Guest post by Wendy Levitt.
Last month my daughter turned eleven. Of course, I celebrated her. Her birthday, her life, her friends. But I celebrated something else, too. Last month I celebrated my eleventh anniversary of motherhood. I had to laugh. Eleven years ago it never would have occurred to me to view motherhood as an accomplishment.
Eleven years ago I was a career woman with a rising star. When I wasn't working, I was talking about work. Thinking about work. Dreaming about work. When I closed my eyes I saw PowerPoint slides. I was -- as my mother frequently reminded me -- someone who had too much potential to stay at home and be "just" a mom.
Eleven years later I can finally appreciate that motherhood is more than being "just" a mom. But eleven years ago, I didn't know. Eleven years ago I was flat on my back in nothing but a paper gown and way-too-huge maternity bra. My water-balloon belly poked straight into the air. "My baby." I rubbed the side of my belly affectionately with one hand and tapped the keys on my BlackBerry with the other, doing a quick search to make sure I'd locked the times for our mommy-and-me classes so no one could double book me into a meeting -- unless it was really important.
When my exam was over, I only had one question, "Can I be induced the Friday after next?" I'd blocked the entire afternoon. The plan (yes, I really thought this) was to deliver on Friday and be ready for conference calls the following Monday.
My doctor sniffed. "It's much better for the baby to come when it's ready."
But I have meetings to run! "I'm sure you make exceptions."
"No, I don't."
"Well, maybe I can work a little flexibility into my schedule."
But building spontaneity into my calendar was harder than I'd imagined. No matter what I did, there was always something slipping off my to do list, some appointment I had to cancel, some unexpected event I should have anticipated but didn't. I felt like a failure. Other working moms in my office made it look so easy. What was wrong with me that I thought it was so hard?
It took three years for me to realize that my problem wasn't that I couldn't "do it all." It was that I wanted to do too much. Chalk it up to my overdeveloped type-A personality that made me feel like I needed to be present for everything all of the time. Or maybe it was the fact that my husband travels 80% of the time, so I felt compelled to be home to "cover" for him. Or maybe I was too in love with both my career and my child, and didn't have the emotional strength to leave either one of them, even when I was going to the other. Whatever it was, I finally accepted that the working mom thing wasn't for me. When the next reorg was announced, I took the buyout package.
Letting go of my career was painful; more painful than the first 15 hours of labor before I got my epidural. I scheduled play dates and mommy-and-me classes as much for me as for my daughter, but without a project plan in front of me I found it hard to stay focused on conversations. I tried to tell myself that I was doing what was best for my family, but did my daughter really care who was on the other side of the room while she was tumbling on gymnastics mats?
I craved "real" projects that put more structure into my life. But I'd already walked away from one career; I was determined to throw myself into this one, even if that meant I had to wean myself from Microsoft Office. I got involved in the PTA. Then I added Girl Scout troop leader to my resume. And I spend hours researching everything from bullying to learning disabilities so that I can advocate for my own kids and also can coach other mothers on how to do the same.
When I look back on the last eleven years, I no longer feel like a failure. I still envy the women who make it look so easy to juggle work and motherhood, but I now know that I didn't "opt out" of a career. I made a career change. I'm sure when my daughter is a little older, I'll look for another change. Hopefully something with a steady paycheck. But for now, my career is Mommy.
Wendy Levitt is a veteran of Corporate America and author of AT THE CORNER OF WALL AND SESAME. Her least favorite question was posed by her mother who asked, "Why did you get an MBA if this is what you were going to do with your life?"