Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Woman's Conversation

I was walking the other day with a friend and we began having a conversation about "What's next..." The conversation was about what do we, as mothers do as our children are still growing up but are very independent. My question is where am I going in my career outside of motherhood and hers was what can I do now to feel useful to the world? Tired of these questions? Are you playing your tiny violins? Maybe, but they are real and torturous questions that many women struggle with as their children get older. My friend said this was THE conversation that she's having repeatedly with all her friends. And no one has an answer, its just something many of us, women, struggle with at a certain age or, more accurately, when our children are of a certain age. What now?

Having children was a goal. I love having children. I have loved and continue to love raising them. It is the hardest job you'll ever love. But I always knew that my job, as a parent, was to create independent beings who can go off on their own and build their own lives. The very job is to put yourself out of a job. Yes, I hope the relationship with my children will continue my entire life, and I will never stop worrying about them or wanting to give them advice or guidance, but eventually those will be things we will have to nurture together and they will have to request not just listen to when I deem it appropriate. Eventually I am going to have to trust that we did a good job and that whatever happens from a certain point is theirs to create, no longer mine or my husbands (their dad).

So, I went into motherhood with my eyes open, knowing the job at hand, and committed to not losing my SELF in it. Yes, there would be sacrifice. Yes, there would be choices to commit to the family and not to the career, but I wanted to make sure that I didn't get lost in the thick of it, that my hopes and dreams were still in there somewhere. What I didn't know, or didn't realize, however, was that the world is really not built to have you come in and out of work. It's not built to nurture the family for all of our talk about family values. What I was naïve and blind to was the power of the bottom line and the corporate, capitalist culture of our country. Nor did I fully understand how, though the work that I am doing as a mother is valued, it is not valued as a "work" skill.

When I was in my 20's I was willing to do lots of different types of jobs. I knew that I did not possess the skills needed for higher end jobs and would have to prove myself there. By my 30's there were definitely jobs I did not want anymore, that I knew I'd become better skilled and would never be happy doing those jobs. But by then I had children and the focus was moved to these tiny little lives in my care and the family surrounding it, that I really no longer cared about the job, it was secondary. This doesn't mean that I did not commit to the work that I did over the years, or that I was unreliable or a bad employee, it just meant that I didn't want to bring the job home with me too much and I wanted it to work for me and my family, not my family working around it. So, I stopped any kind of ambition for moving up in any kind of job because I just wanted it to hold steady... maintain.

Over those years I did not stop gaining experience, however. Over those years as a parent I became more civically involved, learning about schools and education, community parks and projects, and of course just the time and calendar management skills alone are a powerful tool for any successful employee. As an involved parent I was going to community meetings, managing teams, leading troops, all teaching me skills about communication, government, working with diverse people and so much more. It never occurred to me, and here is where I am so naïve, that these skills would be so outright dismissed when I went to look "up" in some kind of career. You, inevitably, have some more time on your hands as your children get older, because they are more independent. It was time for me to try to advance in my career and try to expand my working hours. Crazy me, I started aiming up from where I'd left 13 years ago.

A friend of mine said, when I was saying that I couldn't even seem to get interviews for these jobs I was looking at, that perhaps I was trying to get jobs too "high up" that I needed to be trying to get in the door. I thought she was crazy. I was indignant. I thought, "I haven't been working all these years to start over again in the jobs I was doing in my 20's." Because I see what I've been doing as work, even though most of it has been non-paying. What I didn't realize was that society does not. Society does NOT see what I've been doing as work and therefore I am left to start again.

Some of it is the balance that we are always talking about and striving for, work/home life balance. Now that I've had children and they are not yet adults I know that my commitment is still to finishing that job. My job as a parent is not over, and so perhaps society not only does not see my skill set but they also clearly see my distraction. And that leads to the more difficult question, "will women ever be treated equally in the work force as long as women are the primary care givers? the ones that stay home with the children when they are sick? the ones that are called when they get sick at school?" For me, it's harder than that. It's too easy to blame it on society... because I want to be the one that stays home with the kids when they are sick and the one that wants to be called when they get sick. I want to be the one that is helping them with their homework and that goes to their games.

I don't have an answer, I just know that right now I feel stuck. I feel certain that there is a job out there for me and that being a parent is still the number one job in my life. Which leaves me still... wondering... what's next?

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