I’ve always envisioned myself getting married and having kids one day. I didn’t think I would need to choose my career based on this decision, but to be honest, I didn’t often think about what my future career would be. Growing up, my mom did a great job of putting on a happy face while she worked full time, attended parent-teacher conferences, volunteered at our school library, brought us to our various appointments, music lessons and extracurriculars, and came home to a messy house which she proceeded to clean. Did I mention there are 5 kids in my family? For a long time she was underappreciated because she never complained about doing any of this, and my siblings and I were too young to understand the toll that all of this took on her. My dad began to work from home and eventually traded in his career to pursue something he was passionate about: coaching tennis. My mom is the breadwinner of the family, so we were fine financially, and this shift allowed my dad to stay home to take my younger sister to all of her activities.
Now that most of us have grown up and left the house, things have been a little bit easier on my parents. I think it got easier for my mom as time went on because with every promotion, she got more flexibility over her work schedule and a raise, so she was able to schedule meetings around our appointments and still be financially stable. The trade-off was that when she was home, she wasn’t always fully with us because she had to be on call a lot of the time.
I don’t think that parents can have it all in the traditional sense of the phrase. People have a limited amount of time and energy, and it’s up to them to decide how they want to allocate these resources and what they think is worth investing in. Of course, it also depends on how you define “having it all”, “successful”, and “fulfilling”. Some people will never feel fulfilled until they have a family. Others will feel fulfilled and successful when they reach a certain position or salary. I believe that if you define a successful, fulfilling career in this way rather than as the top position in a given field, parents can have it all. It seems to me that those who feel like they can’t or don’t have it all should re-examine where they are and compare that to their priorities instead of comparing that to other people (with or without kids) to see if they’re happy with where they are and what they have. Personally, having it all would mean that I’m doing okay and that everything I do contributes rather than detracts from my well being. I would want healthy relationships in my life, and if/when I have a family, I would want them to feel loved and supported by me. Professionally, I would want a job that I was interested in (or at the very least felt neutral about) that paid enough to live comfortably, and I would expect myself to perform at the same level as others in that position who didn’t have kids. I’m not saying my work day would look exactly like theirs, but I would expect the quality of work to be the same. This is all much easier said than done, and I can’t say this is how I’ll handle things when the time comes, but for now, these are my thoughts on the matter.
Being a parent is an act of self-sacrifice, and I believe your kids should come first. You can always get another job, but your kids are your responsibility. I really like how Mary Matalin put it when she made her decision to leave her job after asking herself “Who needs me more?” and coming to the realization that “I’m indispensable to my kids, but I’m not close to indispensable to the White House”. Someone else can probably be trained to do your job, but you are the only parents your kids have. Other people sometimes step in and fill that role (or try to) when necessary, but there is often hurt that results when parents aren’t there to be parents because that’s not the natural order of things. There are people who do a fantastic job of raising kids that aren’t their own, but deep down, it can feel like something is missing. I have a friend whose dad prioritizes work over her, and while she lives a very comfortable life materially, she deals with a lot emotionally as a result of this broken relationship.
Just because women tend to be more willing to compromise their career for their family or are more needed at home, doesn’t mean their intellectual and professional skills should just be forgotten or seen as forfeited when they start a family. I feel like the feminist movement, while it may have had good intentions, played into the “either/or” narrative and swung to the other extreme, trying to encourage women to be more like men. From a Catholic perspective, I don’t agree with this message. I like what Lisa Jackson says better: “to be a strong woman, you don’t have to give up on the things that define you as a woman. Empowering yourself doesn’t have to mean rejecting motherhood, or eliminating the nurturing or feminine aspects of who you are.” Pope John Paul II also talked about the unique gifts that women have to offer when he wrote about “The Feminine Genius”.
I don’t think companies are ethically obliged to make it easier for workers to find work-life balance, but I would like them to, and it would be beneficial for them to do so. Companies that are more flexible and understanding of this balance or are more sensitive to crises tend to retain more talent, and people who work for these companies feel more valued, which makes them more motivated to do their best for the company. Amazon seems like an exception to the rule since they’re still successful even with a low retention rate and high burnout, but we’ll see how long they can keep it up.
Burnout is counterproductive, but it’s so hard to avoid even now as a college student with all of the pressures and demands we face. After reading How to Recognize Burnout Before You’re Burned Out, I realized that this is exactly where I am, and we’ve only been in classes for 3 weeks. Although everything I’m doing is good, and I shouldn’t be complaining about all of the opportunities I have, I also have to be aware of my own well-being and remind myself that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. I’m working on carving out time to play the guitar or just sit in the chapel or play the guitar in the chapel to recover and keep myself grounded and all in one piece. The idea is that this will help bring everything else in my life together and help me to be more productive in the time that I am spending doing work, and I’ll be happier and continue to perform at the level I am now while spending less time doing work. We’ll see how this goes.