Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Career and Family - can women really have it all?

It's the age-old question. Can you have a great career AND a quality family life? My answer - yes, you can have it all...but not necessarily at the same time.

If you're a corporate high-flyer, chances are you're spending long hours at work...inevitably, that means less time with the kids and your partner. Conversely, heavy responsibilities at home tend to mean you can take on less at work.

I went back to my job as a Communications Director part-time when Olivia was nine months' old. At the time it felt right...I was itching to use my brain again and had really struggled with the loss of identity that comes with the move from "career woman" to "mum". And, in a way, I felt like being able to do both made me a better mother...I was getting intellectual stimulation at work, had some freedom (to do important things like shoe shopping without dealing with a baby) and appreciated my time with Olivia so much more.

I love my work. I get addicted to the adrenalin of tight deadlines and working fast. The thing I found the hardest was coming to terms with the fact that I just couldn't work how I used to. I couldn't do 12 hour days and interstate trips if I wanted to be there for my daughter. When I found myself slavishly answering emails and fielding client calls on my blackberry during Mothers' Group I knew something had to give.

But it wasn't until I came to work at 8am one morning to find my boss's four-year-old son in her office, eating a breakfast of Pepsi Max and potato crisps, that I realised that wasn't what I wanted for myself. I made the conscious decision that day to give as much as I could to work in the hours I was there...but, outside of that, my family got 100% of me.

When I was unexpectedly admitted to hospital for bed rest at 25 weeks pregnant with Sophia I had to give up work cold turkey...and that was tough. But I soon had more than enough to occupy my mind. Nothing like nearly losing your premature baby to put things in perspective.

These days I'm far more content to be "just a mum". Sophia's dodgy lungs mean I won't be going back to work any time soon - child care is just not an option for her until she's a bit bigger and stronger. But, you know, that's ok. I figure I'll still get to where I want to be by the time I'm 40 and then I still have another 20 years in the workforce. My babies will only be babies for a short time.

That doesn't mean that the little devil of ambition doesn't occasionally come and tap me on the shoulder - it's just that I'm now better at ignoring him.

What do you think? Can we have it all?


Bells said...

I don't think we can. I'm not a mum and most likely never will be but I still feel like I have to make choices. I'm not overly ambitious in the traditional sense (not a high flyer) but I have personal drive to achieve creatively things that matter to me; I like to have a functioning vegetable garden and that takes work. If I had a really demanding job I wouldn't be able to pursue all my most loved activities with the passion and drive I do.

And if I do ever have a baby, many things will suffer and I will have to make even more choices about how I spend my time. Life is busy for everyone. It's a balancing act.

Fiona Dixon said...

I think you can. I do. I have 2 children and I run my own business. I chose to do this so I could be with my family and still provide at the same time. It also has alot to do with giving back and helping others too.
I think people have to look at what they really want in life and then choose who and what comes in what order. If you know this then you don't have to worry about not balancing because the things that are important will always come out on top and those things that fall away were never really that important in the first place. As you grow some things that were once very important seem to loose your interest.
I think it depends on how much you want and how you are prepared to live you life to get it. What I might be happy with you may find too much or vica versa.

You have some very good questions here:)

Anonymous said...

I feel I have the best of both worlds - as I focus my time on both 'mum' and 'career' by working part time. Is that a yes, then?

I do the mum thing 4 days a week. So I'm there for my nearly 2 year old and get to do the good bits. (I could have written the first part of your post - I felt a little brain dead, unchallenged and bored when my daughter turned 8 months old so went back to work).

But I also get to put my corporate hat on for 3 days a week. I guess the only limitation is that like you, I don't get to work on the projects that involve a week (or two's) travel away from the office. And I don't have a managerial role, which I probably would have, had I not had a child.

So maybe it's a no?


Mom's Utopia said...

I would have to say yes we can have it all but not at the same time. When I am at work I am still a mom but the reverse is not true. The trick is to find that ever eluding balance of work vs real life.

bugmum said...

Fiona, I think you make a valid point in that it really does depend on what you want in your career...for me, my next logical step careerwise in my current position is to manage a group of about 50 people...and, realistically, that's just not manageable with two little ones at home. We'll see how I feel once they're at school but I've come to accept that maybe I need to find another, more flexible, way to meet my career goals.

Iris said...

Mom's Utopia, I agree - we could possibly have 'everything', just not at the same time. NB: I say this as somebody who doesn't aim particularly high. My idea of having it all is sort of what I have now - nice man, healthy baby girl, a uni degree, plans to live overseas and a fabulous kettle.

Funny, I wrote a post about this dilemma only a week ago - namely, whether it would be easier to 'have it all' with only one child. But then, it's still a toss up - I might get the career I want but not the big family. Sigh.