I 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?

Mommy track: On women, careers and "giving it up" for motherhoodI’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 all the 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?

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