Monday, November 12, 2012

Just walk away, there'll be no more tomorrow

Apparently today is the day to read More Working Mother posts.  Laura Vanderkam has a post about the resignation letter from a lawyer who detailed her hellish schedule trying to juggle her family life and work.  The original blog that posted the letter, and the HuffPo article about it (I'm lazy, Laura's post above has links) are about how the work culture in the US is stuck in the 1950s and doesn't jive well with two working parent families.  This, I can totally get behind.

What irks me is all the posts and comments people are making on the different sites about how this woman isn't doing it right, that she's not outsourcing enough, that her quitting to handle family stuff was really an excuse for her not liking her job, and really how she's not prioritizing her time correctly and should be able to work full time, goshdarnit, because everyone else does it.

This is what sets my teeth on edge.  Yes, *some* people can and do outsource everything, down to the night nanny to handle frequent baby wakings.  Yes, *some* people need to work outside the home and would go batshit crazy if they were home with kids all day.  Yes, *some* people thrive on a constant level of busy.

But not all of us are like that. And again, maybe it's because I haven't found my people in blog land so what I'm reading is biased. 

Everyone's life activities are prioritized differently.  Some people simply need more sleep (or uninterrupted sleep). Some people have a passion for what they do for work. Some people homeschool. Some people can only handle having one or two scheduled activities on a weekend.

Tonight, both kids in my house were finally asleep by 7:45pm.  I wasn't going to blog.  As you can see, some of my previous projects had to be dropped, like NaBloPoMo.

But then I read the comments in this AskMoxie post.  Specifically, the ones by Jan and by Gina.   I had to write this post after reading those. These women have articulated how I feel about working, far more eloquently than I ever could.  They do work outside the home, but regret that it changes the relationship and time they spend with their kids. 

There are those of us who do work, but whose work is quite simply a lower priority. Yes, maybe that means I don't LUUURVE my job so much I can't imagine not having it. (For the record, I do like it.)  I've already detailed why I work.

But for me, and apparently at least a few of us out there, the answer is not always "outsource everything".  And that's how I feel every time I see helpful tips like "hire an au pair/nanny" or "have the nanny give the kid a bath before you get home from work" or "just buy the cupcakes at the grocery store".  This may work for some people, heck, even most working parents, but it doesn't work for me.

I want to do these things myself, even if "they" don't think those tasks are important.  I'm very lucky to have an equal partner in my husband, a great preschool, and parents who live nearby for part of the year.  Even with all that, *I* still want to do the hands on stuff, and not squeeze it into the 1 hour we have between dinner and bed.  I'd like to make cupcakes from scratch and discuss and execute elaborate birthday plans with the 3 year old.  And though it's not pleasant, I want to be the one who wakes up with the baby at night, not some person I hired.

I'm glad to know there are other people like me out there, and want to give a shout out to Jan and Gina for making me feel like I'm not an anomaly.  But now, I must go.  There is pumpkin bread to be baked and Project Life pages to be made.


  1. I honestly think your reading of Laura's post is very much colored by your own viewpoint and sore spots, and that you might be missing some of what she's trying to say. But I'm sort of tired of arguing about this right now, so I'm not going to try to explain point by point. I just want to say that acknowledging other possible narratives doesn't make that lawyer's narrative wrong. It just makes it one of many. The problem with the way her narrative gets presented by most sites is that it is held up as THE ONE TRUE WAY LIFE IS. And of course, there is no one true way that life is. To me, Laura's post was just trying to point that out, and point out other ways to interpret a really crappy day like that lawyer had. I think that is valuable, because if the "you can't be a good mom and a good worker at the same time" narrative continues to take hold, it gets that much easier to discriminate against mothers in the workforce, and/or to try to shame them back into their homes.

    But... I, too, am totally behind any effort to make our modern work places more life friendly. I just wish I didn't have to be collateral damage in that fight.

    I don't care if she wants to quit. But they way she did it? It hurt other people, people like me. Certainly the other moms at her law firm. Maybe it helped some, too. Maybe it will help bring change to that law firm. In the end, we're only human and we can't know the full outcomes of our actions and we can't always do everything exactly right, so I don't really blame her for sending that email. She had no way of knowing it would go viral. But that doesn't change the fact that it did do some harm.

    I feel like this is becoming yet another thing moms online fight about, which is sad. I wish we could find a way to acknowledge that it is hard, harder for some than others, harder than it needs to be, but not impossible. And not necessarily miserable.

    1. I think we probably agree more than you think :) and I made the mistake of reading the comments in the HuffPo article. (Note to self, don't do that.)

      You're right, my comments are colored by my own experience, but so are Laura's, and yours, and everyone who writes about this.

      Personally, I would never have written a resignation letter like that, but I don't share a ton of personal details at work.

      But I think it's somewhat brave of her to raise the issue so visibly, because just mentioning why you're quitting to your manager and maybe the HR person in the exit interview, does NOTHING. They just figure they'll hire someone else who IS willing to give up their time and put work as their top priority. So I think that does people like you AND me a disservice as well.

      Not to mention, people like our husbands who actually do things like leave work to take kids to the doctor, etc.

      I agree it doesn't have to be miserable, but for some people it is, and to hold up someone as an example and pick apart their priority list, isn't any more fair than the folks saying that we womenfolk should stay at home with the babies.

    2. I agree HR exit interviews are mostly useless. But I suspect that the tone of that memo undermined its message. A simple statement that she was leaving to spend more time with her family, followed by a list of concrete suggestions for what the company could do to retain people like her would probably be more effective- although a lot less cleansing to write!

      My most effective "make it better" moments have been quiet ones. I pointed out the lack of mention of maternity leave in a company handbook, and a few weeks later, it was there. I reminded people that we need lactation rooms in new office spaces, and they appeared in the next iteration of the designs. Etc. Sure, I fantasize about making some grand dramatic statement and shock and aweing the men in charge into just getting these things and making it better on their own. But ultimately, I don't think that will work, so I've chosen to swallow some things and try to fix what I can.

      I read her email and even I wasn't clear on what she thought the company should change. So I suspect all that email will do is make some of the senior male dinosaurs think they should avoid hiring women of childbearing age.

    3. Thanks Cloud - I think this is what I was aiming for. There is no one true way. Clearly this lawyer's current situation was untenable for her, so my suggestions of alternate endings to this choose-your-own-adventure tale are offered with that in mind. If doing the bath routine was exacerbating her stress at the end of a long day, then that's a reason to consider having someone else do it. That doesn't mean everyone needs to outsource such things, but why not consider all the options? I think that if we start from the assumption that "life is difficult" and as a part of that, motherhood is difficult, as is working motherhood, then we don't need to assume that the best reaction to a bad fit is leaving one's job if there are other reactions that could also work. Unfortunately, I think this "don't work" solution is still the narrative that follows us around. It's why the Atlantic can drum up readers by putting "Why women still can't have it all" on the cover.

  2. xoxoxo being a mom is tough. I wish fellow moms were more supportive of each other. I agree everyone has their own way of going about things, and should have the right to. I hope you have a nice quiet evening and know you there are others like you in blog land!

  3. I actually think Laura and House of Peanut agree more than disagree. Anyway, I did comment on Laura's post, which i reaaly liked, but I do agree that outsourcing isn't always the solution. One, many women work hard and still don't have the money. Two, you may not want to.

    For example, the idea of outsourcing for a night nanny is probably most critical in the first year of a child's life. Yes, i know that kids don't automatically start sleeping at the 1-year mark but it's probably easier after the first year. Anyway, for me the ideal would have been a longer maternity leave, not paying for a night nanny. I guess for some women that might be an issue that would drive them to quit work. This can apply to daycare/nannies as well. You certainly can outsource a lot of childcare responsibilities but it's a tough choice.

    For me, the no-brainer in terms of outsourcing is cleaning!

    1. Google crunched the data on longer mat leaves and found that 50% fewer women quit after mat leave when they increased it to 6mo from 3. I'd love a year, personally, even if most of it was unpaid.

    2. Me, too! Although I would need at least partial pay, I would have loved a full year...

  4. if not for you, i probably would never have found the post. as a stay at home mom, i salute you working mothers. really. i never would have been able to do that.


  5. I read working mom posts and I also rarely comment because I feel so out of step with the crowd of "outsource everything", "you can do it but can't do it all well". Dammit, I don't want to outsource thing - for lots of reasons (money, feels exploitative of those I am outsourcing to, environmental impact) and I do want to do it all well! And just as you said, it is possible to identify as a feminist, like work, and still want make my family priority #1.

    I am glad I commented though. It feels really good to "hear" that there are others out there who feel similarly.

    1. We're probably too Type A for our own good ;) I too want everything to be done well, and sometimes cause myself a lot of stress in the meantime. But still.

      I appreciate your comments there very much. But you knew that, of course.

  6. Great post. I agree with every bit of it and are most certainly NOT an anomaly:)

  7. I'm always late to these parties. I have to slowly mull over this stuff before commenting.

    I think it's easy to miss the forest for the trees. The forest is our current corporate/academic/government environment which makes it extremely difficult for women to attain powerful positions. We know very little about this lawyer and why she wrote this letter. But the general consensus still seems to be that if you want to make partner in a law firm, you have to put in workaholic hours. If you want to spend time with your kids, it's probably going to be difficult to make partner.

    The trees are our individual lives. This lawyer needs to find a way to make her life work for her. This is where most people are focusing and where most of the suggestions are pouring in. Since we know very little about her, we just can't know the best way to offer help, sympathy, whatever. We just don't know what is important to her and what will make her fulfilled given the constraints of the current times that we live in. Some people are making too many assumptions here about how she should live her life. Your point is well taken that maybe she doesn't want that life!

    But, going back to the forest, I wholeheartedly agree with you that what really needs a big change is our corporate/academic/government environment. I mean, really, does workaholic hours have much bearing on what kind of partner a given lawyer will be? Why do the two have to be connected? Isn't it better to judge partnership on the quality of one's work? But, now I'm digging myself into my own hole by getting too specific.

    Suffice it to say that I see a dramatic change coming with the rise of women. We're earning more degrees than men now. Our incomes are rising. Women the world over are starting to refuse marriage if it means becoming essentially enslaved. (The Economist had a fascinating article on this a while back.) We're going to reach a critical mass and we're going to dramatically change the working environment for our daughters. I truly believe that they'll have much of the flexibility in the corporate world that we dream of now.

    1. I sure hope they have a better working culture than we have now! Thanks for your thoughtful comment.


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