassionate person extremely seriously. His future depends on me investing in him now. This is why parenting is hard fucking work. It involves a level of commitment that is all consuming. Show me a CEO who is concurrently on a surgical internship and launching a record label and I will show you a mother who is working even harder.
Every day is a challenge, yes, but every moment offers the opportunity to shape this little mind for better or for worse—daunting stuff! I seek to fill my son’s schedule with learning activities (the messier, the better), free play and exploration of the world around him. Getting our books from the library provides a fun field trip, but also a lesson in borrowing, taking care of shared goods, and waste reduction. Recycling is a fun sorting brain-teaser but we also talk about where the trash goes. I know he’s two, but this stuff is going to sink in and probably already is. I believe the earlier you introduce your child to activities that make a difference, the more difference he or she can make.
This led me to spend hours (I need not remind any parent how precious these are) researching volunteer opportunities I can do with my son this year, next year, and beyond. There is no shortage of charities in need and causes that touch me personally. But finding something age appropriate for a toddler has been a challenge. I would love to mentor displaced teen moms, man a crisis hotline or teach writing to domestic violence victims. And I will do some of these things on my own. But my squiggly kid needs his activism to come in a package of engaging fun.
After all those hours of research, I closed my computer and started thinking about my son. This is for him, not me. He needs to enjoy it first, learn from it second. He is not even two. I imagined our own volunteer opportunities by focusing on things my child loves to do right now–activities that keep his interest because they are fresh, challenging and participatory. His faves: cooking, reading, building with blocks. That got me thinking…
The local children’s home needs volunteers to play with toddlers. What if I brought a toddler (an his arsenal of building blocks) along as well? Bonus: I also found a list of needs on the website and a new place to start donating outgrown clothes and unused toys.
Every day is filled with hours of story time. We could take this afternoon ritual to the children’s hospital and read with new friends.
Isolated senior citizens love children, love visitors—and everyone loves cookies. I think our next cooking project will yield all three.
Taking this focused approach to charity work for a little person with a limited attention span can be a lesson for us all. When adults pencil in giving into their busy lives, things can often get self-righteous real quick. Children are naturally giving, empathetic and honest. These are pretty great qualities to use as a guide when giving back, not to mention when going about our lives in general.
There is so much need out there, it can be intimidating. But everyone has something they can get excited about, or a talent or skill that can be shared. Pick that one thing then find a way to make a difference in the lives of you and your child, as well as your community. Let me save some hours for you: Rather than searching for volunteer opportunities for your kids, scan your local charity database instead and find one that resonates. Then tailor an activity you’ll both enjoy to an appropriate organization. You can call them up and suggest an idea or visit volunteermatch.org for help pairing with the right cause.
When I am out with my son, we always attract attention. I’d like to think it’s because he is the most beautiful person on the planet (don’t try to tell me otherwise!) but there are other reasons. Most often it’s his appearance. He has cocoa skin, dark brown, curly hair and deep brown eyes (swoon, right?) I am fair, freckled, blue eyed and blond. Yeah, his dad is another race than I: duh. But this duh moment is lost on so many. I can’t count how many times strangers have assumed I am a nanny or that he is adopted. “Is he your baby?” Yes. “Wow, interesting.”
Interesting, really? Our president is biracial, how is this shocking to anyone? And we live in California!
Another note—which I know I should elaborate on in a separate post but I am quite tired and at the end of my late-evening office hours, so it will have to wait—is that black women always know. They know my husband is African-American. They know Malcolm is my child. They know people have babies with other races. This fact—which contributes to our nation’s diversity—is lost on average white people or Eastern Europeans. What gives? … Oh, I’ll have to write about race relations and motherhood in another post (I told you I was tired).
Anyway, reason number two people often stop and talk to us is that he is almost 2 years old. His age seems to signify to any stranger to ask me about my future reproductive plans.
“Are you trying for number two?”
“When are you having the next one?”
“Don’t wait too long, you want them to be close together!”
What if I’m not trying? What if I don’t want to try? What if there’s a big question mark where a deep desire for a second child seemingly should be? Why am I made to feel guilty, weird or judged for this?
In truth, I would love for my son to have a sibling. I grew up with five of my own and don’t know any other way than sharing toys, clothes, stories, secrets and endless good times with all of them. I want this for my son. But also: I’d love to give him a companion to give me a break. In moments of peak toddlerdom (read: I’m doing everyting in my power to not throw him out a window) I have fantasies of telling Malcolm, “go play with your sister.” This hypothetical sister sounds great in theory. But I know what goes into creating her. And it’s a lot. It’s a big fucking job that should be taken seriously and not assumed as a given just because it’s what most people do. I want to be the best for any and all of my children and give them everything they deserve. This takes planning and consideration. So let me think, people!
So, when is Baby Number Two coming? When and if her mommy is ready.
She and I fight a lot and it’s mostly over misunderstandings, hurt feelings or assumptions gone un-clarified. We are different, sure, but also the same:
She works at a brick-and-mortar job full-time and brings in the primary salary for her household.
I work part-time from home as a writer, online teacher and author while caring for my son.
She has familial day care five days a week, free of charge.
I have zero child care.
Her husband shares the load of household and parental responsibilities equally, if not carrying the majority of the load.
My husband works insane hours and we treasure the very brief times we even see each other each day.
She must cram all errands and chores into weekends which could otherwise be spent going to museums and parks with her family.
I enjoy museums and parks with my son as a means to survive 24 hours with a toddler, cramming all errands and chores into the brief intervals of time when my child does not need my 100-percent attention; the same intervals during which I must do everything else.
Every mother has a different set of challenges, but none of us is better off or better than the other. We should respect each other’s schedules and demands and not assume that things are easier on the other side merely because it looks so different than our own.
I’ve never cared much for making new friends. I have always been a bit of a lone wolf, preferred solo activities such as running, reading and writing, the latter of which I’ve made into my career, and often recoiled at social engagements where the only conversation was inane small talk.
Of course I have friends, and they are awesome. Perhaps this is why I don’t actively seek out new ones. The friends I hold dear have been in my life for a while. They know my flaws and my favorite things, and we already have a lot in common.
When I became pregnant, I understood the importance of finding a support network of women going through the same things as me. Taking on the job of motherhood for the first time is, at times, like a practical joke that everyone but you is in on. You need to know other women are going through the same ridiculous shit as you are if only to know that you haven’t completely lost your mind. Continue reading
Holy crap, it’s been two months since I posted a blog here. I guess that’s called parenting a toddler.
Well, I have many, many things to say about parenting, mommying and related feminist issues. Some bullets:
Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids?: Read it
Gwyneth Paltrow admitting to postpartum depression: Hugely important
Analyzing gay parenting through science: Interesting, provocative, but accurate?
Moms at the Emmys: Heidi Klum, Julie Bowen, Tina Fey and adorably pregnant Claire Danes all looked un-flipping-believable! Go, girls!
I’ll muse in more depth soon. Meanwhile, check out the goings-on at sexyfeminist.com. We’re gearing up to celebrate the release of our first book, SEXY FEMINISM on March 12, and have many events and appearances in the works — stay tuned!
This campaign season has seen a flurry of women’s health issues come to the forefront of political debates, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming to keep track of which women’s health issues are being discussed, where proceedings stand, and what the major implications of decisions are. Here’s a quick guide to what matters most when it comes to bureaucrats governing your lady parts.
Michigan passes abortion “superbill” in the House. In early June, the Michigan State House of Representatives passed a bill (HB 5711, 5712, and 5713) which puts severe restrictions on abortion clinics and services. One of the most notable provisions of the bill mandates abortion clinics performing six or more abortions per month to become licensed surgical centers, even if they only perform non-surgical abortions. The bill awaits a Senate vote (likely in September) and discussion on further provisions, such as criminalizing abortions, even in the case of rape or incest, after 20 weeks. Notably, two female Michigan legislators were banned from speaking on the House floor after Rep. Lisa Brown used the term “vagina” while discussing the bill.
Virginia bill requiring ultrasound prior to abortion went into effect July 1. Women in Virginia seeking abortion services must now undergo an ultrasound before the abortion can be performed, regardless of whether a physician deems it medically necessary. The original version of the bill received major press by requiring an invasive transvaginal ultrasound, but Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell called for revision to the transvaginal requirement after legal advisors counseled him that such a requirement could violate the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
Arizona’s strict abortion bill temporarily halted by a federal appeals court. In April 2012, Arizona passed an abortion bill which prohibits abortion beginning at 20 weeks of pregnancy except in the case of medical emergencies (with no exception for rape or incest). The bill’s implementation, which was initially set for early August, was temporarily halted by a federal appeals court on August 1 until appeals on the bill can be heard this fall.
There has been a lot of talk about Marissa Meyer’s ascension to the top spot at Yahoo!—and her being pregnant while doing it. Most women, feminist or not, cheered the news as yet another fracture in the corporate glass ceiling—and one that puts a powerful face on a working mother to boot!
But her face looks a lot different than that of most career moms. Meyer talked about her maternity leave as if it were a mild inconvenience: it would be brief and she would work throughout it. But the only way she will be able to do that is with the kind of help and resources many working moms don’t have. While I understand Meyer’s commitment to her new job, I do worry that such declarations (issued as if to assume anything less would be unconscionable) hurt working moms everywhere and further prevent the U.S. from adopting a realistic family leave policy.
When I was pregnant, I worked for a company that offered generous maternity leave and corporate perks such as breastfeeding support groups and an on-call nurse to answer questions. I still had to sanction every last vacation and sick day to stay home with my infant for 12 weeks. I could have stayed longer, but without pay and without any promise of my job being there for me when I came back. That is federal policy. And that is why “having it all” doesn’t exist. Women can’t help but feel pressured to prioritize their work over all else lest they be marked as expendable employees. We’ve got to do away with that fear in order to collectively demand better support from the working world.
I came across some great advice on how to take those steps from Xerox executive Christa Carone. Below are some snippets from her article, which you can read in its entirety at Forbes.com.
- Be a superstar employee. Be a standout professional as soon as you start a career or a job. Do a great job. Know what it takes to rise quickly in your organization, and do that. While you have the time and the energy, be the best employee you can be—and Sandberg makes this point—even when you are planning to have a baby. Then when you’re a working parent, you will have earned some flexibility. Companies, by the way, are most likely to allow that flexibility to retain top talent. Of course, your job as a veteran superstar is to show you’re good at learning new skills—like juggling.
- Be true to yourself. Know who you are and what you want in life. If you are going to manage a job and nurture a family, stay true to what’s most important to you. There will be days when reading a story at your kid’s school will mean you need to take time out of the office. Don’t be apologetic about that. You need to find a workplace that allows employees to be honest about their lives. If someone is going to give you a hard time, deny you a promotion, or penalize you in any way because you’re living a full life, find a new place to excel. I’m happy to report that more enlightened companies, like Xerox, where I work, are out there.
- Be honest: You’re not superhuman. Top-flying women like Yahoo’s Mayer make the mere mortals among us feel we should be superheroes. But as I suspect Mayer will learn, no one has everything figured out. There are plenty of people who’ve managed a career and nurtured a family. It sometimes means missing a school field trip or a business dinner. Have the humility to approach other working parents and know you can learn and benefit from their experience. One of my biggest supporters earlier on in my career was Xerox’s then chief financial officer Larry Zimmerman. Xerox has a culture that is receptive to work-life needs, but Larry really went to bat for me when I had a toddler, was expecting my second child, and was commuting between Norwalk, Conn., and Rochester, N.Y. He never questioned my ability to do it all, but he was patient and understanding when I felt tapped out. He was an advocate. (Thanks, Larry!) I didn’t know it at first, but Larry’s daughter, who was about my age, was starting a family around the same time. I bet he hoped someone was looking out for his daughter in the same way.Find that unexpected sponsor in your company. It may be the last person you’d ever think of, but he or she may have a perspective you never considered. Even though Xerox is known for its female leadership—Ursula Burns, a mom, is our second female CEO—it was the 60-year-old guy in the CFO’s office who offered me insights I really needed. I just had to be humble enough to ask for them.
- Understand that your priorities and interests will change. I like to talk about “adaptable ambition.” Your ambition will ebb and flow over your lifetime. Your world view will shift as your life changes. It’s crazy to think that having children won’t rock your world. Just as having a sick parent or a sick friend forces you to re-examine your life and your priorities, having a child does that, too. It’s okay. You can set the world on fire at work without fanning the flames 24/7.
- Realize that flexibility is a two-way street. If you’re lucky enough to find an enlightened company that can be flexible about where and when employees work, know that you’ll have to be flexible too. There will be trips, conferences, and work events you can’t miss, no matter what. And work sometimes eats into family time in the evenings and on weekends. It’s a mistake to expect flexibility without giving some back. I must admit that I still fume that a colleague once stepped out of a weekend-long, all-hands-on-deck crisis meeting because he wanted to coach a little-league game. It wasn’t a playoff game. It wasn’t a championship. It was a regular game. A regular little-league game vs. a company crisis? Sometimes work does need to win. Be smart about making the right judgment calls.
- Before you join a company, understand its culture. If you want flexibility about work but are reluctant to ask about it during the interview process, look and listen for clues that the company is family-friendly. Do managers have pictures of their kids on their desks? Is there talk of regular mandatory meetings that start at 7 a.m. or 6 p.m.? Will you be on the road three days a week? If they ask you what you like to do in your free time, do they offer to share how they spend theirs?Flexibility is baked into Xerox’s corporate culture—so baked, in fact, that we don’t track the number of people who job-share or have flexible work arrangements. It’s why I’ve been successful here, and why we are able to retain a number of working parents in our ranks.
- Face it: Some jobs aren’t right for you. If having a balanced life is important to you, and you’re being true to yourself, there are some jobs you shouldn’t take and some companies you won’t join.I’ve had the opportunity to consider positions at other companies with attractive compensation packages, but I have to go back to my “be true to yourself” statement. I’ve spent 16 years of my life at Xerox, a very enlightened company. The flexibility I have here is a big reason I’ve stayed—and remained happy.
Remember Elizabeth Wurtzel? Quick recap: she wrote a book about depression and addiction called Prozac Nation (maybe you saw the movie), got famous, then posed naked on the cover of her next book, Bitch, flipping us all off. She’s now a lawyer and one would assume has a slightly more settled life than the memoir-making chaos that led to her early publishing success.
But she wants you to remember that middle finger. She’s flipping it again, and this time it’s directed at women. Namely, those who choose domestic responsibilities over career ones. In a new essay in The Nation, Wurtzel blames who she calls “1% moms” for the failure of feminism and the reason the war on women exists.
The bulk of her argument is directed at the Desperate Housewife set—the moms with expense accounts (provided by their husbands), nannies and acrylic fingernails that eschew the dirty work of motherhood. Some of them have Ivy League degrees. Others just lucked out marrying a rich guy.
These women exist and, yes, I agree that their “work” as stay-at-home mothers is far different than nearly every other mom in the country. But the problem with Wurtzel’s argument is that her finger pointing drifts. In one paragraph she calls out the 1% women, and in the next, she makes a grand assumption that women who choose to stay home to raise their children and take care of the household are betraying their potential, and have the unique luxury to do so only because they’re wealthy.
“To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, and most of the housewives I have ever met — none of whom do anything around the house — live in New York City and Los Angeles, far from Peoria. Only in these major metropolises are there the kinds of jobs in finance and entertainment that allow for a family to live luxe on a single income.”