I was just visiting a nearby IvyLeageUniversity to give a seminar. I was asked to have lunch with students and sorta do a women’s mentoring lunch thing. I know some people find being asked to do these mentoring lunches strange or somehow unfair, but I don’t. There is no better way to change the social views of people than to convert the younger generations. We can talk more about this in other posts… but this post is about something that was brought up at the lunch.
Two of the lunchers were female postdocs who had children. They lamented that, even though they have husbands who could, and did, stay at home with their kids (awesome!) and/or their kids go to daycare, they feel *bad* about leaving their kids. I know exactly how they feel. In fact, just that morning, my child had a fever. I had already scheduled for several months to drive to IvyLeagueU, so I was not going to cancel. My HusbandOfScience took off the day to stay with our child – canceling all his meetings and getting someone to cover his class. My child was very sad when I left out the door. He was crying and wanted to hug me – a rare event since this child prefers Daddy. I felt very bad about having to leave and go to give this talk. Further, I also felt guilty about making my husband stay at home. I ended up leaving early to get back home – missing the opportunity to dine with my colleagues at ILU. This was an extreme circumstance, and has happened to male colleagues – in fact the man from ILU who invited me also left early when he came up to visit me at UofState. But, did he feel guilty about leaving early? Probably not.
In this post, I want to talk about why you should not feel bad about leaving your kids to have a career. In other posts, we can talk about the circumstances of having to stay home with sick kids and how you make those choices.
On a normal, daily basis, I don’t usually feel bad. I have several reasons or rationalizations to support my choice:
1. Daycare is better for my kids, personally. Just because you have kids and you are a smart person, say a Ph.D.-level scientist, does not mean you will be a good mother. Kids need different things at different stages of their development. I am not able to determine what I should be doing to educate my child at each of these stages. But, I send my child to a great daycare with awesome early-childhood educators that DO know what my child should be learning and working on. Thus, I feel like my children are better in the care of professional childcare experts, which I am not. Basically, the ability to have a child does not give you the power to be a great mom.
2. It is important to set an example. My mom worked full-time when I was a kid. I went to daycare, and I still knew my mom loved me and we had a lot of fun together. I know my mother felt guilty and bad about leaving us kids, but it turns out that she set a really great example for us. Because I knew she loved me and gave me a lot of attention, and was still able to have a career, I know I will be able to also be there for my children and also still have a career. In general, I feel like setting the example as a Career-Driven Mom is important – especially for my own kids. I have a girl and a boy. For the girl, I hope to serve as an example for her personally. For the boy, I am hoping he brings home a significant other who is also a whole person.
3. Working moms are better for kids, in general. Recent studies have shown that children of working moms are just as emotionally healthy and capable as kids whose moms stay at home – if not more so (publicity with initial source material linked can be found here). I think these types of studies are important for women, who like my mom, felt a huge guilt about having a job. My mom made a lot more money than my dad and was in a technical field, although not an academic, so her working was essential for our family to have a good life – a house, cars that run, and the ability to move to neighborhoods that set us in good schools. By increasing the income level for our family, she set me up to have a better life – better access to education, which I fully utilized.
All choices in life require a cost-benefit analysis. For me, being a mom and having a career has way more benefits for my kids than costs. I spend time with my kids every day (as long as I am not traveling) and all weekend. The time is fun because I try to pay a lot of attention to them – and not work and especially not cleaning the house, etc… I hire people to clean the house and do the gardening, so I have more time with the family. We have more money to go on vacations and have a nice house in a good school district. I follow the principles set forth my by parents that the kids school and well-being takes precedent over my comfort. If I had to, I would drive 1 hour to work in order to live in a good school district. Luckily, I don’t have to.
So how do you feel? Do you feel guilty? Do you feel liberated? How can we all feel liberated? Post or comment.