When I get together with fellow moms these days, I find the greatest thing we have in common is not that we all have kids but that most of us are still trying to figure out who we are now that we HAVE kids.
I think this is because our generation of moms is facing an identity crisis: Torn between the modern women that our foremothers fought so hard to enable us to become and the traditional women society has molded us into being.
A sesquicentennial ago, our foremothers fought to give us a voice in politics with the women’s suffrage movement. Fifty years ago, women struggled to break the academic barrier and make a college education, rather than a wedding ceremony, the social norm after finishing high school. The generation before us sacrificed spending much time with their families, or sometimes having a family at all, in order to prove their value as leaders in the work place.
But what about our generation? What’s our legacy?
Some refer to us as the “Opt-Out Generation” because many of us (like the writers and readers of this blog) are well educated women, who held down steady jobs, supported themselves and lived independently before settling down and starting a family, at which point, many of us opted-out of the work force to raise kids.
Some mothers, like World Moms Blog Founder, Jennifer Burden, or Contributing Editor, Alison Lee, held down high-powered jobs they worked hard to get but then found their calling elsewhere, like social media or giving global moms a voice. Other mothers, like Wall Street Mama or Sophie Walker took maternity leaves and then returned to their high-demand careers on the trading floor and in international journalism.
When I was in college in the early 1990’s, Japan and the Tiger Economies were on the rise. So, I majored in Japanese and planned to pursue an international career with my skills but then those economies crashed and I was left with my double English minor to fall back on. I cashed it in for a Master’s degree in Journalism and then somehow fell into a successful career in philanthropy. Go figure.
But still, I was successful, and independent, and financially solvent.
In fact, from the time I met my future husband—who is almost five years my junior—until our first child was born, I commanded a higher salary than he did. Then he got into business school and we moved away. I left my job behind and settled into being a SAHM. A job I said I’d stick to until our youngest went to kindergarten.
That was six years and two children ago and now I’m starting to get antsy. Friends remind me that I begin waxing nostalgic and talking about going back to work towards the end of every summer (which here in the United States entails a ludicrous TEN WEEKS of school vacation). I think this is because I am a person who has a hard time living in the present and am always planning the next activity. By the end of the summer, I have driven my children all around the Northeast, from Pennsylvania to Canada, in pursuit of fun and adventure. By the end of the summer I am burned out, fried and no longer a fun mom.
I deeply appreciated Diana Stone’s article last week about pursuing her freelance writing career and hiring a sitter a few times each week to give her the space and freedom to pursue this goal. Like so many of us, unless I am working on a paid project, I battle the guilt of hiring a sitter so I can focus on my writing. Writing to me is a joy and an escape so if I’m not writing for a client, I feel I should be doing my other job: Camp Counselor Mom.
Today, I hired a sitter and came to the library to write. And, to ponder further what getting back into the workforce might look like.
I miss deeply the conviviality (and sometimes drama) of fellow colleagues. I miss having my own space, free of Legos, school projects and cats. I miss earning my own paycheck…though I suppose I still receive one, since technically I am a contract writer for my former employer; it’s just that the pay is sporadic and somewhat unreliable based on project size and frequency. Most of all, I miss the identity I had as a gainfully employed adult before I became a mom.
The trouble is, going back to work also means giving up a lot of the things I take for granted, like the ability to cart my kids all over the Northeast in pursuit of fun and adventure. The luxury of hand-picking their extracurricular activities based on their schedules and not mine. The flexibility I offer my husband in the pursuit of his career goals. The freedom to design my own work hours and job sites: a coffee shop in the morning; the library in the afternoon; home office at night. The pleasure of being my own (and my kids’) boss.
Our generation of moms has been given a gift: to design the jobs and careers and flexibility we want and need. Landing that job may take exceptional creativity, contacts and aspiration but technology (and a lot of hard work by our foremothers) has created the opportunity.
After having kids, I lost my drive for continuing my former career. This fall, my youngest child enters preschool. That means four half-days of time to ponder my next phase of life. To figure out what configuration of work-life balance makes sense and what field to focus on. Or maybe it means I’ve been given a little-bit-longer to try just living in the here-and-now.
Have you already figured out who you are or who you want to be when your children are old enough to let you pursue those goals? If not, what do you want to be when they grow up?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Senior Editor, Kyla P’an.