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By Jessica T

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About this blog: I'm a late thirties mother of a ten-year-old and infant twins. My family moved to Menlo Park 6 years ago from Virginia - where I grew up, went to college, got married, had my first born, and got an MBA (in that order). I'm a manag...  (More)

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Returning to work

Uploaded: Nov 18, 2013
I have had nightmares about returning to work. As someone married to a Cal State professor and fiction writer, I've never had a choice to do otherwise. If I had had a choice not to work when my first daughter was born ten years ago, I'm pretty sure I would have dropped out of the workforce at least for a little while. I was 26 with roughly 5 years of experience under my belt and few exciting opportunities to pursue. And I was in love with being a mother.

Instead I went back to work at my previous job for six months and negotiated a partial work-from-home assignment to make breastfeeding easier. When I returned to work, my maternity-leave replacement was promoted, the founder's best friend was hired as CEO, and my health insurance was cut. I decided to look for a new job. I got an awesome role writing gift acknowledgements for the Office of the President at the University of Virginia where I worked with an amazing group of professionals. Then I decided it was time to go back to school to pursue my MBA full-time. It was the right moment for me to pursue a graduate degree and crack open a new vault of opportunities before I expanded my family further… Then, of course, I was unable to expand my family for many, many years. And the opportunities my MBA afforded me were much more far-reaching than I ever might have imagined.

Today I feel passionately about returning to work. I think about the doors that opened and the trajectory I was able to follow simply because I continued working full-time. It was heartbreaking to leave my baby at home and miss so much, but it was invaluable to my own development. With ten years of raising her behind me, I know now that there are wonderful childcare providers who came into her life because I was working. They provided her with a much richer experience and a wider range of values than I could have alone.

In a small way, I'm also proud to have (hopefully) contributed to the feminist movement by staying in the workforce and setting an example for my daughter and other women in the workplace.

The truth is, I have some of the same misgivings about returning to work as I did the first time. In fact, I cringe at the long hours, the difficulty compartmentalizing work and home that I struggled with the first time around. How can I maximize my work life and home life in a way that is satisfying and well-balanced? Will I be able to give my babies and my daughter and my work enough without losing out on one or the other?

How do you feel about returning to work after maternity leave? What are your tips/tricks to making it work for you and your family?

Comments

Posted by working mom, a resident of College Terrace,
on Nov 18, 2013 at 11:28 am

Thanks for your excellent and heartfelt post about returning to work. One thing that I think is important in your post is the fact that you were more ambivalent about returning to work when your opportunities were limited. The more that women feel that they are hitting the glass ceiling and their prospects for advancement are limited, the less likely they are to make the difficult choices necessary to stay in the work force. This is of course one of the reasons that Cheryl Sandberg advises "leaning in" at the earliest stage of your career so that you can build up a well-spring of good will and desire to have you back on the part of your employer before you have children. She has really been assaulted in the media for failing to limn out all of the ways that discrimination -- both overt and subtle -- backgrounds the decision not to return to work by mothers. But her advice is really sound.

Thanks for sharing your personal story. Leaving a young baby is very hard -- of course it should be hard for both parents not just mothers.


Posted by all mothers are working mothers, a resident of Atherton: other,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 8:44 am

This sentence needs to be corrected:

"In a small way, I'm also proud to have (hopefully) contributed to the feminist movement..."

Wrong. The much-maligned feminist movement has always been about giving women choices. Not about forcing them down one particular path. Compared to other countries, our child care system is appallingly primitive, and a true feminist would be lobbying for improvements rather than whining about her own personal angsty decisions. In this particular case, the author works at Google, which provides excellent onsite care. What exactly is the problem?

I appreciate that the author is trying to be more relevant and that I am contributing to the longevity of this blog by posting, but I won't shed a tear when the Almanac decided to yank this irritating feature.


Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 9:02 am

Returning to work?

I haven't worked so hard since I became a parent. Yes, I am a stay at home mom, but that doesn't mean I haven't been working - just not receiving a salary.

Not only do I look after a family of 6, I volunteer and am always being asked to do more as it is assumed I do nothing all day the kids are at school. On top of that, all my kids' friends whose mothers work have me as emergency contact or ask if I can have their kids for a playdate when there is no school or if they have a work conflict. I have had kids dropped off here an hour before school because of parent early meetings, or picked them up after school when there were late meetings. I have had to pick up their sick kids from school and have them sleep on my couch until parents could come get them.

None of this is meant as a complaint as I am pleased to help friends out. But, I am just saying that any mother who is working outside the home doesn't really get just how frantic the life of a stay at home mom really is.

On the other side, I really enjoy not being part of the rat race of working for a paycheck I have been there and it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. I don't have to deal with coworkers I can't get on with, company politics, the uncertainty of whether I will lose my job or a boss I hate - all things my employed friends seem to have on a regular basis.

"Going back to work" is not just because of feminist ideals or women's rights. It is a choice that many women feel they would rather not do. It doesn't make us less complete individuals or unfulfilled, or even second class women. I have never felt so free, complete or fulfilled as being able to do whatever I think is best for me as a person first which makes me a better person to mother my kids.

I know for some families it is a financial decision, but unless you really make enough money to make a big difference to the family finances, I would say that working at being a full time mom is more rewarding than a paycheck to finance childcare.JZtNB


Posted by MV Mom, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 9:19 am

Hear, hear! to all mothers are working mothers and Mother of 4.

Feminism is NOT about putting women in the workforce; it's about making sure women AND MEN are able to freely make the choices that are best for themselves and their families.


Posted by Jessica T, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 9:53 am

Jessica T is a registered user.

Readers,

Thanks for your comments on working mothers and the definition of feminism. There is fertile ground for discussion and debate here. Because I never had a choice not to work, I don't have much experience with staying home full-time with my kids. I can imagine it is challenging and very fulfilling. My sense is that no one's life is a walk in the park - you make sacrifices regardless of what path you take.

Finding and affording childcare has never been a barrier for me, even years and years ago when I was making much less money and then subsequently when I was a full-time MBA student. Working mom picks up on an important point about going back to work. Before I had my advanced degree, I had fewer opportunities, and felt the pull to stay home much more strongly. (Alas, I could not!)

I am immensely grateful to the working stay-at-home mothers that have done (and continue to do) amazing things for me and my family. There are wonderful programs in place in my daughter's school district that are thanks to their tireless volunteer efforts.

But I think we can all agree - can't we? - that if some women didn't populate the workplace, our gender wouldn't have made much progress. We still have a long way to go if we are going to help lead corporate boards, companies, and countries! Women still make 77 cents on the dollar. The only way to change that is to get women in positions of real power and influence.


Posted by Anon, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 2:15 pm

"But I think we can all agree - can't we? - that if some women didn't populate the workplace, our gender wouldn't have made much progress."

What? What does this mean? Do you mean some specific women?

Please, help me here, you have a job at Google, and childcare available, what IS the problem? I ask, along with "all mothers are working mothers" post.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Women who are raising the next generation are "in positions of real power and influence".


Posted by a male engineer, a resident of another community,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 6:34 pm

@Jessica: @\'Mother of 4\' is responding to your use of the word \'work\'. Even your reply makes the same error: "I never had a choice not to work". Indeed, few do. Just about every comments section following an article on this topic devolves into an argument about the use of the word "work". The silly thing is we all know what is meant, but the (mis)use of the word is annoying nonetheless.

The problem is the asymmetry of the phrases (1) "stay-at-home mom" and (2) "working mom". The first phrase uses a word that connotes rest: "home"; the second, one that connotes (Puritan) virtue, "working". We all are quick to agree when explicitly reminded that the stay-at-home mom in fact works, and yet our language is strongly biased to favor "working moms". The phrases are also nonsensical; they\'ve entered the popular lexicon, and so we simply no longer parse them (yet we still are affected by their connotations).

The solution is to replace these phrases with balanced, neutral, and sensible ones. Sure, that takes effort, but the effort is worthwhile. The etymology of the word "hire" is flawless; metaphor, intended or not, is absent. I suggest these phrases, then: (1) "nonhireling mom" and (2) "hireling mom". I prefer the noun as adjective I use here to any other forms for a number of reasons; one obvious one is that "hired mom" has an unintended meaning. ("Hireling" is sometimes used with a specific and narrow intended meaning, but etymologically it is simply someone who works for remuneration, whether as an entrepreneur---providing services to a customer for money---or in the employ of another.)

There\'s a whole separate issue that isn\'t discussed enough, in my opinion. (Buckle your seatbelt; I\'m about to get controversial.) Most adults seem unwilling to admit this, but the vast majority of jobs require one to do stupid things so one can live a stupid lifestyle; and both the job and the lifestyle are destructive to the world. Sure, there\'s honest wage earning out there, but it\'s rare. (Honest wage earning has two basic forms: as a means to satisfy the necessities of living, and when the activity itself benefits the world.) I suggest this whole "working moms" thing is basically about women acquiring the visible power that once was wielded almost solely by men alone and which, crucially, is coveted and wielded independently of whether it is for good or ill. The phrase "working mom" itself, as contrasted with "stay-at-home mom", is a symptom of that grab for power: the winner does not need to be neutral in his language.


Posted by Jessica T, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

Now that is an interesting post, male engineer! I have a friend who recently left her full-time job to provide her with more flexibility and fulfillment as a consultant. Like you, she has challenged my notions of how much money one actually needs and whether that begets happiness. (Although, having recently added two to my brood, I am more anxious, not less, about being able to support our family.)

This post is not meant to present a problem. I shared my ambivalence about returning to work. This is an emotion that I think is common among "hirelings." I am lucky to have exciting work to return to and childcare in place (although not through my employer - Google's childcare is neither onsite nor ample enough for its ~42,000 employees).

One topic that we haven't discussed is what role financial independence plays with regards to feminism. My parents raised me to support myself and my family, because one never knows what curve balls life may throw our way - divorce and death are good examples. My personal financial independence is a source of pride and something that I hope I'm instilling in my children.


Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Nov 20, 2013 at 9:55 am

male engineer

You are only partly right in saying that I was objecting to the term work.

My real objection is the idea that a woman's identity, purpose and fulfillment factor is centered on the idea that she needs to be in paid employment to achieve anything in this world. I think that my identity has nothing to do with my job description and how I spend the hours between 9 - 5.

My identity is much more defined by my integrity, morals and virtues, as well as the ability to use my mind intelligently in the way I live my life and the interaction with my family and society. I do not want to be judged by the world as a stay at home mom, even though it may be what I am. I am an intelligent woman who has had a past, who will have a future and is doing something very worthwhile with my life at present.

You have identified yourself as a male engineer. You obviously think that it is important to identify yourself as such.

The blogger feels that women need to be in charge of running the country or running a large corporation to get into positions of real power and influence. I ask myself why this may be important? The Margaret Thatchers, Hillary Clintons, Condi Rices, Meg Whitmans and Marissa Meyers among others, can do that if they want. My goal is not to influence with "real power" (whatever that means) in the world at large. My goal is to have some real power and influence in the small world that surrounds me. I can definitely do that without being in paid employment. It doesn't make me a lesser person (not even a lesser woman) to have that as a goal.

My security in life is not bound up in how much money I can make independently of my husband. My security in life is deeper than that.


Posted by Divorce is a reality, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 20, 2013 at 10:07 am

Until your husband finds a younger woman and leaves you in which event you will find out different. Not saying that to be mean but it is an absolute fact and I know many many women here in Palo Alto who experienced that shock when they found that they were raising the children and had left the workforce and were econically dependent and then learned what divorce really means. Mothers teach your daughters never to depend on a man. Divorce makes that decision unbelievably risky. I say that as a happily married women for over 20 years. If he meets someone else (someone who didn't have babies and who talks to adults and not 3 year olds all day) and decides to leave do you think you get to keep living in Palo Alto? You do not. Unless you are Anne wojcicki you are moving out to redwood city. The court will not care about the fact that he promised to take care of you. Be an adult and support yourself and make sure that you can take care of those kids without a man.


Posted by all mothers are working mothers, a resident of Atherton: other,
on Nov 21, 2013 at 12:29 am

This discussion is really going off the proverbial rails.

Part of growing up is having to make decisions and realizing that every door you open shuts another door. If you take a job at Google then you can't simultaneously work at Facebook or Yahoo. If your son's fifth birthday party happens to coincide with your team's outing to go see the Giants, well, that's another decision. We face big choices and little choices all the time, and some of the most painful ones involve our children.

When it comes to paid employment (which I think is what the OP means by "work") there are more than two choices. Parents can run businesses out of their homes -- you still need child care, but you make your own rules. Or stay with your company and figure out a more creative work arrangement.

The choices you (parent or non-parent, male or female) make at any point in your career will probably affect the range of choices available to you down the road. But you have to make those choices based on your own values and goals and the most complete information available at the time. Taking a job that you don't like because your husband might leave you in ten years is shortsighted and likely to backfire. The court may not care about promises, but the court still has to adhere to California's support guidelines. I know quite a few divorced moms who were SAH at the time and did not fall off a cliff. Their husbands paid support $; many moms got jobs. Everyone stayed in Menlo Park/Atherton, though Redwood City is not exactly Siberia.

Despite all the purveyors of doom, parents (divorced or not) do spend years away from paid employment to be with their kids, and step back in to remunerative and challenging jobs. It's not the easiest path, but it isn't always about easy, is it?


Posted by Mmm-Hmm., a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Nov 21, 2013 at 5:53 am

OK, we won't call it generic "Work", we'll call it working for an employer, and yes, the stay home crowd will always feel like they have something to defend when compared to someone who has to go to an assigned work place, stay there for an assigned amount of time before leaving, and they should. Work and Employment are different, and as a stay home parent for 3 years, I can easily tell you, its a cushy as hell job to stay at home compared to my "regular" job in the office. That's just me though.


Posted by TMI, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 21, 2013 at 10:01 am

> About this blog: .... I wrote these blog posts while hooked up to a breast pump.

Sorry, that's just too much information! I just don't need to know where and what different parts of different people's bodies are doing when they are online. ;-)


Posted by EngineersNeedntBeNerds, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 21, 2013 at 10:21 am

> I suggest these phrases, then: (1) "nonhireling mom" and (2) "hireling mom".

Yeah, right .... spoken like a true engineer, ;-) - don't hold your breath waiting to get that adopted around the world.

Lots of words do not connote what their meaning are precisely, and we cannot redesign the whole language. Even if we wanted to and were up for it, it would be impossible because word meanings shift over time.


Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Nov 21, 2013 at 11:01 am

I still see you don't get it.

Calling my job as being "cushy as hell" compared to your paid employment sitting in an office all day is a big part of the problem.

My cushy as hell job in the past week involved shampooing carpets and cleaning up vomit that had taken place in a bedroom as well as cancelling all activities for myself and other family members due to my inability to leave the house because of a sick child, and it is not as easy as you would think to get carpools altered just because I have a sick child, so sometimes the sick child is dragged along. Yes, there are good days, but all "jobs" have those. At least in your office job you leave at going home time and can return home to your cushy as hell life at home. You can also choose to quit if the working conditions no longer suit you.

The part that most of us stay at home moms dislike is the view that our job is cushy, and has less stresses and problems than those in paid employment. Going back to my days in paid employment, they seem cushy as hell to what I do now on many days. At least those days that were long and stressful ended and I did get home leaving the problems behind me for a few hours until the next day.

As for the attitude that a husband may find an alternative to his wife and therefore be prepared for divorce, that just may be the invitation to a divorce and marital problems. My husband and I consider ourselves a team and his responsibility towards me as a wife is not just a promise, but a lawful commitment and just as binding as his commitment to his children. He understands that the choices I have made for our children has committed me to being his financial responsibility as well as our children makes him take that commitment seriously. His view of marriage is not that he can take off and leave when the going gets tough or when a younger alternative seems possible. His view of marriage is that it is a serious commitment until death us depart, not just a temporary state until lust elsewhere takes over. We have had to work hard at various times, but our commitment to our marriage has always been the glue that keeps our marriage strong. I would hate to live my life thinking that my husband just might decide to divorce me, just as I would hate to live my life thinking that my job might be outsourced, downsized or relocated to another part of the country without my say so.

Stay at home Moms are serving the world and all we would like is a bit of credit for the choices we make rather than being seen as taking the soft option.


Posted by Divorce is a reality, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Nov 21, 2013 at 11:46 am

Do you think that other wives didn't think what you think about your husband? Half of them are wrong.

Do you feel lucky?

Here's the facts. Your husband today feels like it's an iron clad commitment. However what divorce means is that he can break every commitment he ever made. They are over. They have no legal status. If he's in love with someone else he will spend his money on her and you will get the legal minimum as determined by a family court. After you have spent half of theory on a lawyer you will learn you have very few rights. The end. Hate to break it to you but that is reality. You don't have a magic amulet to prevent it. Why do you think all these PA wives have plastic surgery and color their hair and exercise obsessively ? Just write please don't leave me on your forehead and let it go at that. There is no signt on earth weirder than a 60 year old wan with blonde hair, a frozen Botox face, and boobs as high as those of a 18 year old. That looks like a freak show. You think that's about preference? I think most 60 year old women probably prefer to look like a Human not a space alien. But check out the shoppers at Niemans and see what you think .

I don't care what you thought, he can leave you tomorrow . If you don't have your own money you are begging a judge for his .


Posted by all mothers are working mothers, a resident of Atherton: other,
on Nov 21, 2013 at 11:59 am

We make our own luck.

And some of us work out and yes, color our hair, because we want to look and feel as good as we can. That's true whether you've got kids or not, whether you have paid employment or not. But if you are out there in the paid job force, keeping yourself looking fit and attractive is, unfortunately, essential. Silicon Valley doesn't like employees over age 40, and I hear stories every week of companies laying off long-time employees who have committed the sin of aging.

The sad truth is that women still tend to be judged on the basis of their appearance. Employers notice. Husbands often don't. Any woman who thinks that botox will save her marriage is a fool. On the other hand, if all the women at Neiman have extensive plastic surgery and other repair work and can still afford to shop there, well, apparently they've got money somewhere, which proves that investing in those makeovers was a wise decision. Maybe that's how they make their luck.


Posted by Jessica T, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 21, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

There are some interesting observations here about marital commitment and the pressures women face regarding their appearance.

Mother of 4 - it sounds like you had a particularly tough week. I remember Monday mornings when my daughter was about four thinking that I was glad to be headed to the office after a very tiring weekend.

All mothers are working mothers has a good point that we make our choices with the best intentions, but we all make sacrifices.

My intent for this blog isn't to stoke the Mommy Wars. What makes for compelling discussion is respectful comments about the issues we all face as local parents in the world. And if we all learn something from people who have different views, then we've been successful. My posts are meant to be a jumping off point based on my experiences. And my posts will sometimes be personal and provocative, because that is a reflection of who I am and they also serve as conversation starters. Thanks for continuing to read and comment - we all belong in the discussion.


Posted by JuliaGD, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 11:26 am

Hi Jessica,
I think every mother would love to spend more time with her kids given a chance. I certainly wish I could. I\'m lucky in a way since my mother will come to live with us to take care of my younger son (who is 7 months now). That will allow me to come back to work. But honestly, if I had a chance to just be a stay-at-home mom, I\'d have taken it in a heartbeat. Not because I think it\'s easier, but because it\'s more enjoyable.
And this is coming from a person with PhD and twenty years worth of working in science. I personally envy those who can spend their day with their kids even if it means cleaning up vomit and driving them around the town.


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