Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Work-Life Balance

{The gateway drug}
Flavio and I are leaning more in the direction of having kids - though we're not 100% sure we will, or if we do, when. It's exciting and scary. I know Flavio would be an absolutely amazing father and as I wrote in this post, parenting Guiri has been the gateway drug that's gotten us thinking about the rewards of children. One of my biggest reservations about parenting, though, is how to maintain a work-life balance after children.

When we were visiting my parents this summer, my mom told me she'd always struggled to find a healthy equilibrium between her personal and professional lives. When my brothers and I were young, my mom worked more than full time as a very successful administrator. I have always had so much respect for her - she is still at the top of her field and is a smart, hard-working woman. My dad is a very successful engineer who owns his own business and who spent much of my childhood traveling for work. My brothers and I had a longterm Irish nanny named Finola who was basically our second mother, and the three of us were in every afterschool program and extracurricular activity one could imagine because my parents were both working. I always knew my mother loved her work, so I was surprised to hear her recent confession that she wished she would have worked less, and instead, had lived more.  Profound words, no? She described the excitement of moving up quickly in her field, but said her advancement was always clouded with the sadness of missing some of our childhood milestones and family time.

So here's my dilemma: I love working and am afraid if we have a baby, I'll be unhappy staying home. But, I can barely leave Guiri home alone to go to work, and I know I wouldn't be happy leaving a tiny baby in daycare. After reading numerous studies on socialization and nurturing, I think the mother should be home with the baby for at least the first two years, if possible. And after, there is great value in daycare and preschool for young children. But, teaching higher-ed is so competitive in San Diego and I'm afraid leaving my job for a couple years would be professional suicide. So, true to nerdy form, I've been doing some research. How do women in the US do it? Is staying home for more than the measly six weeks of maternity leave professional suicide? Would I be unhappy and bored as a stay-at-home mom? I started googling and found this fascinating article/study on working women who opted out of the work force to stay home with their children. Ten years later, the sociologist checked back in with these women to see if leaving the workforce in favor of maternity had been the right choice for them. Most of these women eventually went back to work for varying reasons, and the article, citing various studies, sadly confirms that US women still can't "have it all"in terms of simultaneous employment and motherhood. Women who choose to leave the workforce to take care of their children are mostly shut out of high-powered jobs and upward mobility. Women who choose to stay in the workforce miss out on time with their children. Bah, it's all so depressing.  I think I'll have to move to Norway, with its 10 months of maternity leave at 100% pay, if I want to "have it all." The article did offer a glimmer of hope, though, as it seemed to reveal a formula for happiness and balance that struck me as a possible answer. The author writes:

 " ...Not a single woman I spoke with said she wished that she could return to her old, pre-opting out job -- no matter what price she paid for her decision to stop working. What I heard instead were some regrets for what might have been -- more time with their children, combined with some sort of intellectually stimulating, respectably paying, advancement-permitting part-time work."

Part-time work: Is that the key to balancing work and life as a mother? Certainly my career would suffer as there are plenty of other instructors chomping at the bit to get into the college system, and financially it would be tough, but maybe we'd be happier that way. It's a formula to think about, at least. As is moving to Scandinavia. :)

Not really related, but I found this article while researching and it's fascinating! American parents seem to no longer believe kids should do chores.

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