I am considering my conclusions around motherhood. I am wrestling with the mixed messages that the media, apparently representing societal values and opinions, delivers to our screens. And now we have the complication of Covid. Headlines warning that years of advancement towards equality for working women is being wiped out. I’m left skeptical of the progress. I am confused by the notions of selfless living, higher purpose and maternal obligation. Can they co-exist? Is living to sustain life enough? Is living to perpetuate life enough? Is living to expand life selfish?
Throughout my years of practice as an executive coach, I have worked with women struggling with these questions. As a wife, mother, business leader and entrepreneur, I have been challenged to find the right answer. There isn’t one. It’s personal, cultural, societal and global. People who have never lived it often have the loudest voices. And have taken much time studying it. Walk in our shoes.
So I ask: how can we perpetuate self-actualized and independent daughters if we role model otherwise? If our life purposes are centred on having children and taking on the full-time role of being in the home as the primary overseer of child care and parenting, are we at odds with ourselves? Are we at odds with the goals of gender equality? Who will knock on the glass ceiling if we all chose traditional maternal roles? Still, much of our culture and society will judge us as selfless and doing the right thing for the family. And providing the foundation for our spouse’s career. Even in 2020. Even though it’s a choice often made by the maternal heart, with love and passion. Knowing that there is no higher calling than raising a child. Except that the pay sucks. No opportunity for advancement. And sadly, it is felt to be of lesser value in cocktail party circles. So, we fill in the void with accolades for our spouses, sons and daughters who are thriving and accomplished in ways that are relatable to careerists. Or we speak of what we used to do or be when we wore dresses every day and sat at a desk. I did that.
And then there are the mothers who are not spending the majority of their day in the home. Not there after school. Not volunteering in the classroom. Dreading the call from the class parent to bake cupcakes for the fundraiser tomorrow. Are they perpetuating self-centred, ego-driven daughters and sons? Scientists tell us these women score higher on the happiness scale. Are their children the nanny-raised or latch-key generation? Are they secretly torn in their roles? I know I was. Who is that woman in high heels at the track meet?
It’s not uncommon for me in my coaching practice to witness the fear and confusion women encounter with the choices they have to make. Asking for advice and support as they enter the arena of career and motherhood. Which side do they sit on? What happens in the middle? Is there a winner? It all depends on who you empower to be the judge
The most challenging aspect of the choices available to us is that we have .choices. And that we tend to empower others around us to influence our decisions, determine our value, and dictate our priorities. If our choices are truly our own, taking into account our mental, physical and emotional selves, there is always a winner. Whether you choose a side or the middle.
Until I was in my mid-forties, I chose the side of full-time, outside-the-home career. I then moved to the middle. I knew in my body and soul it was time to make that shift in how I was working and living. It was not a financially sound decision. Many told me that it was career suicide. It was a maternal, self-preservation, values-driven transition. In that middle space, I evolved to a professional in a home-based business, volunteered at the school, and wore running shoes to track meets. Though lumpy and awkward in the early stages, it was the right move for me and my family.
It seems to me that role-modeling taking risks, making and owning our decisions. Creating a lifestyle that fits our energy and sense of purpose are gifts we can give our children, and society. Exercising our right to choose, being fully engaged in our choice, and demonstrating equal degrees of respect for all choices will keep us empowered.
At least, that has been my experience.