Over the past 2 years I have been working on a research project where we are conducting focus groups with mothers who have professional careers. We have been asking the mothers how they combine a career and a family, what resources they rely on, how the "changing landscape" in America is impacting them, and whether/how they experience flourishing. It has been such a privilege to hear their stories - I am impressed and inspired every time I listen to a group.
We conclude each session by asking the women what advice they would give to young women who expect to become working mothers one day. Recently, one of our participants (we'll call her Alice) offered the two pieces of advice . Alice is the mother of three children under 5, and a Director of Organizational Change at a Fortune 500 company. He husband is building a business. He is having success and his income is consistent, but Alice provides the health benefits for the family.
I was intrigued by how clear and passionate Alice was in offering the following advice (paraphrased):
First, no matter what you want or hope your life will be like when you're a mom, plan on having to work. It's just unrealistic to think "Oh, I'm going to marry a man who can make enough for the whole family I'll stay home with kids." You can end up in a great marriage to a great guy, and still have to go to work to pay the bills. That's just the reality for most of us. So plan on having to work, and build your career accordingly when you are young.
Second, get a career with a name. This is just my perspective maybe, but it seems to me that if you ever want to be able to scale back to part-time it's just easier if you have a career with a name on it. I am a Director of Organizational Change - what does that mean? How can I do it part time? My dentist just went down to part-time and she's so happy. It just seems that it's easier for her because everyone knows what a dentist does, so it's easier to plan on how she can help her practice by doing it part-time.
Alice's advice made perfect sense to me. I always planned on being a stay-home mom, and it just didn't work out for us. So I feel I have scrambled more in my career that I would have if I had planned all along to be a working mom. Also, as an independent HR consultant, I have been very blessed with part-time work that has allowed me to schedule around my family priorities and school commitments. But I must admit that I do feel a wee bit of stress at times when people ask me what I do. It feels a little ambiguous because I do what my clients need to have done, and I cannot always predict what that will be. I've often thought that it would be nice to have a clear name for what I do that was immediately understandable to others - something like a "dentist" maybe?
What do you think of Alice's advice?