Every once in a while, you meet someone or read something that touches you so deeply that it literally changes your life.
In the summer of 2012, when I was only a mother for about 6 months, I was walking through Suburban Station in Philadelphia as I had every day for years. Breastpump and work bag in hand, I hurried to my platform but out of the corner of my eye a magazine cover pulled me immediately towards it. The cover is the one you see above. You may have seen it, read it or read about it. It started a large conversation.
Written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a top woman in government at that time, this op-ed article shook me to the core – in a good way. Her main message was that the infrastructure of “work” in America is incompatible at times with a woman’s need/desire/want to be available to her family while still maintaining a serious and escalating career.
Anne-Marie found that by the time her sons were in their teen years, she needed to be with them more and stepped down from a major career role to switch gears back to academia to be more available and closer to home. She lived in Princeton, but only on the weekends. At that time, Slaughter was commuting to Washington, D.C. Monday through Friday and was with her family on the weekends only.
Okay, so that is completely unlike most of our lives, I know. Her message wasn’t even to leave the workforce altogether and be with you children, but somehow that planted the seed for me that it was OK for me to do so. And that has become one of the most OK moves I’ve ever made.
Shocked by the desire to be a stay at home parent, I literally didn’t recognize the emotion at first. The incessant pull to move away from a career that I had been working towards and in the direction of my life at home felt alien to me. A life of singing and dancing, pajamas and walks in the park. Literally. Let’s remember this was a day when I had one child and I was so elated to be home that every single day felt like vacation. Like all honeymoons, that wore off, and I write about that love its evolution here and here. Nonetheless, I still love my life at home parenting with all the new challenges it presents to me each season.
So when I saw this smart, career driven woman identify a flaw in the system and see that it is literally at odds (yet possible) to have a career and a growing family, I felt connected to her. Even though our lives could not be more different, even though she was not telling me to go and be with my family and throw my career to the wind. I saw a deeper message in her story which was one I’ve chosen to live by – you have to follow your heart and do what feels right for your family and your inner compass.
I’d like to clarify that I see having a career and a growing family as an amazing choice for many women, just that it was not for me when my children were babies. I could not handle the mental challenge, the constant switching of roles between work and home. I felt constantly interrupted and that broke me down. I literally fell apart inside. I was physically ill all the time. I also still feel like a piece of me is a failure because of this. Why couldn’t I just make it work like so many others? Why couldn’t I hold it together?
I admire the women that can handle the juggle and I know that is a weakness of mine. But I’ve chosen to turn it into a strength by making my life at home as rich and fulfilling as I choose. And now that my kids are growing and they are both older than 3, I’m starting to feel the pull to be away a bit more. So I’m turning towards developing a work life that makes me feel alive and lets me create. Creative small business is where I’ve found a new home in the work world and although it’s light years different than a political career in Washington, D.C., the work makes me come alive.
Were it not for Slaughter and this piece, I’m not sure I’d have come to the realization that it was time for me to leave the paid workforce for some years, find my center at home, refuel and move on in the new direction I find myself.