Hatred & Happy Motherhood.

I recently stopped by my husband’s company for the first time in about two years. To my endless dismay, in his industry the majority of the women are secretaries and HR personnel, most executives have stay-at-home wives, and visits by children and spouses are not exactly encouraged. The men work long hours in quiet, wood-paneled rooms. Contrast that to my workspace -- in the corner of our noisy kitchen, where children, welcome or not, are seldom more than six feet away.

As I waited for my husband, my eye wandered around his office. I was shocked by the décor. My husband had turned his office into a museum-worthy tribute to me and our three children. Photos covered his desk, the walls, the screen saver on his computer. There were over 30 framed pictures of our family (I counted). Our son playing basketball. Me nine months pregnant with our third child. All of us last summer at the seaside village where we honeymooned 12 years ago.

 

Standing there, my stomach unzipped. How could any man adore his wife and children so openly, so effusively? How did I get so lucky to have him?

 

Why then, do I hate him so much sometimes?

 

We met through Wharton business school 15 years ago. He’s a finance jock and went into private equity. I launched Splenda around the world for Johnson & Johnson. Five years after graduation, well established in both our careers and our marriage, we decided to have a baby.

 

The early sacrifices were innocent. I negotiated two days a week at home so I could keep breastfeeding once maternity leave ended. Shortly after our second baby made the scene, Johnson & Johnson let me work long-distance when we moved to Minneapolis for my husband’s career. We moved back east two years later, and I took a job that required zero travel and minimal client entertaining, so I could be there for our kids. We decided to have a third, and that meant another maternity leave.

 

I was so blissed out by early motherhood, I hardly noticed that no one was asking my husband to make the same kind of sacrifices.

 

Ten years into parenthood, my life is fall-off-the-chair different from what I predicted when I got my MBA. I write and consult, and fit my work around my kids and my husband’s career. I’ve discovered through 10 years of working motherhood the politically incorrect truth: well-educated working mothers have a far harder time juggling work and family than equivalent working fathers.

 

Ambitious women tend to marry ambitious men. Throw kids into the mix, and something has to give. More often than not, it’s women, not men, who give -- unless you are that rare woman who can comfortably delegate childrearing to others for years. Most of my friends from b-school are stay-at-home wives. Our kids would starve – emotionally, not physically -- if we worked and travelled the way our husbands do.

 

rossriley
05.21.08

Leslie,

This article hits home for myself and clearly many others. What I envy about others is that many people around me seem to have made the choice very easily - to be a full-time working mom or a full-time stay-at-home mom and I struggle daily to live in both worlds, constantly feeling like I am part-time everywhere. I'm off the career track because I chose to consult but I miss out of lots of things because I am working so it's hard since I don't really want to be full time in either place - as my husband says, I want my cake and to eat it too. Is this so wrong?

As I get ready to have my third child and consider staying home full time since I haven't figured out how I am going to work with three very little ones, I wonder if I'll actually miss not only the working world but this struggle I am facing. I only envy my husband because he never for a minute regrets that he hasn't spent enough time with the kids and can very easily miss bedtime or important occassions and not be struck with inner turmoil and guilt the way I am.

In the end, it's not about what others are doing or not doing but about understanding what is right for you, your family and ultimately trying to make decisions that will make you happy. Easier said than done I'm afraid.

mtvschultz
05.21.08

Leslie-
I think it is wonderful that you have accepted all that comes with being a mom. Not to say there aren't days when frustration sits in because your spouse could do more. Then I look at my daughter and realize, I would do anything for her. Although what is best for me may not be best for everyone. I would love to read an article or recommendation on how to propose working from home vs. having to come to the office. Any ideas or resources? Looks like you have had great success!
Constantly Juggling

leslie morgan s...
05.21.08

Leslie Morgan Steiner

SPARKY -- THERE IS SO MUCH TO DISSECT IN YOUR RANT, I CAN'T HARDLY WAIT TO GET TO IT! TURN ON THE TV, KIDS. MOM'S GOT WORK TO DO.

1) Another Queen Bee, martyr rant...LAST TIME I CHECKED, BEING A QUEEN BEE MEANT ALL THE MEN OBEYED YOU AND WANTED TO MATE ONLY WITH YOU. DOESN'T SOUND BAD TO ME! AND JOAN OF ARC AND MOTHER TERESA ARE MARTYRS, NOT MOI.

2)Only in America!! YES, I'M SURE IT'S BETTER IN SAUDI ARABIA. BECAUSE IF WOMEN DON'T RANT, I'M SURE IT'S BECAUSE THEY ARE REALLY BLISSED OUT...COULDN'T POSSIBLY BE THAT THEY AREN'T ALLOWED TO RANT. DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH FREEDOM OF SPEECH? OR IS IT ONLY WOMEN WHO CAN'T COMPLAIN ABOUT OUR REALITIES? SMILE, HONEY, AND THINK OF ENGLAND...

3)Her father was probably a a no-show dad, workaholic, in a troubled marriage. NOW THIS IS LOVELY TOO. IF THIS WERE ALL TRUE (ONLY PART OF IT ACTUALLY IS!), WHY WOULD YOU BLAME ME FOR SUFFERING THE ILL EFFECTS OF THAT KIND OF PARENTHOOD? BLAME THE VICTIM...

4) And she married the same kind of man and now has the same kind of marriage (with plenty of cash to take the edge off). Duh!!! What a shocker!!!! DITTO ABOVE! IT'S ALWAYS THE WOMAN'S FAULT, ISN'T IT?

THANKS, SPARKY. LOOK FORWARD TO MORE!

sparky
05.21.08

Another Queen Bee, martyr rant. Only in America!! Her father was probably a a no-show dad, workaholic, in a troubled marriage. And she married the same kind of man and now has the same kind of marriage (with plenty of cash to take the edge off). Duh!!! What a shocker!!!!

leslie morgan s...
05.21.08

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Hi Sylly -- I love the chaos too. (Most days.) People always say there are two types of parents -- the type who find having baby #1 hard (and #2 easy) and the type who find baby #1 easy (and #2 hard). I took to working motherhood blissfully, decided I was so good at it I should immediately have another...and then while I was pregnant my husband "had" to move to Minneapolis for a great job and I stayed behind in NYC with my great job until the baby was born. You can imagine what it was like when my bubble burst! I have never been so exhausted in my life, caring for an infant and a toddler all alone. Baby #2 was a diva and I realized -- quickly -- that at best I was a mediocre mom and had just gotten lucky with #1. But best of luck to you!!!! And I did go back to work fulltime and onto have #3 so that's something!

MaryLouise -- We could have a whole column about supporting other women. There are so many things to do to help. Mentoring younger women (formally or informally) is key. Sticking up for women, and parents' flex work schedules, hiring former SAHMs, etc, if you are in a leadership position at work. Being candid about your struggles is a form of support, as well. (Think about how terrible it makes you feel when another mom says her life is perfect, her husband is wonderful, kids fabulous, etc etc etc...I always wonder if moms like that are on valium...)

Last but not least -- the best thing is to tell other moms what a good job they are doing juggling it all, and why you respect them. We don't do enough of this. When was the last time you told someone, even your best friend or sister, that she was a good mom -- and why you think she's a good mom. Simple, hard to do, but invaluable to give and get praise from our peers. Try to do it today.

Silicon Valley -- I agree, high powered career ascension and kids do not mix well. And it is more often moms who assume the sacrifices. So I wonder: why don't more moms stick up for themselves and demand compromises from our husbands? and why don't more husbands volunteer to cut back for a few years, to balance out parenting and work? as i think is clear from my essay, i have conflicted emotions myself. i've wanted to be my children's primary caregiver and emotional linchpin from the second they were born. but i still want and need to work. and i can't possibly do both, full speed, at the same time, especially without complete, enthusiastic spousal support and willingness to compromise. (which i have not always gotten.)

One day we will all look back and realize how simultaneously admirable and absurd the early promise of feminism was. sure, women can work and have achievement-filled careers. but how can we do that if no one is there for our kids? we can scale the castle walls but there better be daycare inside once we get there.

how can women of any economic or educational level work fulltime without good childcare, flexible hours, maternity leave, and employment policies that understand that children get sick on a regular basis, and that someone needs to stay home to care for them?

We've come a long way but still have a loooong way to go...But I believe, compared to other problems our innovative, entrepreneurial country has solved, these work/family problems are relatively easy -- if voters, politicians, employers and our government genuinely want to solve them.

syllycanuck
05.21.08

Leslie, thank you for your article. It's nice to see I'm not alone in this struggle of balancing work & motherhood. I've worked very hard to get where I am today professionally and have great pride in that. I've always been the type of person to juggle many responsibilities...and thrived on that type of chaos, really. That is, up until I had my first child and for some reason just had the hardest time balancing both. It took me about a year and a half to finally feel comfortable with it (and by comfortable, I mean that I'm not in a constant state of frenzy...and that I've dealt with having to let things go). Now I'm expecting my second this Fall and I imagine that the challenges will be somewhat greater...although not as dramatic as going from no children to one child. I find comfort in your article and look forward to reading more of your outlook as well as the responses from other moms.

marielouise
05.21.08

I love my family, I love my work and for now I am willing to accept the consequences of those two competing priorities while also trying to be part of the solution.

What I want for my three sons is to grow up in a world where both women and men are equally represented as leaders across government and industry. That world will result in more choice for us all.

My question - what specifically can we do to support women as they climb career ladders in all industries? Which industries are leading the way and have ideas we can all look to and support?

Thank you for this dialog.

SiliconValleyMom
05.21.08

While many dads have lesser inner-angst when the kids are very young, there are many who regret not having spent the time bonding with their kids when they were really young and not having watched them grow as closely as their wives did. Not sure which is worse, to have the inner-angst while you can do something about your choices, or to have regret when it's too late. Sorry, I sound like am more understanding of men than women. I'm most certainly not, but I am surprised at how much more I understand men and their hard choices after having by first baby than I did before.

SiliconValleyMom
05.20.08

I believe that two high-paying, high-recognition careers (for mum and for dad) and kids don’t mix, at least not at the same time. One of these has to give. If you decide you want kids then one of the two parents needs to have a less demanding job. Who gives up their job is usually determined by who has the potential and the desire to provide more income for the family. There are quite a few families these days where the dad stays at home or takes a back seat at work and mum forges ahead. Whether or not you want to pursue a high demanding career is a decision that needs to be made when you marry or when you decide you want to have kids, not necessarily when you have the baby. There are a lot of people (usually women) who think they have made the best decision for themselves by “marrying up” i.e. marrying someone who has more potential and desire to earn more and afford them her dream lifestyle. A lot of women are naturally attracted to men that have such potentials. Perhaps some form of evolutionary hardwiring. They need to realize that “marrying up” implies becoming the primary caregiver for the family.

Off late I have known some families where mom and dad have the same demands at work and earn the same amount but mom is still the primary caregiver. Here I have noticed that women have simply assumed the role because society expects that from women and they have not stopped to challenge this division of labor. There are several child-rearing chores that men, once shown how, can perform on their own. But you have to sit down and have an honest chat with them. You can divide everything you do for the family into large bucket of tasks and then assign each bucket to your spouse or you.

I think what is important is to challenge the traditions divisions of labor (between mom and dad) understand what you want and why and the same for your spouse. Then reach a compromise together.

Lastly I’d like to recommend a book I read before my husband and I tried to get pregnant with our first. It was called The Mask of Motherhood. The author’s name escapes me but it really opened my eyes to what it takes to raise a family in America. I think this a great read for those women that have not yet had kids but intend to one day. For those that have kids already, it does help you think about why you take on certain responsibilities in the family.

KelleyS
05.20.08

I feel fortunate to have choices. And, if I am supporting my priorities with my conscious choices, why would I be resentful? Momentarily crazy, maybe, but not resentful. I chose to get my MBA, chose to work my butt off for many years to create a financial cushion and equity at work, chose to have children and chose to go back to work at a reduced schedule in favor of spending more time with my children, my priority.

Men can make that choice, too. My husband, who runs his own, very successful business, chose to be with the kids on Mondays, we have sitters Tues, Wed and Thurs and I don't work on Fridays.

It's busy and challenging, and I occassionally wonder why I made the choices that I did, but it's what we actively chose to do. Those people stuck in situations that limit choices have much more room to be resentful.