“I believe that women should live for love, for motherhood and for intellect, and I believe we shouldn’t have to choose. And I believe that’s always been difficult for women, to express themselves intellectually, maternally, and passionately.” -Erica Jong
Mother’s Day weekend left me thinking about my life choice of putting my role as Mother first during my early working years. Not to suggest I regret making it a priority versus a career, which I don’t. As often happens when I am mulling over something I start to research online, looking for what others have expressed about it, and I came across an interesting series of articles in The Atlantic called The Ambition Interviews that tracked the careers of a group a women who graduated from Northwestern University in 1993. The authors wanted to find out how their sorority sisters career ambitions had played out in reality 20 years after graduating. They found that their cohorts divided into 3 groups after they started having children, the High Achievers, the Scale Backers, and the Opt Outers. The High Achievers maintained a consistent trajectory of career success continuing to work at their careers full-time, the Scale Backers chose to work less or take on less demanding jobs to have the flexibility of schedule they desired for their lives and families, the Opt Outers chose to leave the work force to be able to be full-time parents. In the articles they discuss all the factors that contributed to the women’s decisions. What struck me is the experiences of these women was similar to mine in many ways and I think many of my Nursing class of 1974. We were in the Nursing baccalaureate program at the University of California in San Francisco and were told we were to be the leaders in our profession. Out of the 37 members of my class that attended our 25th reunion, there was a group of High Achievers who stayed in Nursing careers at a high level, in the military or other areas, went on for graduate degrees, and some became doctors or lawyers. Many of us would fit into Scale Backers in that we chose jobs that were less demanding or more flexible so we could be available to our kids. When my son was born, I decided to opt out and be a full-time parent. This lasted for 8 years and included the addition of a second child, my daughter. Like women in the Ambition Interviews who opted out, I had thought I would continue working but when my son was born I decided I did not want to leave him, as some of the women in the series that had “a physical and emotional bond with their new children that they simply couldn’t reconcile with going back to work,” my Nursing job was not appealing enough for me to choose it over him. My husband was willing to support us. Some couples in The Ambition Interviews decided that the husband would be the stay at home parent or would be the one who Scaled Back and assumed the larger share of child care. I became a Scale Backer when I re-entered the workforce after 8 years but chose part-time at a hospital and then in Home Health. Like the Scale Backers in The Atlantic series, I found it difficult to balance work and motherhood. I worked a lot of weekends to cut down on child care. I felt very stressed rushing through work to get to the school in time to pick up my kids or get them to appointments. It was stressful to leave them when they were sick. It was stressful to find adequate after school childcare with long enough hours to cover my work hours. I missed out on being involved in my children’s schools because of work and I missed out on career advancement and even work friendships because I worked part-time. My ambition did not completely die out. It was isolating to be at home and I did get restless at times. I re-entered full-time work after my kids were older. I went back to work after cancer. I attempted a complete career change at 60. One of my fellow students in the Teacher Credential program questioned why I wanted to pursue a new career after Nursing. Another said I was an “Over Achiever.” It was more like an “Older Achiever.” Why shouldn’t we be allowed to go on learning and achieving no matter what age. Like the women in the series who chose to Scale Back or Opt Out of their careers, I found I was not able to step back into a career path in later years. Now I have come to have a whole new perspective on my relationship to work. I wonder if we can really combine all the aspects of our selves ideally. Even though I may have missed some opportunities, I know my work does not define me or my self-worth. I find career ambition does not play a part in my life any more. I am in a reflective period and some of my ambitions right now involve tutoring, getting rid of weeds, aphids, and volunteer trees, getting reacquainted with myself, writing, and learning to be a grandmother.
I know the images are a little blurry, like when I look back into the past, and I think it protects privacy as well.
One Liner Wednesday is hosted by Linda G Hill.