I Refuse to Choose Between Work and Family

I have read and listened to several pieces where women discuss working outside the home.  The most disconcerting aspects are how most, if not all, feel the need to choose between starting a family and pursuing a graduate degree and/or a career.  I have so many feelings toward this but the main one being: Why must women choose?  For that matter, why must men choose?

As a woman and mom who has specific educational and career goals, this topic is close to my heart.  After many years of believing that my first priority is mommying, I felt cloistered by the decision–the right decision–I made early to have Emily and Andrew.  All the passions that arose once I found the right major I felt forced to place on the back burner.

One specific memory is when pregnant with Emily: I told Ben I really wanted to get my masters.  I wasn’t sure in what at the time, but I wanted to start preparing.  He supported me unequivocally; however, knowing I was pregnant and being an active member of the LDS church, I felt the Prophets and other leaders had deemed this decision unrighteous.

So when I graduated, and Ben began studying for the MCAT and doing all the other things necessary to prepare for medical school, I felt a surge of jealousy.  It hurt to say good-bye to him.  I felt abandoned and, worse, unrecognized for my natural intelligence.   But, I told myself, I was doing the right thing by choosing my family first.

Coming from the place I am now, not feeling pressured to stay at home with my kids as well as not believing in eternal consequences, I will say there is more than one option.  I, and others, shouldn’t have to choose between work and family.  Instead, women and men should push for more family friendly work environments.

I have this vision of husbands and wives, partners, or any type of family group standing up to companies who do not allow flexible work schedules, telecommuting, or more paid time off.  All these companies–and especially the examples with which the heads of these companies set–are anti-family.  Studies have consistently shown that happy home lives correlate with content and more productive employees.  Think about the ramifications of making work places in such a way that all people–from the top to the bottom–felt they did not need to sacrifice their family’s needs to keep their position or help their company reach their “bottom line.”   I am not saying that there wouldn’t be times when work would need to come first, I am suggesting that we band together to encourage companies to put families first.  To allow for a more balanced work/home life.  I mean, a family initiative within families is all fine and dandy, but change can’t come until we make a concerted effort to alter policies and laws toward a more progressive and employee/employer-friendly workplace.

I don’t know about you, but I will not let my decision to be a mom interrupt my desire to work; nor will I allow my desire to work interfere with my current and future family planning.  I will have as many, or as little, kids as I want without putting any educational/career goals on the shelf.

My question for you is, how can we make this work?  Any suggestions or alterations to my vision? Do you feel you must choose between work and family?



Filed under Feminism

19 responses to “I Refuse to Choose Between Work and Family

  1. Amber I love this post. It is difficult for you to take a stand about working outside the home given your church I'm guessing, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there are many LDS families who feel the way you do. Help educate me please.

    What I love about your honesty is that you, as mom, are not "back-burnered". Your needs are part of the over-all family equation. You want to work and that needs to be cnsidered. I've talked to so many mothers who are sad as they leave tiny babies to return to work.

    I go out of my way to buy from companies that have family friendly policies. When I see a company that has kids running around in the shop or a bouncy seat behind the counter I comment on how much that makes me happy. Bringing family into the business world only improves our business lives. When we learn to tolerate the WHOLE picture rather than compartmentalizing our lives we live more integrated. Continue to reach for all that you want.

  2. I LOVE this! I am in the middle of completely rethinking my own understanding of Gender roles, and I am hoping to create a life in the near future where my husband and I can truly be equals. Spending equal amounts of time with our pre-school aged children and equal amounts of time working to support our family. Why should I be denied any activity outside the home simply because I am a female? Why should my husband have to work many hours away from home limiting his involvement with his own children simply because he is male? We have already proved that it is completely possible for our family to live on one income, why not live on 2 part-time incomes instead? I also completely agree with you on standing up to companies. This mentality towards business is very anti-family. Have you read "The Mommy Myth"? It was a helpful read for me as I started to unwrap this onion. http://www.amazon.com/Mommy-Myth-Idealization-Mot

  3. There's a series of books I read that are set in the future, and mothers who stay at home (which, of course, really means work at home) are paid a salary by the government. I'm not sure if it's the government that should be paying it or how the wage should be calculated or a slew of other things, but I love the idea of being recognized in a specific, economically viable way for the work I do. It's no substitute for snuggles and hugs and crayon drawings, but it's external validation. And that's important, I think, along with other forms of validation like childcare in workplaces, flexible office hours, and extended maternity and paternity leave.

  4. Aside from what's been said, family-friendly healthcare is important, as is establishing a support network of extended family or friends.

    I think that the most important changes happen on a personal level, and eventually on the cultural level; corporate behavior will simply follow suit. Choices will always have to be made: you can't be in a job that expects 60 hours a week and be struggling with a two year old at home and expect everything to just work. Once we become realistic about our expectations of balancing family and education/employment and admit that we can't do everything as if that were the only thing in our lives, things fall into place. To "have it all," one needs to plan, work hard, be communicative, and relax.

    • Thank you for this insightful and important comment. I agree with all that you've said and would really like to see these things implemented in current workplace policies.

  5. It is a perpetual juggle. It isn't easy. But then working at home (without pay) isn't easy. I think the key is being open and flexible, including with your expectations, and that includes the fact that you and Ben will both be constantly tweaking the way you juggle.

    There will be compromises. The "have it all and do it all" myth is just that – a myth. I think we need to set aside our slogans and notions of what "it" looks life – "it" being the combination of elements of giving, taking, creating, learning, loving, feeling, being – and more – that comprise our journey.

    There is no formula, Amber. But with two of you willing to talk and reshape as you and your family recognize needs evolving, I think you have a better shot and "being and doing and growing" yourself and those you love.

  6. This post caused me to think about where my priorities are with this, so I could better articulate them. 🙂 Thanks for such thought-provoking ideas! Also, I wish we had hung out when you lived in Provo. I didn't know! 🙂 I'm glad that you are determined to pursue your educational and professional goals. I agree you shouldn't have to "choose between" motherhood and whatever else compels you in life, but you don't mention whether you plan to accomplish those things SIMULTANEOUSLY while raising your children.

    I'm very proud of my mother who served a mission, earned a teaching degree, graduated from law school, and had 11 children (I'm the oldest). She now works as an attorney but she stayed home for many years while we were growing up. So she had a season to choose family full-time, a season choosing to be both a law student and a mother, a season to begin working with the tail end of her family still at home (5 kids), etc. What do you envision the seasons of your life holding for you?

    My thoughts on this subject are, I don't think I need to be a stay at home mom to be a good mother, but the principles of attachment theory are very important to me (I'm sure you're familiar with that from MFHD) and my greatest priority with my kids is that they form healthy attachments to their primary caregivers and know that they are loved and accepted and safe. They deserve to know they are the most important to me. I've seen the devastating affects of attachment disorders in institutionalized children (orphans) and although those cases are at the most extreme end of the continuum, I was so affected by my time with those kids that I am committed to attachment parenting. I think that can absolutely be done while working work in, too, but I wanted to establish that that IS my biggest priority and if I ever did "have to choose" I would not choose my professional goals if I felt my children needed more time with me.

    I'm very happy with the arrangement we have in our family right now, although I know it would be even better if I were more organized (blech) and I understand that it must of necessity be modified when we have more children. My husband and I are both social workers and right now we have awesome fairly high-earning part time jobs, so we both split our day working and staying with our 3 month old baby. He goes to work in the morning (he teaches relationship classes for the inmates at the county jail) and comes home around 1:30 and then I leave for work and meet with therapy clients until 6. Then when I come home there's still so much of the day left to play with our little buddy, hang out with each other, spend time with friends, etc. Stuff like cleaning is hard, figuring out the timing with dinner, making sure I pump in time to leave my husband with a bottle for the baby, etc. but I love how right now we are both able to work and spend time with our sweet one. We are easily able to pay our expenses each month and are slowly paying off debts from school loans. My husband has expressed before the thought that being a "good provider" as it is traditionally defined pushes him out of the home. He wants to be able to be emotionally close to his kids and have strong relationships with them that don't form as readily if he only sees them right before bed and on the weekends. We agree that we'd rather have a little less money and a little more time being together. (For example we decided we don't care if we ever buy a house in our lifetime…we buy new clothes less than once a year…I know not everyone would be okay with those things but they work for us) Staying home more is important to him. On the other hand I feel energized and alive at my work, I feel I am using my skills and my talents, and that I am a better mother because of it. I utilize most of the principles of attachment parenting and I am very bonded to my baby. I love that I get to leave my baby with his father so they can create that bond too, and that my husband gets to spend some time "nurturing." He is wonderful at it! My appreciation for him has increased because of his willingness and eagerness to take over this portion of childcare, and he respects and appreciates me more as well because he understands firsthand what is required.
    I just realized I got kind of carried away, but I hope at least some of this was relevant, if you're even still reading. 🙂

    • Rachel, your views are expressed very eloquently and I will need time to digest all that you have said in response to my questions! I admire that you and your husband can work part-time and make the finances in your family work, it is something I've told Ben I would have done had we started out differently. As you said, owning a home isn't our priority either, we prefer to give our kids what they need and don't think anything outside of that is necessary for their growth.

      Your ideas on attachment parenting are fascinating. I, too, have witnessed the devastating effects of abandoned/neglected children. It is so heartbreaking that I went into an anxiety attack when I first had Emily thinking she would turn out that way! (Mental health issues, I'm telling you it is vile!) But, as you said, I learned to read her and Andrew's cues so I could give them the attention and love they need. I feel much more comfortable as a parent now, in some ways, and am grateful for my degree in helping that. As I am sure you are.

  7. I found a list a few years back of family friendly companies. I've lost it- helpful huh? – but I wonder if we couldn't start by voting with our dollars. Some companies provide health insurance for part time employees. Some allow more flex time. But I think the truth is some industries are better built for flexibility then others.

    A woman I know, a new doctor and new mom, wisely said before you make any choices, you need to know what you think it takes to be a good mom. I'll add you must know too what constitutes success in you career.

    Personally, I know that compromises are necessary. I plan to do more out in the world, but even when I do, I know I'll need more give in my career to meet my needs as a mom. I have no clue how thatwill work.

  8. Amber, I realize we all have different experiences in life that lead us to think and feel certain ways. But I struggle with your mentioning the church discouraging you from getting a masters degree. The glory of God is intelligence and in my experience women are never discouraged from pursuing an education and getting the degree that they desire to have. Of course, families are encouraged as well, and mothers encouraged to be at home with their children where their influence is so beneficial. But must one exclude the other? I don't think so. And I don't think it's fair to imply that church policy would ever discourage a woman from gaining the education she desired, pregnant or not. In my experience, the church has never done anything but empower me to make choices that are the most beneficial for me and for the well being of my family… something that we determine on a personal level, within our own family unit. What works for us may not work for everyone else, but we have the agency and intelligence to make choices for ourselves. I'm truly sorry that you were ever made to feel like furthering your education would be unrighteous or worthy of discouragement. Having had such a completely opposite experience, I felt I would be remiss if I didn't add my thoughts to the discussion.

    • Hi Jenny,

      You are right, women are encouraged to get education. It wasn’t getting the degree that I felt discouraged from, it was potentially using the degree outside the home. There are dual messages: get a degree but in the context of supporting your husband in his career goals because he will be providing for the family. My criticism is not about the church policies regarding women and education, but about the disagreement between equality in marriage. I have seen my husband struggle greatly to provide for us, financially, when I was completely able to work and help him. However, we both felt it went against current teachings when it comes to mothers staying in the home. I am not implying that kids should go into daycare, I am suggesting that we move in a more creative direction. If my husband and I had thought that we both would take care of parenting and the finances, we would have done things differently while we both were in school. I don’t regret the decisions we made, but it has helped me make different choices now that I wouldn’t have otherwise. In the end, someone must take care of the kids. I am the best person for the job, and my husband would be as well has we changed positions. So I wouldn’t pay for another person to do something that I am more qualified for (as most moms and dads are) and am sad that is the message you read from this post. I am advocating for more family friendly work environments that allow a couple to share work and familial responsibilities equally if the couple so chose. And I don’t mean sending kids to daycare, I mean there are so many possibilities for a marriage couple who had the flexible options to create a home/work life that worked for them and provided the best, I mean the best (which is to say, the parents), care for the children and giving them the home life they need.

      • Amber, on the contrary, I didn't get that impression from your post at all. It's obvious you are an advocate for providing the very best care for your children and that you feel that care should happen in the home. Nor do I struggle with the notion that arrangements that are a little less than traditional can work to benefit individual families. My brother is a stay at home dad with his four boys while his wive works outside the home, and he's great at it. His boys are happy, he is happy, his wife is happy. It works for them. They are also active, happy members of the church. And that, I think, is where you and I disagree. Because the church that I know is one that is supportive and loving of families, no matter their circumstances, or the decisions they make as to how children are cared for, whether it be inside the home, or outside the home in traditional daycare settings. Is their an ideal? Absolutely. But we are allowed, through personal revelation to make decisions for our family, even if they may differ from what others say is the "perfect" arrangement. No guilt. No pressure. No judgement.

      • Jenny, I think your experience is beautiful; however, I have witnessed and heard so many different things than what you have described here. But, this is not a post bashing on the church, I wrote it to talk about my personal experiences and how I have grown as a woman. I really want to emphasize that I want to see workplaces become more lenient toward families so that we can all choose how to make things work in a manner that best supports our familial goals. Thank you for sharing your opinion and your own experiences. I have always admired you. : )

  9. I waited to have a child – for various reasons. When I finally became a mother, the idea of being a stay at home mom just did not appeal to me. I didn’t even take a 6 week maternity leave, I was so ready to get back to work.
    But then I found myself unable to go back full time. I realized how hard it is to have it all. My chosen career, architecture, construction and design, does not lend itself to part time working moms. It really does demand 60 hour work weeks. That profession does make you choose between family and career. I’ve had long talks with former co-workers about this, and they applaud me for my decision to just walk away. Some of them have also walked away, others, well, they work the 60 hours a week and feel their relationship with their children suffers.
    By the time my daughter was 2, I realized that I no longer liked any of my day care options on top of feeling ambivalent about my career. So, I gave up my day job and went back to waiting tables at night. My husband was home with our daughter at night and he quickly went from “What did you do all day?” to “How do you do this all day every day?”. In short, it really helped with his appreciation.
    I went back to an office job when my daughter started kindergarten, but again, kept it to part time. And it was not in line with my former career, because I knew that was no longer an option.
    I have worked for so-called self professed family friendly employers. I have found if they tout themselves as family friendly, they really aren’t. My husband’s job has him traveling quite a bit and we have no family nearby. We do have a great support network of friends, but I still need a good deal of flexibilty from a job that I’ve had a hard time finding. I actually was once criticized for working from home when my daughter was home with a stomach bug. Nevermind that I completed my work, the fact that I was allowed to do so from home was seen as me slacking off by a coworker.

    I have recently decided to start my own home based business. The only way I’m going to get an employer who is as family friendly as they claim, is to be that for myself. And as a part-timer, I’m the first to go when there are budget cuts. I’ve been laid off 4 times in 7 years. Twice in the past 2.

    As for finances, we have made decisions that allow me to have the time with our daughter. My husband works nonprofit, so it’s not always easy. When I gave up my job, we sat down and looked at things and asked ourselves what we really needed, what really mattered. We were never big consumers anyway. We had purchased our house years before we had a child (and years before the housing market took off), we drive old cars, we don’t have cable. Most of our clothes, I buy used. I still don’t have a cell phone I use on a regular basis, it’s a pay as you go plan. It’s really all about the choices you make. I look at some of those things, as just another bill to pay, a few more hours a week for me to work. And I’m not particularly inclined to do so a good bit of the time.

    I once had someone tell me that a college degree just says that you started out to do something and finished what you said you were going to do. I like that concept. It’s funny, when I went back to waiting tables, I had a number of people question what I was doing. I worked at a wine bar and learned a great deal about wine. I now have a small column in a local, online publication that is a direct result of some of that knowledge. I’ve had a few of them tell me, what a brilliant sideways career move that turned out to be. As I start my own business, I am using a good number of contacts I’ve gained doing various jobs over the years. I’m even using my design degree to put together logos and marketing materials. I like to look at it as all my experiences finally coming together.

    I think we, as women, need to do whatever works best for us. It’s not easy and you can’t judge someone until you’ve been in their shoes. There are some women who can juggle career and homelife. I am not one of them. And I’m okay with saying that.

    • Becky, it is experiences like yours that make my heart weep. Not because you chose the route that is best for your family, but that our current working system could not support you and your goals. I feel they lost a creative and wonderful asset by not allowing for flexibility.

      I suppose that most people would read this post and assume that I am currently working full-time, but, funnily enough, I actually have no desire to do that at this moment. Yes I want to pursue a degree, but that is something I am familiar with doing and know I can balance family and homework. (I went back to school when my first was 2 weeks old, school has much more flexibility than a job does.) However, there is no job that I could find that would leave me feeling more satisfied than I currently am at home. I am glad that I get to experience everything with my kids. But, I also know that many women want or need to work outside the home. I feel frustrated when I think about the balance of familial responsibility lies with the woman. I believe in equality and would love to see men and women creating and rearing families together in a way that suits their future goals.

      Thank you for commenting. I don't know if what I responded back with actually added to or subtracted from what you have said–my brain tends to go in all types of directions when I start thinking–but I will tell you that I shared much of what you said with my husband and friends. I think your story is important. You have made a decision that is best for your family and shown that you are a strong woman who will do what you think is right.

      I also want you to know that your frugal living is something I can relate to. Our house would be considered small to some people, but we have more than enough room to spare. I couldn't imagine us living in a bigger space when we don't need it. (As an aside, we are renting. Mostly because we have not settled down and don't know when that will happen. Haha!) Our kids only get new clothes and toys from grandparents and giving friends. And we are okay with that! We are living on medical school loans and cannot afford to do anything outside of our budget. But this has shown me that we can really get by on so little. Besides, I would rather give any excess we have to people who really need it. And that is because I am weird.

      • No, not weird.

        I believe the universe gives us exactly what we need, when we need it. I also believe that what goes around comes around, so if you have a penny to spare, when you need it back, it will be there.

        My husband & I have always shared the work, but, due to his travel schedule, a good bit is mine. When he’s not on the road, he works from home, which is nice. He just changed jobs and we are still adjusting to what this means. His last job was more seasonally busy, which meant he was home much more summer & winter. He was my main child care plan the last few summers, with some supplements from camps. But when he was gone, he was pretty much out of contact and couldn’t be counted on. Such is life.

        I like to call it our little cash flow problem. We have a wonderful life, wonderful opportunities fall into our laps quite a bit. We spent multiple weekends in a row this summer at various friends and relatives waterfront second homes. Not a bad gig at all. We attended a number of concerts, operas and even a ballet performance this past spring and summer, for free. Just the other day I scored a pair of never-worn, land’s end pink mary janes in my daughter’s size for $3 when I was out thrifting. We live just fine off of what we make and look good while we’re at it. We just don’t always have the cash flow that we’d like.

        I now channel a good bit of that creativity and energy into being on the PTO at school, by leading my daughter’s girl scout troop, among other things. I think that inspiring and molding young lives is a much better legacy than a well designed building any day. Good design is subjective, but a good person? Not so much.

  10. My sister came to me a couple of years ago. She was in what Jacob would call Stage 1. Things were either black or white. Mothers either stay home or didn't. She told me of her neighbor who lived in a nice comfortable house. The husband had a generous income. She was at a complete loss for why this mother of 2-3 children still went out and worked over 30 hours a week outside of the home when it was clearly not financially necessary. I then thought back to a lot of my friends I'd met through college who had shared with me that just thinking of staying home all day would make them go insane. I told her, "What if she just can't stay home?" My sister was confused. "How could you not just stay home? The prophets have said we should." I answered that the prophets have said it would be ideal. But what if this mother working outside the home was the lesser problem. This confused her even more. I then explained that there some women who literally would be DEPRESSED, experience huge anxieties and overwhelming feelings of inadequacy, and simply feel that they were caged ALL DAY LONG. I then asked her how happy her home would be if this mother stayed home and let these feeling fester all day long. She thought about it a while and then said, "So, by working a little outside the home, she's able to keep her marriage intact and provide for her children on a full tank of gas? And that, in fact, it's better for her children that this mother DOES work outside the home?" EXACTLY.

    I have to admit here that I'm one of the women out there who can't wait to stay home. I'm looking forward to the day that God finally let's Xan and I have children and I can stay nice and cozy at home. I get so excited about it. I remember while I was doing my internship in China as a tour guide and all these American tourists were asking me what I was going to do with my degree. I would always answer that I hoped to get married and start a family and stay at home. I was deeply saddened by the response I got 80% of the time. I would even have mothers tell me I was foolish. I was throwing my life away. I heard repeatedly, "My children took away the best years of my life." They wanted me to do something with my life. Go into business with my Mandarin. Go work for the government with this exotic knowledge I have of the East. Go do something with your life. And I would just smile and say, "We'll see. For now, I want to be a mom." Over 5 years later, I've already turned down a couple of jobs for my Mandarin, one taking me all the way to Hong Kong, and I'm okay with it because even now, I want to be a stay-at-home mom. Now, will my opinion change when we have kids? Who knows. But I did want to put out there that there are some women who are home-bodies and LOVE the idea of staying home, cleaning the house, making dinner without a work schedule to work around. But I've seen that not every woman is going to LOVE the idea of staying home.

    I think in a perfect world, mothers would all stay home. But, there would be so many more things in their life if it was perfect. All husbands would be supportive, companies would all be understanding, communities would all pitch in and help when needed, families would all be there for each other, ect. But we're NOT in a perfect world. The Family: A Proclamation to the World gives guidelines of what this perfect family scenario should look like and what we should all be working toward. But it doesn't say everyone is going to have it or achieve it in this life. Take for example the mother who dies giving birth. This child, which the proclamation states has the right to be reared by a mother and a father, only has a father. The father will do the best he can. Maybe he'll be able to remarry, maybe not. This same principle is applied to a financially struggling family where both the mother and the father have to work. It applies to the mother who psychologically will be able to provide more for her children if provided time outside of the home to develop herself. This life isn't about BEING perfect, its about working to BECOME perfect. I ABSOLUTELY believe that a mother's main priority in her life is to nurture her children and that if she needs to work outside the home for whatever reason, God will step in and help her fulfill this role if the hear is in the right place. And if there is a husband to help out, the proclamation addresses that, too. While it is the mother's main role to nurture her children and the husband's main role to provide financially, husbands and wives are asked to HELP EACH OTHER in these roles. God leaves SO MUCH room for individual revelation and guidance.

    And there's my very LONG comment. 🙂 I miss you, by the way. I'm glad you have a blog. I feel like I know you so much better personally than when we were CA's. I always liked you but through your blog, I've really come to know and respect you even more.

    • It was hard to see exactly what I was writing 'cause it only shows that little square while you write. I just wanted to clarify my statement. I don't believe that ALL mothers who work outside the home psychologically can't handle staying home. But I do believe it sometimes happens.

      I also believe that some women are called to work outside the home in different capacities. Each of us has gifts and talents unique to us alone. God is going to need some of those out in the world, as well. There are SO MANY different reasons why a mother might work outside the home.

      I think the harder issue is choosing for oneself and then sticking to it. I know that I have really struggled with this principle since getting married. There are all these statements about not putting off kids. Yet, Xan and I felt very strongly that we should wait. So we did. And, we still are. It can be hard to not doubt the answer God is still giving us. Especially whenever I hear a talk about not putting off having children. Or I read about yet another of my friend's having yet another baby. Or when the job market is terrible and I feel like I'm floating from one temporary job to another. All I can do is stick to my guns and remind myself that I believe this is what God wants me to do. Sometimes he reassures and other times, he lets me try my faith.

  11. Elastamom

    I am constantly at war with myself over this. I work from home…but wish I didn't have to. It's tough.