Mommy Track: On Women, Careers and “Giving It Up” for Motherhood

Mommy Track: On Women, Careers and "Giving It Up" for MotherhoodI have a strange work schedule. I work full-time, but through flexible hours, I work from home the equivalent of two days a week. Despite not putting in the same face time as other employees in the office, I was still recognized for my work and getting things done for the company. And while this is a victory for working moms, particularly flexible-schedule moms, I still wonder whether I took the “mommy track.” Did I sacrifice career potential to attain the schedule I wanted?

I’m not alone in this discussion, and today I want to highlight fellow blogger and SSBE reader MaryAnne from Mama Smiles to discuss the path she took in her career to be a stay-at-home to her four young children.

Nina: Hi MaryAnne! Thank you for sitting down with me to discuss women, careers and motherhood. Before we get into the topic, tell us about your blog, Mama Smiles, and why you started it. MaryAnne: My blog, Mama Smiles, focuses on finding joy in everyday parenting through creativity, learning, and play. I write about creative activities my kids and I enjoy, places we go together, and simple at-home learning activities. I started my blog as a way to chronicle and share the aspects of parenting I truly enjoy (you won’t see pictures of laundry or dishes). My blog is also my way of explaining — to myself as much as to anyone — what a stay-at-home mother does and how it can be a legitimate career choice. Nina: On your About page, you have an impressive list of degrees: a B.A. in Organ and Vocal Performance and a Master’s in Education —both from Stanford—as well as a Ph.D. in Medicine from Edinburgh. What was your incentive to attain your degrees? Were these decisions made before or during becoming a mom? MaryAnne: We should make the most of opportunities. School was always an area where I did well, and the degrees reflect that. Even more, however, they represent an opportunity that I took and made the most of. My first child was born as I was finishing up my Ph.D. I juggled finishing my dissertation with looking after her. I could have continued to juggle a career and motherhood, but I decided to take the opportunity of being a stay-at-home parent instead. Nina: What influenced your decision to become a stay-at-home mom? MaryAnne: My first born child was seven months old when I graduated with my Ph.D. I could have moved on to a post-doctoral position or a research or teaching job, but I was thoroughly enjoying my time with my baby girl, and I decided to make motherhood my career. Nina: You mention on your blog that you use all three of your degrees with your children. Can you give us some examples? MaryAnne: Music is a wonderful way to interact with young children. My kids love it when I sing and play the guitar — it’s part of our bedtime routine. I’m (slowly) teaching them to play the piano and a little violin, and they have enjoyed the few opportunities they have had to see me play the organ. You can read more about how I use music with toddlers here. My Education degree focused on teaching foreign languages (French, primarily, although I also taught Spanish) in a middle school and high school setting, but a lot of what I learned about effective discipline, pedagogy and group work applies to a family setting just as it does in a classroom. Hopefully my adolescent psychology courses will also prove helpful as my kids get older! For my Ph.D. in Medicine, I looked at community arts programs that helped children overcome trauma. I also tutored and covered courses on some of the more clinical aspects of medicine, as well as medical ethics and technology in medicine. In addition to finding (from my perspective, at least), a very helpful application for both of my earlier degrees, I gained practical knowledge about how the medical system works, and came away with a decent grasp on medical terms and statistics that are useful in day-to-day life. I have always felt that creativity was important, but my doctoral research made me more certain that I wanted my children to have multiple creative outlets — and you will see a lot of evidence of the importance I place on creativity on my blog.

Nina: Did you know going into attaining your degrees that you would be a stay-at-home mom? MaryAnne: I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but that isn’t a career choice you can guarantee. I pursued degrees in areas that I found interesting and rewarding. Being a stay-at-home mom just happened to be the interesting and rewarding career choice that worked out for me. Nina: Do you think women sacrifice their careers in lieu of motherhood when we follow the mommy track, e.g. when we don’t put in as many hours as we used to or as our colleagues do, or when we work flexible schedules, work part time or leave the work force entirely? MaryAnne: Having a child and not sacrificing at least a portion of your career is difficult. Even if you take only a couple weeks of maternity leave and put in all the hours, you are putting hours in at home after you pick up your child from daycare. I also think that employers often assume that women will become lesser employees after having children. However, being a mother has made me a much better potential employee than I ever could have been beforehand. Motherhood has taught me new levels of prioritization and self-discipline; unfortunately, it’s a little difficult to explain that coherently on two hours of sleep. Nina: Why do you think we don’t have a “daddy track,” or why men don’t seem to fall under this stigma as much as women? MaryAnne: Biology plays a huge role. If you have your own biological child, pregnancy takes a very real toll on your body, as does childbirth and breastfeeding; even if you are pumping bottles for your husband to feed the baby, your body is still producing milk, and that requires extra energy. Also, everyone sees women become pregnant, and that can be a visible reminder to them that we are now using energy to create a new life. That doesn’t make us a lesser employee, but others can still perceive us that way. Nina: Do you plan to return to work? If so, what steps would you take for a smooth re-entry? MaryAnne: I don’t know if I will return to work. I’ve already been out of the workforce for six years, and plan to stay out for the foreseeable future. I do like to keep my options open, though. I have kept in touch with my graduate advisers—one of whom took five years off to stay home with her children and made a very successful re-entry into academia—so I still have them as potential referees, should the need arise.  I also keep track of the research that is happening in my field. maryanneNina: Thank you again MaryAnne for sharing your career and educational choices and for discussing the mommy track with me today. Readers, I invite you to check out MaryAnne’s blog, Mama Smiles, for amazing resources, including downloadable PDFs, recommended items and books, world culture for kids and plenty of blog posts on crafts and parenting. What are your thoughts on the mommy track? Do you think women sacrifice their careers for motherhood? Can women have both a high-powered career and the time to parent that she desires?

Nina

Nina is a working mom to three boys—a five-year-old and toddler twins. She blogs about parenting at Sleeping Should Be Easy, where she writes everything she's learning about being mom and all its joys and challenges. She also covers topics like how kids learn and play, family life, being a working mom and life with twins. Download her free ebook, "Time Management Strategies for the Overwhelmed Mom" for more tips.

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  1. says

    Excellent Q&A. MaryAnne articulated exactly how I’m feeling at this moment. I’ve yet to eloquently express why I decided to switch gears from a full-time journalist to a part-time freelancer. I used to shudder whenever I heard a woman describe herself (or any other woman for that matter) as a “stay-at-home-mom.” It’s one of my many hang-ups. I was raised by a stay-at-home mom. She did a superb job – the BEST job. I have two younger sisters that will vouch for that.

    Me? I wanted to have it all: writing career, husband, kids, dog, a good yoga studio…

    I still want it all, though I’m beginning to come to grips with the fact that I may not get it all AT ONCE.

    I’m six months into leaving my job to spend more time with Henry. It’s been a major adjustment. I alternate between feeling overjoyed and grateful to feeling insecure and guilty. I try to only blog about the joyous/grateful parts, which lately seem to occur with more frequency.

    Thanks for sharing MaryAnne. You’ve made this mama, who was rudely awakened at 4:30 by a wild toddler, feel more confident about her decision to stay at home, even if the title still makes me cringe. :)

  2. Ana says

    Great Q&A session! I really enjoy reading about Mary Anne’s degrees and how she finished her Ph.D while raising an infant at the time. Very impressive! It’s a good motivation for me and the pressures I am going through at the moment as I complete my grad school application.

    I love Mary Anne’s blog!

    -Ana

  3. Steph says

    I love MaryAnne’s unapologetic tone for getting degrees and then “not using them.” Of course she uses them! Just not in the most traditional way. I have had people say I’m wasting my education by not pursuing a career but I find my education has definitely enriched my parenting.
    Steph recently posted..Giveaway & Review: Unseduced & UnshakenMy Profile

    • says

      Steph, completely agree. Here’s my opinion about college: I think it absolutely does increase your chances of finding a good career, helps you avoid unemployment, and generally offers you wider pay and opportunities than those who don’t pursue it. Do I think that those are the *only* reasons high school kids should enter college? No way. I was always in the mindset that college is there more for the self, to open your eyes to new issues in the world, to learning how to work with others, to developing an effective work habit, and soooo many other benefits that have little to do with getting paid or not.
      Nina recently posted..Mommy track: On women, careers and “giving it up” for motherhoodMy Profile

  4. says

    I enjoyed this Q&A and applaud her for her choice to be a SAHM. She chose what was right for her and for her family – and no one should ever judge that. I agree with MaryAnne’s point that when you have children you have to sacrifice, but I think that is regardless of whether you work or not. I’ve been able to advance to an executive level at my company, where I’ve been for 12 years, after the birth of both my children – and that’s even while working a flexible schedule. I’m lucky I work for a company and with people who value my contributions and was willing to work with me. I also agree that being a mother has improved my business skills in many ways (organization, prioritizing, analyzing and trouble shooting).
    Debra recently posted..5 Things You Should Say To Any Mom. Lets Stop The Mommy Wars!My Profile

  5. says

    Very interesting Q&A, Nina! This is a topic that obsesses me. Growing up, I always thought I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. And then I had my first son, and then my second 20 months later (and a daughter 20 months after that) and I realized that being at home full-time wasn’t for me. I’ve been lucky enough to find part-time work that I love and I really relish the balance of writing and mothering. My sincerest wish is that all mothers have the choice to do what is right for them and their families.
    Kristen @ Motherese recently posted..Thin SkinMy Profile

    • says

      Kristen, you are definitely very lucky to have found that balance. For instance, while MaryAnne was able to be a stay-at-home mom, I know a few folks who weren’t able to for financial reasons, e.g. a friend of mine went to grad school and they need her income to pay off the student loans.

      Like yourself, I work best part-time and did that for a little bit, but due to circumstances I had to return to full-time, but thankfully with a flex schedule. I also thought that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but realized very quickly that I actually wanted some part-time work.
      Nina recently posted..Mommy track: On women, careers and “giving it up” for motherhoodMy Profile

  6. says

    Thanks for this Q&A. I struggle with this issue a lot. At one point pursuing greater advancement in my career was top priority. Now I just want to stay home. Like Mary Anne, though, I feel like all the experience I gained from my degrees and my career (theater artist and elementary teacher) contribute to my parenting style. I don;t think education is ever wasted, but what you use it for can certainly change over time.
    Emily recently posted..Flashback to Christmas… the Party!My Profile

    • says

      Hi Emily, it’s funny how our decisions change over time. I thought I absolutely wanted to be a stay at home mom but decided I liked doing something else work-related, even if it’s just something on the side (for me though, the real reason I went back to work was financial). It’s so true that what you learn in school isn’t merely for pay; we can take those skills and use them for un-paid ventures like parenting and even volunteering.
      Nina recently posted..Mommy track: On women, careers and “giving it up” for motherhoodMy Profile

  7. Kerry says

    I’ve never worked outside the home since having kids… But I don’t see that as a waste.
    Admittedly, I have days where I’d love to head out that front door in the mornings and have my hubby be the sahd – and I’m confident there are many days HE is glad he’s heading out that door : )
    No regrets though. Being a mom is the toughest/best job I’ve had.
    Kerry recently posted..more KnitsMy Profile