Sit at the Table

First off, if you have fifteen minutes to spare, I highly suggest you watch this TED talk by the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg. If you didn’t watch it, it talks about the reasons she believes there aren’t more women in powerful positions in the world. She outlines three reasons:

1. Women need to stand up for themselves, take credit for their accomplishments, and continue to go for what they want. They need to sit at the table at work, not off to the side, and to believe in themselves.

2. They need to make their partners true partners by asking spouses to take on more home/child responsibilities, and

3. They need to not leave until it’s time to leave, by not turning down projects or promotions because of children/pregnancy.

What it boils down to is this: women devalue themselves. Constantly.

I watched it and felt a surge of adrenaline to do something. It all feels so important that we get out there and WORK!

Except, you know, I’m also a mom, and I get that working inside or outside the home is a bit of a challenge. I know that I can’t have it all.  Ann Wyse asked me today if I could make the same work choices I’m making right now if my kids were younger? Would I still feel like a good mom?

The answer is yes, and also no.

Yes, if my children were younger, I would make the same essential choices.

No, when my children were younger, I didn’t make these choices. But it didn’t have to do with the age of my children. It had to do with me, with my mentality toward motherhood, myself, and what I could personally do about my situation.

One of my problems with possibly having another kid is this: I want to have a career. I want to have it NOW. I don’t want to put everything I’ve done on pause to have another baby. I don’t want to lose traction because I need to take care of another human being. Do I really want to start over on the career ladder again?

Here is the other problem with this situation: Gregg never once considered how another child would affect his career. NOT. ONCE. Because our children do not negatively affect his career. My children have negatively affected my career growth, but only because I’ve let them.

I’m not saying that staying home was the wrong decision for me, and that I should have worked and pumped my breastmilk and clawed my way to the top of my career. I’m saying that I didn’t believe I could do it, could have what I wanted, and so I did what I thought I could do. I thought, “I can be a good stay at home mother, but not a working mother and a library manager and a good wife and have my sanity.” The other truth is that I did not WANT to do all of those things together. But not because of the juggling act, but because of what Sandberg talked about: I wasn’t challenged.

I got pregnant in graduate school, two months in. From that point on, I started scheming of ways to work part-time, because I wanted to be there for them, and to be the best mom ever. I was not, and have not been, the best mom ever. I was stressed out. I yelled. I was constantly figuring out ways to fill the holes in the day, to meet new mom friends, to get out of the house. Because I was miserable. Because I had settled*.

I worked part-time, and so I didn’t get to make any decisions. I didn’t get to go to meetings. I worked weekends. I barely ever saw any other of my awesome librarian co-workers. I turned down a management position because I knew I couldn’t do it and be a good mom.

It really was the worst of both worlds. I quit when Sachin was two, because I wasn’t happy working weekends. I wasn’t happy being a college librarian. I wasn’t happy missing birthday parties to take my boys to. I was settling for what I thought I could do, and so I decided to just give up.

Here are the things that I have wanted for years, but not let myself admit to having: being a children’s librarian; being a novelist; working from home a large portion of the week so I could juggle career and family stuff. I want all of that. I didn’t think I could be a children’s librarian, because I’ve always worked with college students, and I just don’t have the background. I didn’t think I could be a novelist, because every person wants to be a novelist and the competition is stiff and what’s so special about me? I didn’t think I could work from home because how could I possibly do any of that?

I was removing myself from ANY POSSIBILITY for these things. If I had a great job to go to everyday, that I loved, that brought me joy? It wouldn’t matter so much that I sometimes had to pump. I wouldn’t feel frazzled at home doing yet another thing for a tiny person or my husband. I’d feel like I could give of myself, because my tank was full.

And this is all speculation. The fact is that my kids are five and seven. No one here nurses and they rarely get up multiple times a night. I’m well-rested. My house is not littered with baby things. But the fact also is: I didn’t believe in myself enough to go for exactly what I wanted when they were younger. It wasn’t because of their age, but because of mine. I needed to grow up. I needed to trust in God/The Universe/Whatever, that what I wanted wasn’t outlandish or selfish or unattainable, but exactly what I needed too.

Now, I’m only an amateur novelist. I am still revising my book, so who knows what will happen, but at least I can admit: hey, I want do it. I tried, and I have an amazing agent who is helping me make my book a real book. I am probably going to do this thing. Because, you know, I believe it will happen, and that helps me work for it, and then that gives me the energy to believe that Gregg can do some of the housework, that I can give more of myself when the boys are home, that things can work out for me. At least I’m trying.

It gave me enough bravery to ask about being the school librarian while the current one is gone for a month. It’s not permanent, but it’s a start, more than I could have previously imagined. And you know what? I’m going to do it. Before, I wouldn’t have even asked. I wouldn’t have believed anyone would want me. Now? I believe it, and it makes me want to sit at the table, and never leave.


  1. says

    I just want to say that I have been loving all of these recent posts of yours about working and momming and feminism. I cannot wait for the day that I can pay hard cash money to buy a book by you.

  2. says

    I am a working mom who is a better mother for having a job I love. MUCH better mother. I also really believe women tend to devalue themselves; lord knows I do it. And I am so so so happy for you. I’ve loved reading these posts and watching you have these revelations and I am so excited for your library job.

    But let me tell you, a job doesn’t stop all the frazzled feelings. A job doesn’t make pumping — not that you have to worry about that right now — easy. (Hands down the worst 10 months of being a working mom.) A job doesn’t make dealing with ONE MORE PERSON needing something when you just want to sit and relax any easier.

    I guess I just mean that it’s easy to romanticize what you don’t have. Please don’t take this as poo-pooing your very good news and very wise thoughts. I want women to feel they can sit at the table without guilt, but I think having realistic expectations is the first step.

    • says

      First, It’s ALWAYS alright to disagree with me (unless it’s about gluten). Second, yes, I get what you’re saying. As someone who did pump my breastmilk for many months, who did have to juggle schedules and nannies and daycare, I get that. I just mean that: the frazzled feelings are a little more worth it if you’re doing what you love, or working toward that, instead of just doing what you believe you should be doing. I’m not sure I said that right in the post. I just mean: don’t let other people stop you, but most of all, don’t let your children/spouse be an excuse to not go for it.

      • says

        YES! Your last sentence is exactly spot-on. We can’t let other people — or our ideas of other people — stop us.

        And fear not. I would never disagree with you about gluten.

  3. says

    At the risk of sounding trite, I’m just really excited to know you and read about where your life is taking you. I think you’re marvelous.

  4. Jennifer says

    I am struggling with this as well. I had my daughter two months before I graduating from nurse-midwifery school, and planned to move wherever I found a job at which point hubby would be a stay-at-home-dad. But after months of getting turned down (I was upfront about having a breastfeeding infant and was very much judged for that, long story but quite sad and eye-opening especially in my field), I have mostly been staying at home and hubby got a promotion that is keeping us in our current location. I work a couple days a month for a local practice and I love the time with my daughter, but hate that I am screwing my career. I will likely have do a remedial term in school before I will ever be hired as a full-scope CNM at this point (my daughter is turning one next week). I look forward to hearing more about your journey as I debate my own.

    • says

      this is tough. I know, the whole nursing/having a baby thing, and the way the workforce reacts to it are BIG PROBLEMS. The number of times I have had to pump in a bathroom are just too many. BUT! But! You keep going at it. You’re not giving up, which is what I did for a long time. I am not saying it is going to be in any way easy, but that, you know, you’re trying, and that’s a big (mental) portion of the battle.

  5. says

    I think the most jarring part about this whole thing (highlighted in Sandberg’s TED talk) was that women who decide to go for the career are seen by both women and men as less LIKEABLE than a man doing the same thing. LIke a successful man is “assertive” but a successful woman has to be a “beeyatch.”

    I have been thinking about this a lot since Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece in The Atlantic came out last August about why women can’t have it all–she touches on why women are so much more likely to feel guilty about not being the best at work and the best at home and being everything to everyone, while men have been programmed not to really even worry about it.

    My college boyfriend was kind of a superstar. On the track team and a Mechanical Engineering major who came in on sophomore status, he was really smart and extremely confident. I never shied away from saying how math has always been hard for me, and I used to help him with his papers, etc. One day in the cafeteria, sitting at a table with a bunch of his friends, we started talking about the ACT, and it came out that I got the same score as he did.

    You wouldn’t believe it, his immediate reaction was outrage! He hit the table with this hands and said, “well, I’m still smarter than you!” SERIOUSLY!? I knew he thought I was intelligent, but couldn’t fathom that I was AS smart as he was. And what did I do? I felt BAD about it, like I shouldn’t have shared my score. It was just a test, but WHAT THE HECK?!?!?

    Obviously, I didn’t marry the guy. I still care about and respect him, but I could never be with a dude who would be uncomfortable sharing the top spot with his significant other.

  6. says

    I’m right at this point in my life too. I’m actually working on a blog post about this. I’ve always worked in jobs I enjoy and have been paid well to do things I’m good at. Taking time home with the kids was never on my radar because I don’t think I could do that. I would have loved loved loved to work part-time over the last 3-4 years but that doesn’t happen in my industry so I did what I had to do. I’m firmly middle management, right where any male or female with my education and experience in this field is right now. Some are starting to jump up a rung or two, most of my peers are of a similar background.
    That said, I COULD move further up the career ladder – I have the opportunity and the experience but no desire. I think that you have to make a choice between work and lifestyle (and I’m not just talking about being a parent or having more kids). If you take the leadership roll you get the paycheck but also the increased burden of responsibly and loss of flexibility that comes with it. 6-7 years ago I would have told you I wanted to be the Director of my (very large) department at my (very large) employer. Now? I’m more than happy to be in middle-management in a smaller place because it works for what I want from my life right now. I think it’s taken me some maturity to realize that what I don’t want (those leadership rolls) is ok.

    But the part about “They need to make their partners true partners”. Yep. There is no way I could do what I do or have gone after the jobs I’ve pursued without full spousal support. In fact, my husband’s last job move was specifically because his old workplace was awful about flexibility. And I do the same for him. I’m sad for ANYONE who has to work 80 hour weeks to succeed. What kind of life is that (kids or no kids, spouse or no spouse)? It’s an insane expectation yet people do it all the time.

  7. says

    I read the article you’re talking about, and you actually give me some hope. I have to work for financial reasons (duh. What I mean is, I would quit and work on my writing full time, but we need the money coming in now), and I know that I’ll continue needing to work once I have children. As someone who really hates her dead-end job, and is – like you – trying to be a writer, I am really scared of having kids and needing to work full-time at a job I can’t stand, while my writing career moves to the back-burner. I know my husband never thinks about how having children will affect his career, but I think about it ALL. THE. TIME. I almost don’t want to have kids until I actually generate some income from writing, just so I will never resent these hypothetical children for killing their mother’s career dreams.
    Aaaannnndddd…that’s why I’m scared to have kids, even though I do want them and the clock is ticking because I’m now officially over the hill. But hearing you talk about this and make some peace with the eternal issue…gives me a little hope. So thank you.

  8. says

    BWAHHHHHH YES YES YES!!!!!!!!!! School Librarian YESSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am so excited that you (might?) get to do that! I didn’t have any confidence that I could get a children’s position either because all my experience had been in a Special Library that no kid ever walked into (except for mine. Obvs.) So, I went for a management position and it turns out that I am a great programmer. (And have lots of experience covering and planning because I have had a hard time with staffing in the past year.) So, maybe this is all you need to just get your feet wet and know that you CAN do it. Or maybe you will hate it. BUT! The opportunity to find out which of those it might be? Amazing.

    Oh. Yay!

  9. Miava says

    ?? I thought men didn’t help with kids or housework because they’re lazy. I truly think my husband is lazy. I just can’t think of any other reason to NOT help someone. I help him all of the time.

    And here is something really stupid: A man WON’T help with dishes or anything else in the house, because that’s beneath his “manliness” but he will let himself get divorced over it, letting his wife go to another man’s bed, lose his kids to that man for partial custody, and jump through hoops trying to get laid because he’s now single/lonely… He will do ALL of that but what he won’t do, is dishes occasionally…. I’ve seen this happen so many times…It’s bewildering.

  10. says

    I was also a much more sane mom because of my job. I stayed home for about 9 months, and thought I could easily go insane due to the lack of adult interactions. I was 35 before I married, and 37 when I had my daughter –in some ways this was a good thing (in many ways, actually), because more than one child was never something we considered seriously, especially after we found out how much a child changes your life. I love my daughter with all my heart, but I’m one of those women who wonders if she’d make the decision to have a child if she’d known then what she knows now.

  11. Virginia says

    Fascinating post and comments! IMHO, it all stems from what you *want* vs what you think you *should* do. A corollary perhaps is the age at which we have children (and by extension, the stage of our careers). I had my first child at 38 and my second at 40. By that point, I had already been up the ladder pretty much as far as possible (mid management) in my field. I didn’t particularly like the management role, so I was happy to change jobs and go back to being an individual contributor. I was comfortable in my career, both in what I did and the level of my advancement. That’s when I had my kids. That delay has consequences. Now while my contemporaries are posting pictures of grandkids, I’m attending cub scout meetings. Retirement and college are going to collide in a nasty financial mess. But, I’m much more confident in Who I Am, both personally and professionally. And that makes me a better mother, a better wife, and a better worker.

  12. says

    I just hopped over from Already Pretty and am so glad to see this post! The NYTimes published an article recently about Sandberg’s upcoming book and the comments section were so filled with negative comments toward her, it was bewildering. I also loved her TED talk and loved her Barnard commencement speech, which touched on many of the same points. It’s true that there are institutional and societal biases against women, but I think the first step in overcoming these obstacles is for more women to overcome their internal obstacles and actually fight to get those jobs. I have a PhD in Bioengineering and am finishing my postdoctoral research; my dream has always been to run my own lab and I’m giving it my best shot. I can’t tell you how many of my female friends from grad school have dropped out of the academic track. Before they even got married, I would hear them say that they want to have work/life balance and so they’re not going to try for faculty positions, even though that had been their original intent. It never even occurred to my guy friends to drop out because of that. They loved science so they were going to pursue it to the fullest. This is from one of the top programs in BE and these women are brilliant. They are the ones who could eventually have reached the top tier of the field, but now they’re gone. It just drives me nuts.

  13. grammy says

    First of all, I think the job at school sounds great. Is it full time? How are you going to work full time and revise full time and be a great mom and a great cook and a great wife… “I am WOMAN”??? like the song? Don’t kill yourself!
    Secondly, and this is for your readership, not for you–
    EVEN IN THIS DAY AND AGE, I assume, there are some people who do NOT want a career and who shouldn’t feel out of it or lazy or plain ole’ dumb. There are some of us who feel fulfilled taking care of the home front and possibly volunteering. Some of us aren’t competitive or driven….although I would LOVE to be a great cook like you!
    Working outside of the home is certainly stressful, no matter how cooperative your husband is. Both you and Gregg only have 24 hours in your day.
    Take time to love not only your career, but yourself too.
    Love, Grammy

  14. bubu says

    Found you on Already Pretty today as well, and really liking exploring your blog. Figured I’d add my two cents on this one, as someone who has been a SAHM and a part-time, now closer to full-time working mom: I think part of it is pressure from outside, but also partly pressure from inside. I know I felt/feel a visceral need to be with my kids A LOT at first, far more than a drive to work. My husband did not feel this same drive. At the same time, 6 months of full time SAHM status and I was going insane… So it’s partly finding a way to be honest to ourselves, as you said, about what we really do want and need. But also, I think the second part of this sentence should always be included: You can’t have it all RIGHT NOW. It is unquestionably harder to move back to working after being out of the work force, but assuming most of us are going to work about 50 years in our lives (22-72 ish, give or take) we’re talking 5-10 years of really active, hands-on, time-intensive parenting. I’m already amazed how much it has changed since both of my kids are in elementary school, and I’m sure there will be another big shift when they get to middle and high school. I think taking some pressure off ourselves and realizing however long this stage is, it is temporary, and, in the grand scheme of our lives, a fairly short period.

    • alice says

      Your point is really interesting. I think what is tough, is that for very competitive careers, taking out that time for your kids is just not an option because it means you’ll never be able to reach the next level of your field. So you can go back to work eventually when the kids are older, but it’s very unlikely you will reach the top. And I think for our culture to change, and to allow that flexibility to women, there needs to be more women who get to the top because they will have the power to enact those changes. However, this is also a very personal decision to make and on an individual basis, we each have to decide for ourselves what is worth it.

  15. says

    I also found you via AlreadyPretty and have just finished reading through your archives. You have a great sense of humour and you’re so relateable. Just wanted to let you know that I am definitely a fan!

    • says

      I was so excited, forgot to add: although my career is in a “if you leave to have kids you will never make it to the top” field, you’ve inspired me to take a good look at my past decisions and, more importantly, take responsibility for them. Thanks. :)

  16. Rafael says

    In your post, you state: “Gregg never once considered how another child would affect his career. NOT. ONCE.”

    If the job market were reversed and you made gobs more money doing what you love to do, do you think Gregg would reconsider?

    This post reminds me of the excellent movie _Little Children_. For the record, I think you’re a much better wife than Jennifer Connelly’s character.