What Will We Tell Our Daughters?

If there is a god of after school activity schedule coordinating, he must have been smiling down on me when I discovered a gym that offers gymnastics classes for four year-old boys and six year-old girls, at exactly the same time. And then he must have decided that I have a nice butt, or something, because he did me the further favor of populating the class with several children who just happen to have smart, fabulous, interesting mothers. So not only do I get to kill two birds with one stone each week, but I also get to do it with a group of, well, I don’t know what you would call people who kill birds with stones, but whatever, my point is, I get to hang out with a cool group of moms while we wait for our kids to finish jumping on trampolines, falling off balance beams and performing vaguely cartweelish-type maneuvers.


The gymnastics coffee klatch group is an eclectic bunch – aside from me, there’s a former lawyer, a former investment banker, a very part-time voice over actress, and an independent television producer with the luxury of setting her own work schedule. And most of us are in the same place with our kids – one or two in elementary school, with another one or two still in preschool. We talk about our kids, of course, but inevitably, the conversation always seems to turn to work. What will we do when our kids are in school full time? What options are there for a former investment banker or a former lawyer, aside from going back to work as an investment banker or a lawyer? What would it be like to go back to school now, at this point in life, in the hopes of starting a new career? And this week, a new twist in the discussion: when our daughters go off to college, what will we tell them about choosing a career?


It’s an interesting question, and one that I, personally, hadn’t thought about before. After all, when I was a kid, my mom told me that I could be anything I wanted to be, and I’ve always just assumed that that’s what you tell your kids, whether they’re girls or boys. But one of the moms that day pointed out that we, as the first generation of mothers to fully understand and accept the idea that ‘having it all’ is an impossible goal, are in a unique position to guide our daughters into careers and lives that might, ultimately, spare them the angst that a lot of us are going through right now. After all, she said, knowing what we know now, would we still have chosen to work at big law firms, or at major investment banks, or might we have chosen jobs with more flexibility from the start?



I think it is interesting that you refer to the women in your group as "former - what they did before they had kids." Women are not defined by their professions, nor do they give them up when they have children, even if they don't work outside the home. Correct me if I'm wrong, but even an attorney who chose to stay home with his or her children is still an attorney, just not practicing.

I know that I am more complex than my profession, and it does not define me, it is only part of me. That is the lesson my daughters learn from me (and their father) every day.


It's a tricky balance--to tell our daughters they can be anything they want to be--to dream big--and then to tell them there's a catch. My belief is that our actions speak louder than our words. If we pursue our dreams, advocate for family-friendly policies at our workplaces, and share wtih our daughters what we like about our work and what frustrates us about the elusive balancing act, we're teaching them by being a living example of our values. Jamie, mominchief.com


I think about this a lot now that I have a daughter. I'm already facing how I will deal with the school (as opposed to daycare) schedule conflicting with my work schedule - and of course summer vacation. I guess I'll work that out eventually - but it frightens me that "maybe I'll just have to stay home for a while" pops up in conversation as often as it does. When my first son was born, I didn't have the choice to stay home, and that was hard. But now that that he and the twins are moving from being babies to being kids, I'm looking at not having the choice to *work*. And now that I have a better idea of what I want for myself - that's even harder.

Then I consider what I want my daughter to think about me and my choices (whether I had really had a "choice" or not) and how this will affect her expectations for her own life.

Realizing that everything might be completely different in 20 years is a point well made. In the meantime, all we can really do is to be a strong role model for self respect, acheivement and values.

Trying to talk to your daughter about her future career would probably be similar to talks about peer pressure and the appropriate amount of make up. On the surface there will be at least a little eye rolling (if only behind your back) - but deep down, the message will probably be stored away (whether you get credit later or not).

I've always thought that making your children (all of them - not just the girls) understand that you value their judgement is a good first step to helping them make good decisions in the future. Which is very easy for me to say since my oldest child is three!



One thing I'd like to keep in mind when talking to either my kids or younger women who are starting their career path is this...Often times "having it all" (and I'm in full agreement about hating that phrase!!) means "doing it all" as well. Each thing you add to life--a child, a spouse, a pet, a job, even a car or house with a yard--comes with more and more responsibility. And that's ok. As long as you remember that ahead of time. For myself, I've decided that I don't want to do it all anymore. Some of that decision has led to hiring some things out, encouraging hubby to pick up some slack, etc. And part-time work is working well for us right now with a toddler. I'd like to counsel the next generation to thoroughly think through whatever choices they make, rather than just assuming it would all work out somehow, as I was led to believe. Great thought-provoking article!


Great Question...but, what do we tell our sons? When I came back to work after four months, I had to "prove" to an all-male hierarchy that I was serious about my pre-baby ambitions and not just sitting around for payday. Flexibility has been the begrudged permission to adjust my workday schedule by 1/2 hour...My husband, on the other hand, has a much more flexible workplace was encouraged to change his life and schedule to meet our family's changing needs. As much as we would like to think things have changed, much hasn't in the workplace. With recent lack of development and goals in my office, I am questioning my committment to full-time working and listening more when my son begs me to stay home each morning. It occurs to me that someday he may be some the boss to a new mother who wants it "all" at work and at home. I hope desperately that he remembers his impassioned cries of "stay home, mama" at two years of age and cultivates a flexible workplace supportive of the roles that working mothers play in building our society through both the economy and by raising talented and well-adjusted replacements. I think those of us with sons and daughters need to remind our children later in life of their needs and wants for their mothers as children and to create a passion within them for helping to change the nature of the workplace to allow them to be the parents we wish we could sometimes be. Our children, regardless of gender, shouldn't be forced to make the compromises (seriously, they aren't choices, are they?) that we have to face on a daily basis. We shouldn't look to asking our daughters to limit themselves based on what may or may not be in their futures. We should answer this question by guiding all our children to learn from what is an antiquated and failing culture in the workplace and to help them make the changes that will support all their choices in healthy ways in which no one ever feels guilty about business trips or playdates.


As a mom of two daughters who struggles with working motherhood on a daily basis, I think about this alot. My daughters will learn, to some extent, by watching me struggle. I'm not shy about voicing my frustration at how terribly hard it is to balance the demands of both work and home. Still, I will encourage my daughters to have hopes and ambition and to follow their dreams. If they want to incorporate a family life into that picture, I might just counsel them that, depending on how flexible their jobs are or what their partners may be willing to contribute, their path may not be a quick or direct one.

I want to applaud the moms of sons who are raising their boys to have different expectations about their roles at home with their wives and children. Although my husband is "supportive" and does alot more than my father did, he still has traditional ideas about fatherhood and being the provider. Changing those gender roles and expectations will go a long way in helping create better balance for our daughters.

Up With Moms


i think about this often. i feel so lucky i am in a career with flexibility- but this was simply luck! i think this is a topic that absolutely would be beneficial to be discussed - even in college!


As a mother of two young boys, I would like to think I'd counsel them the same way I would a daughter. After all, the burden of raising children should not be all on the mom. I hope that my boys will some day respect me for the balancing act I perform - and that will translate into a respect and appreciation for their future partners. Seems like we're not doing ourselves any favors if we continue to position childrearing and all it entails on the shoulders of women. If we talk about careers and all they entail, I would have similar conversations with sons and daughters. Having both understand family values and balancing is key.


The good news is, corporate America seems to be realizing they need to be more fluid in their terms to keep quality professional women in the workplace. I've seen tons of improvement with creating part-time and/or work from home opportunities that just weren't there even 10 years ago. What will the world be like when my own daughter is headed into the marketplace? I look forward to finding out! And I agree with momontheroad about hating the phrase "have it all." I mean, I DO have it all, but whether I have it all together all the time or have it all under control is another story!


There is the issue of both what we tell our own daughters who will have 'lived' with our choices and what we share with young women in college and young professionals who are beginning their careers and may look at us as role models. A certain amount of honest observation will be not only welcome but likely embraced by these women. Having said that I HATE the phrase "having it all" ... it makes it sound like we are selfish to want a rewarding career and to be engaged parents. And no one ever asks/accuses men of wanting to "have it all."