Working mothers often find themselves in a common dilemma: they often feel that they have to be parents as if they don’t work and act as if they don’t have children in the workplace.
Ambition is a toxic, complicated condition for women to begin with, and that’s doubly true for mothers. Just ask Hilary Clinton, who suffered a decade-long setback in 1992 (and never really recovered from it) after she remarked, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had tea, but I chose to make mine.” to pursue profession.”
This is partly why American law professor and author Lara Bazelon wrote a New York Times Article in 2019 titled “I chose my job over my kids” promptly went viral.
“A lot of the people who read it thought I was a cold-blooded monster, and then all the working moms who read it said, ‘That’s my story.’ And hundreds of them wrote to me because someone finally said so,” says Bazelon.
This idea became the cornerstone of Bazelon’s latest book, Ambitious like a mother: Why prioritizing your career is good for your children. It’s a call to arms for all working moms who are still into the idea of having it all.
“The work-life balance and the selfless mother are false gods,” writes Bazelon in her book. “I wrote this book with the hope that it will convince you to stop chasing the same mirage and punishing yourself for not achieving the impossible. I wrote this book as a resource, sanctuary and source of reassurance. It’s not selfish to want to feed your brain or your soul. It’s not wrong to think that this requires something more than being a mother. There is no harm in focusing on the ability to support yourself or your children, or making early sacrifices for the flexibility that comes with higher advancement in your field or more career choices.”
There has long been a cultural expectation that new mothers put their babies and families first; that motherhood is now her main task, despite the professional achievements before that.
“The problem is that we are supposed to have fun [motherhood] is our single motivating purpose in life,” says Bazelon on an early morning Zoom call from her California home. “It’s a hugely motivating purpose, but it’s not everything. And we don’t ask fathers to say, “I am a father first.” I find the whole idea bizarre because it’s so reductive and deprives women of any kind of agency in the world.”
Bazelon says prioritizing work, and not just for professional reasons, should be celebrated. Economic freedom isn’t just important for women: a woman who takes pride in her life outside the home is also a positive role model for her children.
“It’s so much easier to be present when you’re absent,” says Bazelon. “If you have this expectation of moms that every moment is special, you are only setting them up for failure and distraction. When you leave a life to mothers, they know they are having that quality time with their children, it is easier for them to focus and be happy because they are happier themselves. I know myself that when I’ve had a productive day at work, I’m much better at being present as a parent. I am a happy, fulfilled person. I find it much easier to listen to my children talk about their day, to interact with them and to actively listen to them.”
Bazelon cites a recent poll finding that 25 percent of respondents believe working mothers actively harm their children. Your own research disagrees.
“Research shows that working mothers are just as capable as parents, and these children perform just as well, if not better. It’s just weird we’re clinging to that Betty Crocker, isn’t it Leave it to beavers trope because the research just doesn’t back it up.
“I mean, those mothers [in previous generations] were dissatisfied,” she adds. “They drank, they were bitter. They were financially insecure. This is not good for the children.”
Ambitious like a mother is refreshing and thought-provoking reading, especially for any woman who finds herself on a treadmill as a parent with little time for anything else. Bazelon’s own mother, who met her husband while she was a teenager, proved an important role model. Determined to have an identity outside of her marriage and four children, she rose high in her chosen field of medicine. So far so great… except Bazelon’s mother worked extremely hard and seemingly non-stop. That too must change for today’s generation of mothers. It’s not uncommon for working moms to fall into a trap where the only two balls worth juggling are personal life and work, while personal time comes only third.
“My mother has to watch Masterful theatre on Sunday evenings, and that was her only thing, her one hour a week. And even when she did, she was still paying bills or knitting a sweater,” recalls Bazelon.
Central to Bazelon’s message is the idea that ambition and good motherhood are not mutually exclusive. “There’s just this weird pressure that women have to shut off the different parts of their lives and not let in any [crossover]’ adds Bazelon. “I feel like the pandemic, with its zoom bombs on the kids and the pets, really belies the idea that people can see your private life and don’t trust you to do a good job.”
When applying for a permanent position [a permanent contract] As a law professor at a prestigious university, Bazelon was advised by her predecessor to remove pictures of her children from her desk and whitewash any mention of family.
“The person who applied for a permanent position right before me had two young children and was a mother, and she didn’t get a permanent position. The person who advised me said, “The more you can get your kids out of the picture, the better for you.” I thought about it and realized I just couldn’t do it. It also felt like I was sending a really bad message to women who showed up behind me – this idea was the only way [work] was pretending half your life didn’t exist.”
Overcoming the conflict between work and home is not only the task of women. “Men can do a lot,” says Bazelon. “First of all, they can level up at home. I think especially in my generation and I’m in my 40’s these men presented themselves as progressive and then they got married and had children and suddenly they didn’t really face their end anymore. Men also need to really stand up for women, big and small, by publicly proclaiming that ambition is a really good thing.”
On how women can shake off the idea that job satisfaction lags behind motherhood, Bazelon says, “We need to normalize it and fix it. We need more people in leadership positions to come out and tell the truth, which is that being a mom isn’t the be-all and end-all of their existence. Until then, women will continue to be afraid to say those words out loud.”
Ambitious like a mother: Why prioritizing your career is good for your children by Lara Bazelon is now available through Little, Brown
https://www.independent.ie/life/family/parenting/why-putting-your-career-first-is-actually-good-for-your-kids-41660279.html Why putting your career first is actually good for your kids