Fast forward fourteen years since I entered the workforce and here I am with a marriage, two children, and a household to manage. Yes, I am lucky to have a great husband and devoted father as my partner, but I’ve noticed there are fewer and fewer women like me at work; what’s worse, the ones that I think are more like me are disappearing. The “power couple” with children: are we an endangered species? Think I’m imagining this? Just look at my entire history of female bosses since 2002:
- First boss ever: Lovely woman, early 40s, never married, and available for work 24/7 unless she was on a cruise vacation.
- Second boss: Also a lovely woman, late 30’s, USC MBA, sister of a well known celebrity, totally single, and available for work 24/7 when not needing to be available to support celebrity sister.
- Third boss: Mid 20’s, got married 2 months after I stopped working for her, available for work 24/7 (she had traveled to South Africa 4 times just for work within one year). I heard that a few years after marriage she wasn’t working anymore… and had left heavy travel job she had.
- Fourth boss: Sweetest woman ever – and maybe the only one closest to my situation. Had just come back from maternity leave, watched out for me, insisted on me having a life and time outside of work. Tried so hard to get to the next level but didn’t happen while I worked for her. She regularly negotiated with her husband for baby coverage nights we had to stay late. Had two more kids after I stopped working for her. She’s still gunning for that same promotion, ten years later.
- Fifth boss: Had come back from maternity leave and instead of being placed into her old job was put into a newly created role. She tried her best to hack the hours required, but she couldn’t work like that and still pick up her kids on time. She (and everyone else) sort of knew she was in a waiting room. Heard she got axed not long after I stopped working there.
- Sixth boss: No kids, married to both her husband and her job. Promoted repeatedly. Nice person, but really married to the job.
- Seventh boss: Got married while I was working for her. Got pregnant while I was out on maternity. I didn’t come back to work for her. She’s still working, but shifted to a 4 day a week role with 1 day from home. Husband is in finance and an entrepreneur.
- Eighth boss: Amazing women, and rockstar at work. Husband had a flexible job that allowed for her to focus on building her career significantly. The conflict between work and life was still there, but she managed with husband’s flexibility and extended support system help.
- Ninth boss: Also an amazing woman with a husband with a super flexible job to take on lead parent role.
I leave out some of the other women I used to work with or for (indirectly), like a VP who ended up forgoing it all to move into consulting after trying to balance a husband with a high flying career and two kids, along with her VP job.
The dual income family where both parents’ careers are vital and demanding isn’t as common as we think. Yesterday we had some friends visiting – their youngest is 8 months. Her mother told me after childcare expenses, she’s actually paying to just keep her job and stay in the work force: staying in a job with two kids and the associated childcare expenses leaves her net negative. I told her that I feel like our situations are more the minority than we’d like to think. I can count the other dual income families I know with both parents working demanding jobs on just one hand. Her husband agreed. He said that most people realize that you can’t have two career driven parents without oodles of money for help unless you’re OK with the children suffering. I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but many days – it sure feels that way. What’s more, once I get past the first (and arguably the most grueling) ten years, I’m not sure I’m going to still be motivated to chase a career at the expense of other interests and loves that I have put on hold for so long. I may just be OK with wherever I am at that point.
This explains why so much of the advice for women at work seems to resonate most with a very particular type of woman in a very particular type of life situation. What’s fascinating is that many women who do take the advice to chase their careers early on reach a road block wrought with confusion and disillusionment when they do become parents but their careers aren’t quite where they hoped or planned for them to be at that point. I wonder why we’re not more forthcoming with our advice around being a working parent: what it’s like, and what it really takes to make it work – particularly if you’re in a dual income relationship.
A friend of mine is a lactation consultant and in discussion around about this predicament she likened it to breast feeding: for most it’s so hard to do, and really just downright miserable, if we didn’t only focus on the good stuff like why it’s so great for the baby and the mother and why it’s so much cheaper, and that you’ll lose weight – with all the other stuff they have going on, new mother’s just wouldn’t do it if there was any sort of other viable option. Now, this makes a lot of sense. When I had my first child, I remember the most ardent supporters of breastfeeding were women who had never done it themselves. In fact, a number of pediatrician friends who recently had children admitted that they felt terrible for the pressure they put on new mothers to breastfeed exclusively, as they themselves couldn’t do it when it was their turn.
I guess if we told parents-to-be that unless they have oodles of money, a hyper flexible job, or were the big boss themselves, working with kids means constant sleep deprivation, no personal time, constant juggling, and being an easy target to any ultra competitive co-workers, I’m not sure many would come back to work. But, on the flip side, even without us emphasizing that part, the anecdotal numbers show it – in the 24/7 workplace, we’re truly a dying breed.
Have Kids, Will Work