Dear Ask Mormon Girl,
I’m a Mormon woman in my early thirties with two young children. Right now I stay home with them (they aren’t yet school age) but I’ve been wanting to pursue a profession. It’s important to me that my kids see me taking myself seriously–pursuing education, goals, etc. The thing is, though, I have so much mother-guilt associated with all things daycare. I don’t know a lot of working Mormon moms. How do you find the balance between professional life and family life (and guilt for having a professional life in the first place)??
Oh, Aspiring, balance is what I feel in those rare midpoint moments as my life careens wildly back and forth between all of its competing responsibilities. Yes, there are some afternoons without meetings when I get to spend a few hours caterpillar-hunting with my daughters. And then there are nights when I find myself asleep face down in my keyboard at 12:30 a.m. with one hand tapping out answers to work emails and the other hand in a three-quarters empty box of Thin Mints I embezzled from my own Brownie Troop. There are days when my blood pressure goes bezerk because I’m searching for lost library books while my own writing deadlines hover. And then there are days I’m stuck in meetings listening to people with no regard for the hourly cost of childcare explore the sound of their own voices.
That marvelous feminist comedic genius Tina Fey recently wrote an article for the New Yorker entitled Confessions of a Juggler about the difficulties of working motherhood, and she wasn’t lying. The American workplace (including workfare) is almost criminally hostile to working-class families and single-parent families. But it can be pretty bad for middle-class and dual-parent families too, mothers and fathers alike. It’s reported that women give up about $1 million in earning power over the course of their lifetimes just for being mothers. But men may have it worse: how many have been programmed to believe that abandoning their own nurturing instincts (heck yeah, you do have them) and clocking in like zombies is the only way to prove their manhood? Sigh. (And a big shout-out to the men who feel manly enough to go at life another way!
Add to that the firmly enculturated pressures we Mormon women are raised to feel about the importance of staying home with the kids—note to the world: Mormon preschools would make a killing—and candidly we must admit, no, Aspiring, it ain’t easy.
I’ll always remember the pangs I felt when I was preparing to go back to work after the birth of my second and was about to send my first to three mornings a week at a precious hand-picked Jewish preschool. There I was, guilting aloud about sending my children to the most competent, loving place on earth—Jews do not screw around when it comes to early childhood education–and my husband (who is Jewish) looked at me blankly and said, “But school is what kids do.” Which gave me a window into another universe where another chosen people who seriously love their children do not beat themselves up for outsourcing a bit of childcare. Especially when you are sending kids to a place where everything is sized and designed for them! And what a revelation that was for me. May it touch your life as well.
Dear Aspiring, I think it’s marvelous tht you want your kids to see you taking yourself seriously, learning and growing, doing work you love, and shaping the world they will inherit. It doesn’t sound like you feel pressured to seek work out of economic need. If that’s the case, shout hallejullah. Then, set aside at least one hour a day now (after bedtime?) to start researching and journalling your future into shape. If economic need is not a pressing issue right now, you can afford to think strategically and expansively about how you want to impact this world. Consider all your options: from full-time paid work to part-time paid work to artistic careers to community organizing and social entrepreneurship. Think about the education you need and the institutions (nearby if necessary) that can help you achieve it. While there are lots of good reasons to prepare for a paid career—including building your own retirement savings, an area where women really fall behind—don’t buy into the myth that only work renumerated by the marketplace should count. Your community needs advocates and social entrepreneurs as savvy and ambitious as anyone on the corporate ladder. The hours may even be more flexible, and there may be more opportunities for involving your children in the work you do—a wonderful kind of example-setting. Perhaps that’s a path for you?
Next, start sharing your goals with the people around you. Talk to your husband and make him a partner in your planning. Expect him to take you seriously and to participate in a reasonable amount of give-and-take. Then, talk to other families—LDS and non-LDS—around you to gather ideas about how you can make it work, especially in the interim years until your kids hit school-age. In our family, for example, we’ve done neighborhood childcare coops, home-based babysitter sharing, and paid preschools; we’ve purposely chosen flex-time careers for both adult parents (even though that has impacted earning ability for each of us); and we’ve put in lots of after bedtime late nights to make it happen.
I remember hearing our great Mormon feminist historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich speak at an academic conference about her route to stardom: a mother of five, she went back for her MA degree when she was in her 30s, obtained her Ph.D. at the university where her husband taught, started teaching as a part-timer, finally landed a tenure-track job, then wrote Pulitzer Prize winning books about taking the everyday lives and labor of women seriously—something her own life as a mother certainly taught her–and got snapped up by Harvard. There’s a role model for you, from one of our celebrated own.
So, aspiring, as we say in the land of Ask Mormon Girl, gird up your loins! Get in touch with that pioneer spirit—after all, every pioneer woman with kids was a working mother, right?–and get out there. Trust that voice inside you that’s urging you on. This world needs more capable and ambitious Mormon women working in the biggest venues they can command. Why not you?
What do you say, readers? Have you found a balance? Do you have words of advice for Aspiring? Send your query to firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.