Kids or career, that is the question… or not

I’m not going to start this article asking: “Do men ask themselves that question?” It would be a rather easy way to treat the topic, while ignoring the situation that most women face. And I think that more and more men do actually ask themselves that question.

It’s 7:30am. The taxi is waiting. I sneak out with my suitcase, en route to Zimbabwe. When suddenly, little hands grab onto my suit. My little 3-year old is screaming. No, mom, don’t leave. I remove her hands with a heavy heart. And I leave without looking back.

Pressure from society, guilt from the school, the family, the partner, ourselves, our education…

Can we be a good mother while pursuing a career? Of course. I did it and millions of women do it every day.

Do kids suffer from having a working mother? When they cry because we leave, are they necessarily miserable? For the most part, yes… for a few minutes.

But the real question is…

On the long run, what is the impact on the kids?

There are no studies showing that kids turn out better if their mother stays at home to raise them. It’s quite the opposite actually.

I’ll refer to a study conducted between 2002 and 2012, involving 30,000 people from 24 countries, which depicted that having a mother who doesn’t work at home increases daughters’ chances of finding a job, having managerial responsibilities and earning more. Simultaneously, sons tend to be more involved in chores and be more present around their own kids. (see study here)

The mother may be around less, but she will bring home a taste of the outside world every night and she will serve as a role model in the future.

So, how do we do it?

First, we put our ego to the side and we accept that someone else – someone who was meticulously picked, is able to take care of our kids. And sometimes even better than ourselves. We accept the judgments at school… We ignore them. Or we defend ourselves.

We try to understand why we’re being criticized. Fear of change? Jealousy? Lack of open-mindedness? When we think about it, we quickly realize that anything that could justify that kind of behavior is contemptible and shouldn’t affect us (yes, I know, easier said than done, but it’s essential to work on it).

Is it going to be easy?

Of course not.

When my eldest daughter turned 3 months, after experiencing incredible chemistry, it’s with a heavy heart that I decided to go back to work. When I came home that night, her welcome came as a slap in the face. At just 3 months old, she looked the other way to make me pay for my treason. Of course it’s hard.

Of course it’s hard to juggle between work, nannies, evening baths, and sleepless nights.

But going through that is inevitable and it’s important to find assistance.

Don’t be afraid to get a housekeeper, if that means you get to spend your free time taking care of your kids or yourself instead of cleaning your bathroom.

More importantly, ask your significant other (when there is a significant other) to contribute at home. A partner shouldn’t “help”. A couple should divide chores. Once you agree on who’s doing what, you let them do their part fully. A partner’s in charge of laundry, is in charge from A to Z, and you don’t spend your time criticizing how it is done… your partner’s in charge. It will also help alleviate the mental load linked to laundry. (To understand Mental Load – it’s here)

It’s also essential to agree with your partner on who stays at home when the child is sick, or who has to go to school unexpectedly when your eldest bit another kid in the playground. Once again, this choice is based on both sides’ availability, while keeping in mind that both parents have the required skills to handle these situations. Our genes are useless when it comes to dealing with the principal.

Is it worth it?

Once again, of course! But why? It would be so much easier to stay at home. But no. First, I thought it was much easier to handle a job, a team and different projects than my two monstrous daughters. But also, it allowed me to have fun both at work and at home. To have the best of both worlds. To have the evening bath and cuddles, but not the whims during the day. Work was evolving, but my daughters also helped me put sensitive topics into perspective and made me a better manager.

So yes, it is worth it!

And for the rest?

We find our rhythm. Mine consists of prioritizing real family moments. For instance, when I’m not traveling, I’m home at 8pm every night to have a real family dinner. All together, with no TV, and no cellphone. A moment of exchange. Transforming quality into quantity. Having real weekends. And when we’re with the kids, we’re with the kids. We’re not on the phone or on Facebook. We’re entirely focused on the kids, and we’re connected to them.

We’ve found a system that works and is flexible – we’ve adopted the au-pair way. Given that I traveled a lot more than my husband, we coordinated our calendars ahead of time to make sure that one of us was always home. Other people use the system “grandparents” but unfortunately, ours were too far. And then, we find common activities and we transform our kids into little globetrotters.

Of course, we sometimes don’t perfectly follow the traditional educational protocol. For instance, our daughters didn’t go to bed every night at a given hour (houlala…slap on the hand) – but having dinner together seemed more important than going to bed at a regular hour.

We all know that with a career like mine, we’re going to miss important meetings, so we establish a few rules, such as taking them to their first day of school, being there for parent-teacher meetings, as well as degree ceremonies and end-of-the-year shows.

And homework? In my case, I decided not to be involved, but to do it another way. In elementary school, the au-pairs helped. But in middle school, the level increased. So I had a pact with my daughters. “I trust you entirely. I will never check if you did your homework. If you can’t do it, you call me, otherwise you do it alone. But if one day your grades drop, or if your teachers tell me that you’re not giving your best, then, I’ll find a way to make you regret you were even born!”

And it worked. They learned to be autonomous. But when the eldest had difficulties, I compensated with a tutor. It wasn’t even an issue with time, but rather a patience problem on my end!

The result?

My daughters are 21 and 23, they’ve lived on 4 continents. They both have degrees and are entering the real world. They’re independent and confident young women who know what they want. Or at least, they know what they don’t want. I wouldn’t have been able to stay at home. Every time I stayed home on a Wednesday to take care of them, I went crazy.

The decision to stay at home is respectful and needs to be respected. If it’s a personal choice by one of the parents who genuinely wants to devote his or her time to the kids, I respect it. But if it’s that choice is influenced by anything else, such as guilt or social pressure, then I don’t agree.

You’ll end up having a miserable person, with kids blamed undeservedly – “with everything I’ve sacrificed for you, how could you abandon me?” You’ll end up with kids that won’t understand the meaning of independence and will undoubtedly go through a crisis teenage phase.

Of course, I’m not talking about kids with disabilities or illnesses. In that case, individual choices and desires aren’t the priority.

I thought it was a debate of the last century. But no, even if mindsets have evolved, it stays a current topic. The young women I meet today have the same worries as those of yesterday.

Feel free to share your experiences or pieces of advice that could help others. And for the questions, it’s right here.

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