Friday, July 11, 2008

Perceptions of Motherhood in the Workforce: My Response to Roxy (a whole post to herself!)

Sorry to mislead you, Roxy. No, I have not decided to stay at home. The title of my last post, "The Unexpected Decision to Stay at Home" was meant to indicate that it is a suprise for some mothers when they have the baby and realize that they want to stay at home. I, however, am firmly entrenched in the workforce and do not plan to leave anytime soon. I think I've failed to explain the perceptions that exist in the legal community (although those attitudes are progressively changing and I will have to fairly address those changes in another post).

Unfortunately, in my industry it is frowned upon (by some) for women who exit the workforce to stay at home with their kids. I think this is more often the view of other women who don't have kids yet and see the struggle to the top being thwarted by the constant reminder to the male partners (who are already at the top) that women tend to leave their jobs to stay at home. In a way, women are almost written off for long-term careers because there is a constant suspicion that the woman will not be around in ten years after she has her kids. It makes it all the more difficult for a woman who wants to stay in the workforce to convince the older colleagues that they aren't going to leave. I have faced this over and over as I've popped out kid after kid (well, just two kids) and announced yet another pregnancy. I would have thought that after having stayed after my job after two children, it would be obvious to the world that I'm a working mom and not a stay at home mom, but people continue to ask me if I'm going to stay at home now. I love what I am and I wouldn't change it. I feel like I made the right decision for myself, just like you Roxy.

I believe that this repeated question of whether I'm going to stay at home actually derives from the "old-fashioned" nature of my community (and yours - perhaps it is a Southern thing or a conservative thing). Here at my firm (and I swear I'm not throwing stones at all), there are 23 male attorneys out of 31 attorneys. I won't say that this is without exception, but I believe that almost all their wives stayed (or currently stay) at home to take care of the children. Now, I think some of their wives have jobs now that the children are grown or had jobs prior to having had children. I can think of one partner (I call them partners but they are in reality shareholders in my company so forgive me if I go back and forth) whose wife left her job as a nurse ansethistist after having her second child, but they had to experience the complications of a having two working parents. (by the way, nurse anethistist are highly educated and experienced and paid professionals with demanding schedules). Nonetheless, there wasn't a single attorney (to my knowledge) that really had to deal with their spouse working, and even if there was, I doubt it was like having a spouse who is a doctor or a lawyer who has deadlines and meetings that might conflict. Now, I obviously can't speak in abosolutes about the situation because I might be wrong about one or two, but it is definitely the majority of the situations around here. Also, it was the same at the firm I worked at previously. In some ways, there was also the perception from older attorneys (male attorneys) that if you're a woman and you have a child then you should quit your job to stay at home. It is either you quit your job, or you shouldn't have children in the first place.

As for the other women at my firm, there is only one woman who has had a baby at this firm. All other women have left the firm and one decided to stay at home with her baby before it was born. The one woman who had a baby here, had the baby 20 years ago and I think she went part time, but I might be wrong about that. She is our only female shareholder. We have seven female associates (two more to start in the fall). Three of them either do not have children or have grown children. Three of them do not have children, but have not dismissed the idea of having children. And then there is me - the only working mother of young children at the firm. I have a different schedule. I have different priorities. I'm the only attorney at the firm that calls in with sick kids. I am the only attorney in the firm who has to split days with her husband when one of the kids is sick. I am the only attorney in the firm who has to take off for a child's doctor's appointment. It is my reality and my choice, and I make the best of it. The greatest part is that the firm makes the best of it as well.

Needless to say, there are a lot of views out there on having children and working (whether good or bad). I am personally among the women in the workforce who want to continue to work and who want to prove to everyone that we can have it all. Unfortunately, I'm not sure anyone can actually have it all (in the truest sense of the phrase "having it all"). We all have to make choices - hence the topic of my earlier post "Sacrificing Your Career for Motherhood."


Cowtown Camera Girl said...

I get asked this silly question just about every day! Well, maybe it’s not silly and maybe it’s not every day but it’s a topic that comes up all the time. Why am I not staying home with my baby? Everyone just assumes that it’s what I want. And when they find out my husband is an attorney? Forget it – why the heck are you working Nell! Why do I work? I work because I love my job! Maybe I’m really fortunate because I can say that I really, truly enjoy going to work and most days I have a positive experience there. Yes, I miss Ezra when but I think it makes me a better mom when I’m with him. Of course we have been very fortunate that my mother-in-law has watched him this past year when I went back to work after my maternity leave was up. We’ll be starting daycare in August so I suppose that could change things. Keeping my fingers crossed that he falls in love with it and it works out because I do really do enjoy working.

Cowtown Camera Girl said...

One more thing to add...I think women who stay home with their children are amazing! I've got lots of friends who are home with their children and they love it. But for our family the best thing is for me to work. I am very grateful that I have the choice!

roxy said...

wow!! I got my very own blog :). Thanks Theresa!! I truely think you are amazing and you must have twice the energy in that cute little body of yours because I could not imagine caring for two kids, working full time AND carrying another baby all at once. I think I would have a breakdown.

I totally agree with your stmt about how women who decide to quit work and stay at home make it harder for those who want to have children and still climb the ladder. Here's a great IT department! There are 3 women in our IT department and all of us have chosen to work from home and I am only part time from home. Therefore, we have all also chosen to take a back seat, meaning we have little to no leadership and we get the less enticing projects to work on. I feel for the next girl who hires into IT...especially if she has not had kids and plans to. That will totally suck for her because Ginger and Angie and I have all put this stigma on women there. I'll have to apologize to her if they ever decide to even hire another woman!!

I do miss my old life, my job, my amazing boss/mentor. I pray that they let me keep dangling on by a string until my youngest starts school...and then that they allow me to still work very flexible hours. Today though, Alex used his imagination to turn his swingset into the mickey mouse club house and then he used his screwdrivers, hammers and drills to "fix it"...he even said the magic words to make it appear. These moments make missing my job so easy.

Your daughter(s) are so very blessed to have one of the hardest working and most intelligent women that I know as a mother. And they have a really funny dad, too! I look forward to watching these Berend kids grow up!!

Theresa said...

Y'all are too sweet to say such things! Really, Roxy, I'm no better than you. I just have to let other areas in my life slide. For example, if you came over to my house right now you would see laundry everywhere, toys everywhere, nothing organized. I swear, I just changed the kids' sheets last night and I can't remember when I changed them before that. It used to be that I changed the sheets whenever they had accidents or got food in them or something similar, but they're growing up, so that doesn't happen on a regular basis anymore. If I'm not forced to do it, I rarely get it done. That's why we have parties - so we are forced to clean our house. It is really pathetic.

I truly admire mothers who stay at home because I don't think I have the energy to do it all. I just don't think I have it in me to stay sane everyday with the kids even though they are beautiful and amazing, and then clean, cook, and educate my children 24/7. So, hats off to you Roxy!

I love it when they use their imagination! Evie is starting to sing songs and they crack me up! She'll just start up a tune in the backseat of our car with words like, "I love my Mommy, I love my Daddy, my Daddy is my friend, my Mommy is my friend . . ." We just want to sop her up with a biscuit and I just love those moments.

I'm going to let that memory carry me through the day.

By the way, I think there is a lot of truth about how women who decide to stay home make it harder for women who want to stay in the workforce; however, I hope you know I wasn't trying to chastise women for that. It is simply a matter of fact, but I don't think women who choose to be at home or work part-time should ever apologize to another person for doing what is right for her own family.

Theresa said...

One more thing, my apologies for the spelling of nurse anesthetist. For some reason, I failed to spell it correctly, and I even failed to maintain a correct misspelled version of the word.