I've been thinking about ambition lately, both in a general way and also as it relates to the workplace.
I've not read Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In, but I did read Anne-Marie Slaughter's piece in the Atlantic earlier this year about parenting and working, and I just read in the Washington Post this article by Elsa Walsh about a "good enough" life. While I take issue with Walsh's framing of the "good enough" choice as a woman's decision alone (I think problems with work/life balance are not exclusive to women), the article resonated deeply with me overall.
My boss is leaving her job, and many of my coworkers have asked me if I intend to apply. Many of them then seem quite surprised when I say that I don't, and that the main reason for not wanting to is that I'm not interested in taking on any additional responsibility right now (I also don't feel that I'm qualified). I make enough money to support my lifestyle; while I'd rather have more time at home than I do, most days I leave the house at 8, get home at 5:30, and rarely bring work home; my office is supportive of an occasional need or desire to attend a parent/teacher conference, be in the audience at a school play, or stick around to be there with the refrigerator repair person shows up; I get generous vacation and sick time; my employer contributes a generous sum to my retirement plan. In the imperfect world of work/life balance, I have things pretty darn good.
While I appreciate those benefits and support, I would prefer to see Maddie and Riley more. They are at a stage where we all want to be together most all of the time. For me, someone who wasn't sure she wanted to have kids at all and who then for years (years!) did not feel that deep, Primordial Bond to her children that people talk about, this change is a surprising shift. I had begun to wonder if I was defective in some way, rendered callus and unable to attach to people in the wake of John's death. Maybe that was the case for a while, or maybe that had nothing to do with it at all, but now, now! Many nights these days--after years of sleeping in their own beds--I find one or both of the twins in bed with me at night, and on the nights that doesn't happen, I'm sad. We all feel that our family time is at times infringed upon by our busy social lives. When a school friend wanted to stay at our house until 6 the other night, Maddie piped up, "But our mama time starts at 5:30!"
Oh, sure, they still can make me crazy (Will Riley ever give up the constant picking of his nose? And memo to Maddie: six is too young to start with the foot stomping and the eye rolls. Also: I'm on to you guys. I know you're stalling about going to bed.) But mostly, we just like each other so much right now. They are too young to know I'm not cool, old enough to enjoy great books and listen (at least occasionally) to reason. They are enthusiastic about pretty much everything. They are happy, and being together makes us all happy. I understand how they need me in a way that goes so much beyond their physical care and comfort, so much deeper than a predictable schedule, and I want to be there to respond to those needs while allowing them to face challenges and grow independently of my love and parenting.
So I say no to tossing my hat in the ring for what could be a logical big step up the professional ladder. I feel already stretched to the limit on work, home, family, and social life. If I add to the mix, I don't want that addition to come from work.
Does this make me less of a feminist, not taking all the professional risks that I could? Does it make me an underachiever? Does it make me wise? Or does it just make me the pragmatist that I usually am?
Sometimes I think about what I would do if my not working were a viable financial choice for our family. Would it change how I define myself if having an office job were not part of the equation? I think about what brings me joy and satisfaction. I wonder about my responsibilities in terms of who I am as a person, my family's needs, and society as a whole. Other than the paycheck, what is my job bringing to my personal life, to my children, to my community? Other than the paycheck, what would be lost if I were not doing this job? What would I rather do? Or am I where I need and want to be?
I have male colleagues at my level in the workplace who I assume are being asked about my boss's job and their interest in applying. I don't know what they plan to do so, and I wonder if their thought process around it is the same. As I parenthetically stated at the start of this post, I perceive work/life balance as a family/societal issue, not just a woman's issue, although there seem to be ways that women feel it more acutely than men.
I'm looking forward to an evening with the kids, maybe going out for sushi, definitely reading some Nancy Drew (they are obsessed with N.D. and the Hardy Boys right now), some outdoor playtime in the gorgeous spring. While I'm at work, home is never far from my mind. When I'm at home, I rarely think about work. I'm not sure what any of that means, or what, if anything, I want to change or can.