A Letter to My Working Sisters

I’ve been traveling recently on business, mostly overnight stints every week or so. It affords me the luxury of plane time. Fountain pen on an antique handwritten letterYou know, that uninterrupted time when you can catch up on work, write or indulge in a book.

Of course, instead of kicking back with some sort of mental candy, I read Katrina Alcorn’s “Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink.” Full confession, I am a working professional and the mother of two children, a teen and a tween.

Alcorn’s book was at times brutal, and brutally honest. She recounts with deep detail her struggle balancing work and home during the early years of her children’s lives. She describes a perpetual tug of war; one end of the rope representing the pull from home, the other side standing in for the pull from work. Both sides of the rope were equally compelling, rewarding and demanding. Another example of how working professionals, mostly women, cling to the idea of being it all until we are exhausted and failing, in our health, our work, our lives.

I have to confess that the early years of my children’s lives were challenging but I never afforded myself the freedom to let the pull consume me. I worked and I cared for my children. I had support from husband, family and various caregivers. My bosses were also supportive for they were living, or had lived, that same situation. And so, this was my life – I was a working mom and I could not imagine another alternative.

Yet I always had this sneaking suspicion that instead of the balancing act getting easier as my kids aged, it would get harder. Harder because their needs would morph from primarily physical care to unspoken support and the sense that I would “be there” in ways subtle and ever present. On the surface it would appear they need me less, yet they would impossibly need me more.

This is the secret of motherhood. We believe the pull is felt more violently when our children are young and unformed. Yet the second motherhood pull enters quietly, at the moment we begin to realign ourselves to the freedom that physical independence seems to bestow. One day your children look self-sufficient. The next they complain because you are never around. And you know, instinctively, that this is the window where they still want you. The awkward years are upon them and they need a grown-up to help navigate. But don’t assume it is open at your convenience. It’s a window that is open for a few moments on a warm day, and then it slams shut for good.

I’ve been meeting more young women lately who are very clear about the myth of having it all. They’ve sadly done the calculus early in life, driven I suppose by what they grew up seeing. They plan for a period of “pull back” which ironically comes during the years when pushing forward builds a foundation for the future. But these women have seen a lot in their young lives. Enough to know that internal boxing matches and sheer exhaustion are not in anyone’s interest. They talk plainly about their desire to be home when their children are young, when they still cry for Mommy and experience the early hiccups of pre-school, play dates and day camp.

What should I tell these young, caring, intelligent women about the second pull of motherhood, the one that comes later? The one that arrives when we think we are no longer in such demand?

Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t want to tell them the early years are a cakewalk. I also don’t want to tell them to forsake their instincts and push really hard, really early or else. What surprises me about the topic is how much ink is spilled on early parenting, to the extent that it gives cover to the idea that parenting requires more at the beginning and less later on. I’ve found that the back nine is just as challenging as the front.

I can only believe it comes down to this: every period is an adjustment, an adjustment in which you never find perfection for long. Planning for more than a year or two is simply a fool’s errand. Most important, though, is the understanding that parenting is a long game. Like any long game, the ability to react, reset and move forward is what one trains for; you cannot know how the game will unfold. But you can prepare and disabuse yourself of the notion that one day it will be easier. All it will be is different. Just enjoy everything you are lucky enough to have in your life – family, work, a little time for yourself. You’re playing a long game. Play well.

6 Comments

  1. S. Ferrara July 17, 2014 Reply

    Thank you for your words and your honestly.

  2. Author
    K. Dipalo July 18, 2014 Reply

    You are most welcome. The more we share our experiences with each other, the more we can help each other live fuller lives.

  3. Thank you for this. I have two teenagers and one tween. I have tried working full time, working part time, and staying at home. Each situation has its pluses and minuses. I’m thankful for the time I was able to spend with my children when I wasn’t working full time, and I’m thankful for being able to work for multiple reasons.

    Personally, I have chosen to now work full time, but work a very early schedule so that I can be home in time to run the kids to their after school activities. I also am able to spend time with my high school kids since their school starts very early, and I take them to school. I believe that keeping the lines of communication open during the high school years is important.

    However, my career has taken a back seat, and has basically flat lined. I haven’t climbed far up the corporate ladder, but this has allowed me the flexibility of working fewer hours, only 40-50 hours/week, and I don’t need to travel much. My husband’s career has taken off, and this combination is working for us.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a perfect way to have it all. I went to a Women In Technology talk by a former CEO of a large technology company, and she told us outright that you really can’t have it all. It was a brutally honest admission.

    I wish all of my fellow mothers and fathers the ability to balance work and raising children in the way that fits them best. It is not easy no matter how you navigate. As you mention in your writing, be thankful for all that you are lucky enough to have.

    • Author
      K. Dipalo July 20, 2014 Reply

      Amy,

      I want to thank you for this very thoughtful and honest comment. Your willingness to share your experience means a great deal to me. Thank you for reading my blog. I created DailyWorkLife to reach people like you, smart professionals who have pride in all areas of their life and who want as rich an experience as possible.

      My thanks,
      Kristina

  4. Kathy Duggan July 24, 2014 Reply

    Kristina – I think you’re right on the mark with this post. I’ve always felt parents needed to be there for their kids at all times, but especially in the teen years when a single bad choice can have a lifelong impact. Many parents I know took the early years off from their careers to be at home but returned to work once the kids were in middle or high school. I think you need to be present in the “back nine” even more than the early years to minimize the chance of your kids making bad choices that could have a detrimental impact on the rest of their lives.

  5. Author
    K. Dipalo July 25, 2014 Reply

    Kathy – The assumption that we as parents need to be there for the “back nine” is one I’ve held for a long time. Now that I’m hitting those years, it seems more important than ever. Thanks so much for your perspective.

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