My advice to my daughters will be this — never stop working.
A friend and I were discussing our children’s future the other day, and she was lamenting the fact our girls will probably not have the luxury to stay home and raise children. The next generation is widely thought to be the first that will not do better, financially, than their parents, and in all likelihood will need two incomes to support a home and kids. My initial reaction mirrored her concern. But, then I gave it some thought. Is this really such a terrible thing? My daughters will have to work outside the home. Good.
In the first place, why are we sacrificing to save for college if only to see them work for a couple years, then give up a career to change diapers and run bake sales? (I know … stay-at-home moms do a lot more than that, and I also know it is an important role. Allow me a little hyperbole. I’m taking shots at myself as well.) If that’s going to be the case, someone tell me now, so I can spend more money on vacation! Secondly, as a demographic, stay-at-home mothers are not the happiest, most fulfilled group. I witness this personally, and studies show many women who give up careers to stay home with children wrestle with anxiety and depression. For those of us raised to believe we could accomplish anything, this role is fraught with feelings of inadequacy, guilt and dissatisfaction.
My advice to my daughters will be this — never stop working. Someday, you may want to have children, and you may want to stay home to raise them. You may be fortunate enough to have either saved enough money to do so, or be married to someone who can support the family on his or her income alone. It is wonderful to have options, but no matter how hard it is to balance motherhood and career, never fold your hand entirely. You have to stay in the game.
1. It is critical to have something for yourself, something you own. Studies have shown meaningful work makes people happier. Mothers need to maintain their own identity.
2. You must keep your brain engaged. Especially, when your children are young, it is too easy to become numbed by a life ensconced in baby talk and Nick Jr. Your brain needs exercise just as your body does.
3. Even if the financials don’t make sense, even if you are paying a babysitter more than you are making, it is worth it. Think of it as continuing education. Especially now, with technology changing the way we do almost everything, taking years off can render you impotent. Stay involved.
4. At some point, your children will be in school all day, and you will be looking to fill the hours with something other than laundry, housework and complaining about the laundry and housework. (Again, I know moms who don’t work outside the home do more than this, but I’m trying to make a point. No one complains about the laundry and carpooling more than me.) It is very difficult to reenter the workforce once you’ve been out for a while. Never leave it completely, and you will have more opportunities.
5. Put the ego aside, and find part-time or freelance ways to engage with the outside world. You may have to accept a salary below what you think you are worth, you may have to take a step back in terms of seniority, but these sacrifices will pay off in the long run.
6. Engage in volunteer work in ways which utilize your experience and knowledge. Find opportunities to give back to your community while honing your skills and talents. Take on new challenges, and don’t shy away from learning something new.
When I consider my daughters and all their potential, I do believe they can do anything to which they set their mind. As cliche as it may be, I want them to be happy. I know firsthand that wasted potential does not make you happy. I know watching others move on and succeed in careers while you are carpooling to soccer practice can be depressing. I know that feeling this way when you are fortunate enough to have the option of not working, can cause crippling guilt. As much as I have loved the time spent raising my children, I wish I had never stopped working entirely. I should’ve kept my hand in the game. Luckily, I was able to find a way to reengage, but if I had never shut the door, reentry would have been much easier.
I value the example having a working mom sets for children. My kids respect my time, they are impressed by what I accomplish and they are ever my most enthusiastic cheerleaders — even when work imposes on time spent with them. Very likely, they will have to work, and they may someday need an example of how to balance career and family. Despite the juggling act I am trying to pull off every day, I hope I am providing them with this.
When they have their own children, and they struggle with leaving their baby to go to work — and struggle they will, as all moms struggle — I will have some credibility when I say, “Don’t quit. You can manage this. As long as you don’t expect me to babysit my grandkids.”