Don’t Put Me in a Box… Why Can’t I Do It All?

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angryI’m angry about my options. This week I made a decision, and I wish it weren’t a lose-lose.  Usually, mindset is everything, yet real circumstances and generations of cultural norms are working my natural optimism into calloused negativity. Forgive the momentary wallow, but…

I don’t know if I want to continue in my job – not my 24/7 momming one, not my writing or my volunteering one, but my actual professional career. The career that sounds my alarm at 4:30 each morning, the one that keeps my heart on call all hours of the day, the one filled with richness but will never make me wealthy. I am angry that my options are: all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it, and too-bad-because-there-are-300-more-of-you-waiting-for-this-opportunity. The choice I have is to abandon the role I want in my family or abandon the career I have crafted over the last twenty-five years. 

When I returned to my profession after a career pause with our children, I remember one interviewer implicitly asking, “How will you handle going back to work with eight children?” Blood-boiling ire flushed my cheeks, and I was thankful the zoom filter partially disguised my indignation. What I wanted to say was, “I’ll ‘handle’ it. I’ll ‘handle’ it like I freaking ‘handle’ every aspect of my life. I’ll show up, work hard, kick butt, and make you wonder every day how you could ever do the same.” I wanted to say, “What makes you think that it is solely my responsibility to ‘handle’ the children while I work?” I wanted to say, “What about my resume, graduate degree, accomplishments, and achievements make you think motherhood is something to be ‘handled’ at all? I’m qualified.” 

Mic drop. 

But instead of pointing out the glaring HR violation, I let him off the hook with something polite and polished, something about time management… blah, blah, blah. But, when I really reflect on that interview years later, I’m ticked I sold out so quickly. And what exasperates me even more, is that there is more justification to that original question than I care to acknowledge. I’m angry that my options are weighed against how my job “works for the family.” I’m angry that my wages are compared to the cost of daycare and housekeeping. I’m angry how I’m not evaluated as an individual contributor but as one who will use all her PTO.

I’ve never been a bra-burner because there are some things I’m naturally, genetically, instinctively meant to do. It feels primal, and I embrace it. But lately, I’m increasingly cognizant of the hypocrisy women like me face in the workplace. Mothers with an additional career have honed efficiency and effectiveness. But more importantly, they know whether to usher in one or the other. They are multi-taskers whose creativity wields solutions, and they practice both compassion and discernment. And yet, those attributes remain untapped by those who allow us to check only one box. Limited imaginations are prohibiting half the population’s contribution to the success of ______ (insert just about anything).

And that is why I’m angry. I’m angry my creative solutions are met by inflexible minds. I’m angry innovation and progress are lauded everywhere except where it counts. I’m angry some think I’ll leave a career because it was “too hard for a mom” to do. But that’s not it at all. If I decide to leave my job, it is because my education and experience afford me a vision beyond their boxes. If I stay, it is because my strength and tenacity will one day change their stiff boundaries. But not now. For now, I’ll give myself a little grace to finish wallowing in a decision that should not have to be made. I’m angry about my options, but at least I have them. That is more than I can say for those whose lack of curiosity led to their poor judgment… losing ME as an option. 

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