This is a post mainly for those professionals who are passionate about their careers and are considering having children but wonder/worry what impact it might have on their life and their career. I’m going to talk about my own experience finding an identity as a working mother over the past year. Remember that your mileage may vary — there is no telling what you’re going to feel when you have a child and how that will impact your life and your feelings about work.
This was one of my biggest concerns before Adam and I decided to get pregnant, and, unfortunately, the women I talked to about being a parent didn’t fill me with confidence that I’d be able to balance work and family well. I heard from women who told me that they’d become less ambitious once they had children; women who hated leaving their child at daycare but didn’t have a choice; women who worked 9-to-5, took care of their children and never did anything else; women who could count on one hand the number of times they spent alone time with their spouse in years; and women who chose to stay home with their children. Since Adam and I both had mothers who stayed home with us, we didn’t have many exemplars of mothers who successfully and happily balanced work and family. My mother was actually horrified at first that I was going to send Reed to a daycare. I felt like I couldn’t win.
My biggest worry when I had Reed was that I would want to stay home with him forever when that simply wasn’t financially feasible. I was envious of my former colleague (who had her baby a week before I did) who decided to quit her job and stay home with her daughter. I felt like I would miss so much time with my son and wouldn’t be able to bond with him as well. While, at first, it was hard to comprehend being away from him, I am so glad that I go to work and that he goes to daycare.
A good daycare is one of the best things for a child’s social development. When I get the chance to watch Reed at daycare, I see all of the opportunities he has to learn about sharing, about interacting with other children and adults, about bonding with people other than his parents, and about social play. Just today, I saw him and a little girl trying to play with the same toy — learning how to deal with this simply isn’t something he’s going to get from being home all day, and (most) playgroups are often play mediated by mothers. I’m fortunate that Reed immediately took to being in daycare when we started him in it at 4 months — he’s an incredibly social and high-energy little boy, so being around different people perfectly suits his personality. I very quickly felt comfortable leaving Reed at daycare, because I didn’t feel like it was a second-best/no-other-choice option for childcare — I really do think he’s better off there. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with staying home with your child; this is just what works for us.
I also realized that I need my identity as a professional. I like going to work, interacting with adults and working on projects. I like giving talks, writing articles and taking part in professional conversations. While I think about Reed when I’m at work, I don’t wish I was home with him. Any concerns I had about my losing my ambitions after having a child went out the window shortly after going back to work. My priorities have not changed. Family was always first — I chose not to write a second book a few years ago because I didn’t want to put such a burden on my husband in taking care of the household. I’m still passionate about my work and it’s just as important to me as it was before. I think the only thing that’s changed is how I manage my time. I don’t have the luxury of coming home from work and writing a blog post or working on an article — I have a sweet little boy play with, feed, bathe and put to bed (and, frankly, I wouldn’t trade that time with him for anything, no matter how tired I am when I get home). I have to find little pieces of time here and there (naps, after Reed goes to bed, Monday mornings since I work a night reference shift, etc.) and obviously can’t do as much as I used to. But I’ve lost none of the passion I had before for technology and our profession.
With all of the (bad) advice being thrown at new mothers, it can be incredibly difficult to find your identity as a mother. I found that many mothers were all about guilt-trips and one-upsmanship. You don’t use cloth diapers? You don’t breastfeed exclusively? You feed your child baby food from a jar? You leave your child with someone else so you and your husband can spend some alone time together? I got the sense from reading books, articles, and (especially) discussion boards that my entire life should revolve around my child since one wrong choice could have terrible consequences, and that having a child would require me to be completely selfless and put my own desires at the bottom of the pile. And I bought into it for a while.
The hardest thing about the first few months after having Reed was letting go of all the expectations I put on myself because I thought that was how a mother was supposed to be. I made myself so miserable trying to be someone I’m not and trying to do things that simply weren’t working for any of us because I thought I had to. Part of it was crazy post-pregnancy hormones and postpartum depression (an issue I never talked to anyone about at the time other than my doctor and my husband), but I feel strongly that a lot of it was my unwillingness to let go of this idea that I had to martyr myself to my child’s needs. I have to wonder how much postpartum depression is caused by these unrealistic expectations people have for themselves as new mothers and what happens when their expectations don’t mesh with the reality.
If anything, I’m more selfish now than I was before having a child. I’m very protective of my time and say “no” to doing a lot of things that I would have said “yes” to a year ago. I work hard to ensure that my husband and I make our relationship a priority, even if it means leaving my precious child with his grandparents while we spend a night at a hotel (which is exactly what we’re doing this Sunday — woo hoo!). And I do things for myself or buy things for myself that make me happy. I realized after that very scary episode with postpartum depression (my first major depressive episode since I was 19) that I need to make myself happy to be a good mother to Reed. Happy mommy = happy baby. So I’ve learned how to balance taking care of me and my marriage with taking care of my little boy. And judging by how happy and mellow he is most of the time, I’d say I’m doing an o.k. job at it.
I’ll also say that having a good work/family/fun balance depends greatly on having a supportive partner (with an emphasis on the word partner). My husband is a partner in every sense of the word — we parent and take care of the house 50-50. He is so wonderful with Reed and there’s nothing I enjoy more than watching Reed climb on his dad and seeing the smiles they both have when they look into each other’s eyes. Without Adam, I can’t imagine making this all work. Thanks hon!
I wish someone had told me all these things when I was thinking about having a child. Yes, you can still be ambitious in your career — you may have to spend less time speaking at conferences and writing books, but you don’t have to give it up altogether. It’s not only ok for you to send your child to daycare, but it might actually be the best thing for him or her. You can be selfish and still be a good mother. If you decide to get an extra hour of sleep instead of making your child’s baby food yourself, he or she won’t be irrevocably scarred by eating food from a jar. That what’s most important is that your child is loved and well cared-for and so many of the other things you think are important when you read baby books or magazine articles really aren’t.
So if you’re on the fence about having a child because you feel like you might have to give up being who you are, realize that choice is up to you. You can still be the passionate, hard-working professional you are and be a great parent — the only thing you’ll absolutely have to change is how you allocate your time. I also wish that someone had told me how much fun it is to have a child. Everyone tells you it’ll change your life, you’ll never sleep again, you’ll never go out to the movies again, etc., but you never hear enough about the awesomeness of parenthood. Reed is really the most fun person I’ve ever known and I treasure every minute I spend with him. I feel so lucky to be his mom. Parenthood isn’t for everyone, but it’s a far more fun and awesome adventure than I’d ever expected.
Mer…you are simply the best. Brilliantly written, and so incredibly true. Makes me appreciate you and your voice in librarianship even more to hear you talk about parenthood so frankly.
Bookmarked, and something that I’m going to forward to all of the academic parents or parents-to-be that I know.
Thank you so much for this. I’ve been battling this issue for a while now as my husband and I are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (school being completed)and we are moving into that next phase in our lives. All of your thoughts are EXACTLY what I’ve been hashing out in my brain. All of the “what about this” scenarios can drive a person crazy! What you mentioned about expectations is what I will try to remember. What works for others may not always work for me and vice versa.
Thanks again for such a splendid and fabulously-timed post!
Great post. As the newly minted mother of a five month old, I could not agree more about the pressure my partner and I have felt to be perfect. I wish I’d read this ten months ago! In any case, thanks for your eloquent words.
what a great take on the challenging yet wonderful balancing act that is being a working parent. as a new parent, I can say that it is not anything like I expected or imagined, but it is more than everything I could have wished for.
I love that you write about personal matters and professional matters here; much like I do on my blog.
Take away for me was “Happy mommy = happy baby” – the total truth – I can even convert it to “Happy mommy = happy marriage.” If we can keep it that simple, all the other stuff isn’t that important.
Just today I blogged about wanting an iPad but struggling with balance. My mentor wrote, if it brings you joy then you should go for it.
The same holds true with what you wrote too. Peace.
Good post, Meredith. It’s amazing how your priorities shift when you have kids, but you hit the nail on the head by addressing the issue of balance.
Personally I think libraries are great places to be for folks who want a family. With my three boys, we often go through times when my wife and I have to juggle work and care duties together when the boys are sick (they’re in daycare/preschool/kindergarten as well). It’s a challenge, but it makes you appreciate the work environment you have.
This afternoon I took my son shoe shopping, as I work the evening shift on Mondays. While a simple experience for the most part, just the simple act of helping him try on shoes and buying shoes was a pure joy. Times like that make it all worthwhile.
Looking back on my life, I am an entirely different person than I was before my first son was born. I think having kids made me a better man, husband, and I think I’m a better/smarter/more productive worker as well.
I’m glad you and Adam are finding parenting so enjoyable. Keep up the good work. –CFB
See there, I went and spelled my blog URL wrong in my comment. We’ll chalk it up to distraction/lack of sleep/being smarter. 😉
Getting married toward the end of the year and already worrying about this. Thanks for sharing about the fun side of parenting 🙂
I see so much of my own experience in your words, it is almost spooky. Thanks so much for writing about foolishly taboo things like the crazy-making guilt, post-partum depression, the kind of positive selfishness that actually makes us better parents, and most of all, the fun & joy of parenthood. It has truly been the most amazing journey. Brava!
I completely relate to your post–almost as I would have written it myself (if I just had the time- ha ha). In fact, most of my personal journal voices the same sentiments. It is especially difficult to figure out what you want and how to make it all work those months after having the baby b/c your hormones are so out of synch but that’s usually around the time you make the most important decisions bout going back work, making child care arrangements, etc.
I love you for be so honest!–I too love my alone time- that quiet time I have in the library working on projects, at the reference desk, challenging my mind, writing, etc. I also love knowing my son is learning his letters and numbers and how to share and negotiate while at daycare…and when I come home at night we can both step out of our learning modes and be silly and laugh and have fun! — which like you said is really the best part — which we tend to forget when we get caught up in the guilt of all the messages and mixed messages out there!
Very well written! The pressures are insane for new parents. I remember those days so clearly, yet my oldest just turned 13! The good thing is that the balance gets easier and easier as they grow older. And your care in the early years pays off with kids that you can trust, who are well-balanced, and yes still filled with energy and their own passions.
I am typing this as my two sons (13 and 8) watch Dilbert the cartoon. Ah, I must have done something right! 😉
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Thanks for sharing this Meredith. I can so relate and have shared very similar struggles trying to find that balance in my life since having our son. I’m still working on it, the “balance challenge” seems to change as he ages, as his needs demand different parts of me. I’ve stopped reading so many of the parenting blogs, magazines and books that I often relied on in the beginning. There are still some goldens that I hold on to but in general, all they ever did was make me feel inadequate as a mom. I completely bought into that selfless thing too, it’s taken me this long to step away from that and let myself pursue my ambitions in my professional life and my passions in my personal life. Thank you for being so open and frank about this, it helps the rest of us in similar situations a great deal. 🙂
Great, well-written, and well-thought-out post. As usual. While it is true that I cannot identify with *all* of your thoughts, and it has been a while since I dealt with the issue personally, I know that this post will serve as an important touchstone for many in our profession.
Your points about “good” daycare are very important, and that is what is so very difficult in many communities. Congratulations on having found a good one. A part of my work two jobs ago was with the early childhood services community. There are some great places around, and some truly horrid ones. The library (and I am in public libraries) can truly help them all.
Your post is also personally inspiring as I think about what to do in my personal life. In particular thanks for this reminder “I work hard to ensure that my husband and I make our relationship a priority…”
Thanks for the post, Meredith. I have a 6 month old, and struggled with PPD after her birth. Part of what I struggled with was feeling that I should have this overwhelming desire to always be with the baby, when honestly, after staying home for 13 weeks, going back to work and putting her in a fantastic daycare was the best thing I could do for myself, and for her.
I hear from women all the time how they hated putting their children in daycare, how they cried everyday, etc. I think the main difference is I love my job @ a library, and find fulfillment there. I think it would be difficult to leave the baby if I did not find what I do enjoyable and important, or did not like the daycare. I sometimes feel bad when I respond to these people that daycare is the best thing that’s happened to me since she’s been born. It might also be that I waited until I was established in my career to have a child, so I have reached the point that I have some control over what I do at work, and when. I know that is often not the case, and am glad I waited. The time I spend with my baby now is excellent- and we are both blossoming with the new situation. Thanks for the post.
Hi Meredith, thank you so much for sharing your experiences.
Before going to library school, I worked with an infant program similar to Kindermusik. Between that experience and observing friends who are new parents (I’m 30), I think I’ve been overly exposed to the mommy-martyr culture! I have no doubt that caring moms feel pressured to remove every potential element of risk from their child’s life. But at what cost?
Seriously, if that kind of paranoia is what is required to be a good mother, then I’m doomed. I need balance! It sounds like you and many others have found some, which is so encouraging to me.
You might find this article interesting: “The Case Against Breastfeeding” from the Atlantic Monthly.
Well said! Being a Mother with a career you love is challenging. Many women are hard pressed to be too much and too perfect. In our attempt to be that perfect vision of motherhood we forget to listen to that all important person: US. I think it is wonderful that you have found the perfect balance for you and I know as a working Mom myself that is the hardest part of being a Mom. Many women do not stop, take a breath and do what is best for them. Keep on being an amazing Mama and so long as that ‘lil guy is happy it’s all good.
I liked your post. Your blog is one I enjoy reading. No matter what you do as a parent, someone will undoubtably say that what you are doing, is wrong. The trick is to do what feels right for your family and if they don’t like it, too bad.
My son has enriched my life beyond measure and I can’t imagine life without him. I also had no choice on working or staying home – I’m a single mom who choose to adopt, so time-management is an art form that I am still tweeking continually.
“I have to wonder how much postpartum depression is caused by these unrealistic expectations people have for themselves as new mothers and what happens when their expectations don’t mesh with the reality.”
I agree 100% with this, and with everything else you’ve written. Thanks so much for sharing this and everything else. It’s important to see good women especially who seek work/life balance and are finding success. Thank you!
Wonderful post. I am re-figuring this balance as I am just back to work after maternity leave with my second child. I felt like I had found a good balance with one, with two it feels so much harder, but I’m working on it.
Thank you for writing this! I’m a part-time library science grad student & I work full-time at a non-library job…plus I volunteer 1-2 nights a week at my local library. My husband and I are thinking of starting a family & you’ve just calmed quite a few of the fears we were having.
Thank you for writing this – it rings very true to me, too!
I’m a full-time library director with a 5-yr-old and a 20-mo old toddler. My husband works full-time too. Life is a little crazy, but we love it, and our kids are happy and healthy and growing well.
Absolutely true: happy parents = happy kids.
My mom worked throughout my childhood and was a single mom for many of those years. I have always admired her for her work ethic and career, and have always wanted to emulate that. I knew early on that my mom did good work in the world and respected her for it. As a kid, I’m grateful to her for being such a great role model.
I’ve thought about staying home, but usually it’s when we’re going through a rough stretch with someone being sick frequently or a lot of bad weather (commuting sucks in winter). In general I love my husband, my kids, and my job, and feel grateful that I’ve been able to choose to have all those things in my life.
Hear, hear! I had my first child almost three years ago and am an expecting my second in 3 weeks. It’s so frustrating that new moms who seek advice and reassurance are confronted with guilt-trips about what’s “right” and “wrong” when raising a child.
I’ve always been ambitious but have lost the drive in the past couple of years – it just didn’t seem that important anymore. But I’m going to apply for a directorship position soon, and have rediscovered that I do still love to work. I’m very grateful that I’m able to go to work and still have a wonderful family waiting for me at home.
Thank you so much for this.
And from my own experience, if somehow you suddenly, unexpectedly find yourself a single parent to one or more children (in my case a baby and a toddler) you WILL STILL find a way to do it ALL and still be happy and satisfied (and you will be SO thankful that you had chosen to continue working and are able to support yourself and your children)!
Thanks so much for writing on this topic. As a librarian who is on the cusp of making this life commitment, one of my biggest worries has been how will I do it all, and will I have to give up my career? But I’m reassured to hear your story….
Amy, that is great to hear — while I love my husband, it’s good to feel like I could do it on my own and still be satisfied with the balance.
Meredith–thanks for sharing this with all of us. I’ve forwarded it to my sister, who is going back to work March 16th after having her first baby, but it’s also very helpful to me as my husband and I contemplate starting our family.
I am curious what you think of the idea of having a baby at work in an academic library setting. (Website: http://www.babiesatwork.org/) I am considering pursuing it as an option, but I’m not sure if it would work. I’d love to hear your opinion as a professional librarian with a baby. Thanks!!
Hi Allison! I personally can’t imagine having my son with me at work. He has always required a tremendous amount of attention and holding, especially when he was really little. I’d never get anything done other than during his naps. Even if he didn’t require so much attention, I can’t imagine I’d be able to focus very well on my work with my son around. But perhaps for different children and different workplaces it could work.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciated this post. As a new librarian and mom to a 21 month old, reading your post was like a breath of fresh air. I don’t know what it’s like at most academic libraries, but I do know that mine has very few parents, and even fewer are parents of young children. I think this contributes to a feeling that talking about family is unprofessional and makes you seem less serious about your job. It can make you feel very isolated and, frankly, schizophrenic, to battle the guilt of not being home with your child and performing well at your job, working towards tenure, etc… So, thank you, thank you, thank you for making all of us librarian/parents feel a little less alone.
BTW, Reed is absolutely adorable!
Thanks for the terrific post! I don’t yet have children, but I have worried about these issues and find your personal experiences reassuring. I would also add a book recommendation for anyone concerned about the effect her childrearing practices will have on her children:
The Nurture Assumption by Judith Rich Harris
Great post. What completely amazed me through pregnancy, then pre-school (not so much now at school) is how women undermine each other. When it comes to having children, working, being the best people we know how to be, women should be (MUST BE) each other’s best friends. Work or don’t work. Study or don’t study. What works best for your family is best for your family. Tune the nay-sayers out!
Meredith, I love your style and grace in saying things we all need to hear. Thank you for never flinching when you have something to say.
I admire parents who can find that right balance between raising a child properly as well as maintaining some kind of professional life. I don’t think that there is any problem with it so long as you realize that you are working for more reasons than just the money. It is about keeping your sanity as an adult and being able to maintain a positive outlook on your future as well as your child’s. If mom and dad are happy and in love with each other, then baby Reed will grow up happy and secure also. One day he will also turn out to be a good parent because of the example you set for him.
Thanks for posting about this. It’s always nice to know that there is support for parents in your field. I know that for me, staying home was the best thing for us for a little while, and then going back to work was the best thing for us later. It’s important to recognize that what works for one family won’t work for another, and that’s okay too- so just because one mom prioritizes their career, it’s not a bad thing, and if another mom prioritizes making baby food, that’s not a bad thing either. Luckily, I have a great network of friends who support each other and never compete for who throws the best birthday party or which kid is dressed the best, so I really can’t complain!
Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts about being a librarian/parent.I am sharing this post with the ACRL- Balancing Books and Babies Discussion Group- which is an informal discussion group during the ALA Conferences for anyone who is a parent or thinking about becoming a parent to talk about these issues. It is wonderful to have the voices and support of others going through the highs and lows of being a librarian parent!
ACRL-BBB Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/ACRL-Balancing-Books-and-Babies/107847838911?ref=ts
and also on ALA Connect.