8w5d on work and family

I’m convinced that my body is preparing me to have a baby by reminding me what it is like to be a baby.

I’m constantly hungry, I can be smiling one minute and throwing up the next, I need multiple naps throughout the day, I wake up multiple times throughout the night to hit the toilet, I cry when I don’t get what I want, and I cry when I do get what I want.

Baby Z, is that what you’re going to be like?  Well, mommy can totally sympathize.  Being a baby sucks.

On the bright side, because my body has forced me to slow down more, I’ve been thinking more deeply about things, such as, Should I have chicken soup or tomato soup for lunch?   Just kidding.  More along the lines of: Will I be a good mother?  What kind of mom do I want to be?  How will I find the right balance between work and family?

This last question has kept me up many nights since I found out I was pregnant (this and the pain in my bum).

Yesterday I read a thought-provoking article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009 to 2011 and a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, on Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.  In it she discusses why many highly-educated, highly-motivated women, despite having made great strides in today’s competitive workforce, still struggle to find a balance between climbing the career ladder and raising children at the same time.

“In short, the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be—at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence. I realized what should have perhaps been obvious: having it all, at least for me, depended almost entirely on what type of job I had. The flip side is the harder truth: having it all was not possible in many types of jobs, including high government office—at least not for very long.”

It’s the same question that I’ve been struggling with myself: is it possible to climb the career ladder while being the kind of mom that I want to be for my kid?  Of all the professional women I know who have young children, they all rely on round-the-clock nannies, have a family member stay at home with their child, and/or have decided to leave their promising careers to stay at home.

I realize that to the extent that I even have the option to be a full-time stay at home mom puts me among a very lucky few minority of women. As Slaughter writes, “Millions of other working women face much more difficult life circumstances. Some are single mothers; many struggle to find any job; others support husbands who cannot find jobs. Many cope with a work life in which good day care is either unavailable or very expensive; school schedules do not match work schedules; and schools themselves are failing to educate their children. Many of these women are worrying not about having it all, but rather about holding on to what they do have.”

I feel very fortunate to have a supportive spouse who can afford for me to consider my options.  At the same time, thinking about these options terrify me.  On one hand, as someone who holds a master’s degree in Education and who has worked on issues pertaining to early childhood nearly my entire career, I of all people know the importance of a quality early childhood education and a quality formative experience.  And this is perhaps narcissistic and arrogant of me to admit – I believe that I’m the only one who can give the best possible care to my child.  On the other hand, I’ve invested nearly a third of my life working and studying so that I may obtain an ivy league education and obtain a job in which I find great personal satisfaction and independence – only to what?  Retire at 31?

I know that leaving work may not be an all-or-nothing choice.  I can always join the workforce again after Baby Z is a little older.  But part of me is petrified that I will constantly be making trade-offs between work and family for the next 18 years – and I won’t succeed in being good at either.  Will reaching the top of the corporate ladder come at the expense of being at home every night for dinner, or missing soccer practices and dance recitals?  Or will being the kind of mom that I want to be come at the expense of settling for a less demanding career and forever clinging on to the middle rung?

In my mind, there is no easy answer.  That is, unless Baby Z can go straight from the womb and right into college.  Or I follow the Slate’s Guide to Womanhood and just GET OVER IT.