The deeper truth is that I had limited options. With one premature baby and a second who required I spend months on bed rest, my family had to come first not forever, but for a while. When I became a new mother, there was no clear path for those of us who wanted to be deeply engaged with our families and still have rewarding careers. The workplace was unforgiving and unyielding to women like me. Sadly, I’ve learned my experience is still the norm
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But my path is not my daughter’s path. She, like her brothers, will have to find a way to navigate the world in which they live. I want them to be better prepared than I was to face the realities of trying to have a career and a family. I want them to be empowered by self-knowledge, as well as by clarity about the cultural zeitgeist and institutional structures that impact their opportunities and choices.
I don’t want her (or her brothers, for that matter) to face the same unrelenting challenges I did. At the heart of it, I want the workplace to be more supportive of families. I want national policies that support caregiving. I want the deep meaning and reward that comes with being a parent to be honored and valued. But sadly, society won’t change fast enough for my children or for any of the other tens of millions of Millennials who will become parents in the next decade or so.
At the end of the first chapter of her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg asks, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
Here’s my answer: If I weren’t afraid, I would have believed in myself enough to know I could integrate a pause for my family into the arc of my career trajectory. I would have understood that women like me are disrupting the outmoded models of what a successful career looks like. I would recognize my actions were not a sign of failure but a sign of innovation and reflected a willingness to take risk that many didn’t have the courage to do. I would refuse to believe men aren’t as passionate about their families and would support them to be publicly and actively engaged fathers, husbands, and sons. I would fight the work-first culture boldly and directly by revealing caregiver bias at its root. And, I would work to change our national policies so that mothers and fathers have the basic support they need to not only survive, but thrive.
I can’t go back and tell myself to not worry, to let go of self-doubt, to have confidence that I was on the right path and that it would all work out, not as planned, but in a way that would meet my needs and the needs of my family.
But I can tell you.
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