Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Why Can't I Want Both?

So I was talking today to a well meaning person (WMP) about JP and my future plans. I talked about how despite being initially reluctant to return to Texas, I'm now excited about moving to Austin. I'm looking forward to being able to afford a house (yay! a semi-permanent address without "Apt ##" after it!) and being driving distance away from my family. I mentioned that the only reason Austin could be semi-permanent is if JP ends up with a post-MBA job in Houston or Dallas because there just aren't many finance/business related jobs in Austin, but hopefully he'll be able to find something because we both prefer it so much to the rest of Texas. The conversation then went something like this:

WMP: Well, as [other women] have found out, when your husband gets a great job you just have to go and eventually you'll get settled in with your kids and their activities, and several years will go by and you won't be able to imagine living anywhere else.
Me: Yeah, but I'll be working too and probably making more than JP, at least initially, so his job isn't the only factor.
WMP: Oh but you don't know that you'll be working. When you have kids I think you'll find things like a career just aren't nearly as important to you, so you'll need to go where JP has a job.
Me: (thinking lots of things in response, but changing the subject instead because this truly is a Well Meaning Person)

This irritated me on so many levels! Why can't both matter to me? I understand that having kids changes your priorities, but I've already made it rather clear that my family has priority over my career- from how I've chosen to approach law school, to starting my family now, to picking a firm I think (hope) will be compatible with our family plans, and to being open to other future career paths. And why is it assumed that kids will so fundamentally change me and my goals, but not JP?

But I think what upsets me the most is the assumed frivolity of my career (as a side note- that's why I mentioned earning more than JP. It's not something I think matters or would normally point out, but I really wanted this person to understand that my future career is substantive- that it can support our family and in fact will be supporting our family while he is in school). I think my career is seen as the expendable one by many in my family and hometown- as this path I'm on to busy myself in between undergrad and having kids- and that I'll drop this little lark once I look at my baby and come to my senses. This completely ignores how difficult law school is, how much having a career matters to me, and how much I can contribute to our family and society in general with these skills I have worked very hard to acquire. If I was looking for a lark to occupy myself for a few years, the University of Chicago law school would not have been at the top of my list (and think of all the other fun things I could have done to acquire $120K in loans). No woman in my family has continued working, at least in a traditional sense, after having kids. They were each thankful to have the option to leave their jobs and stay home, and they're all fulfilled mothers. Every time I talk to one of them I feel like I have to defend my plans (or remind them of my plans) and then just nod along when they imply that I'll change. It's true that I don't know how I'll feel once I leave my baby in the arms of the daycare provider, but I also can't believe that my personality will so fundamentally change after childbirth as to not want, to not need, my career.

This post isn't against those women or men who choose to stay home, it's against those who assume that I will do so. I don't know what my future holds, but I do know that as important as having a family is to me, having some sort of profession/career ranks right below that. To be a happy and fulfilled wife and mother I need that in my life. I don't need to make partner and I don't need to work at a top law firm (or any firm), but I need something organized, adult, intellectual, and outside the house. I know that to the depths of my being and JP does too- he's said that if we decide one of us needed to stay home, it would have to be him before me- for everyone's sake.

So I don't know how to respond. I want those close to me to understand how much this matters to me, but I don't think I can argue much with the statement that once I am a mother I'll change my mind. I'm not a mother yet and they are, so instead I secretly get annoyed, continue pleasantly with the conversation, and rant to JP later that night. I can ignore the staying at home v. working mother message boards by simply not reading them- you can't judge someone based on a chat room post and I refuse to read the comments of people who do so. But it makes me sad that those who actually know me are so dismissive of the concept that my career and my children can both matter to me.

7 comments:

  1. Awesome post. I especially identified with "And why is it assumed that kids will so fundamentally change me and my goals, but not JP?" Doesn't a dad get a different view of working life when he realizes he's away from his baby, too? I know my husband will - he's already thinking about it. We've partly chosen lives in the public sector because of the shorter hours.

    Jobs can be frivolous, but career goals and dreams that really satisfy never are. I'm just lucky no woman in my family has ever stayed home with kids (although it's not really luck, it's economic necessity), so no one would ever give me a hard time. Good luck!

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  2. Austin sounds like a great place to live.

    I have had WMPs (including law school classmates!) also suggest to me, while I was pregnant, that I would want to abandon my career plans once the baby came. Wrong. But most of the women in my family have continued working after having kids, so nobody in my family has said anything to me about that.

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  3. I always fall back on the "my mother went nuts staying at home" argument, which makes these people clam up fairly quickly. :)

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  4. One of the things I've always admired about you is that you know yourself really well. You think things through carefully, from lots of angles, and don't always settle for the obvious. When you say you know what you, as a person, need to have in your life, I believe you.

    Just don't expect others to believe it. Most people, you smile and nod and show. That's been my experience, anyway, with those who told me my marriage wouldn't last, or that I'd never get around to going to law school...

    It gets old. It gets infuriating. But you know you're right about your own life. Living well really is the best revenge. (And JP would make a fantastic stay-at-home dad, and is just relaxed enough to do it. Also, not dependent on outside confirmation for his "manliness?" Heh.

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  5. >>>>why is it assumed that kids will so fundamentally change me and my goals, but not JP?

    This is the greatest frustration in my life right now. Arrgh. I justed typed you a small novel as a comment. Fuggedaboutit -- I'm blogging this later in the week.

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  6. Bengali Chick5/16/07, 10:00 AM

    Assumptions and more assumptions. For the first 2 year of marriage I brougt home the $$. Yet, it is always assumed by family that I have to go where hubby's career calls him.

    I feel stuck in a precarious place. He's got one of those high powered prestigious jobs. Now he makes significantly more than me. I work in the public sector and with the salary difference I am *starting* to feel that my career is more expendable (scary).

    It's besides the point that I am not found of law or lawschool or my current related position. I don't like to feel that my career is expendable. I want a 2nd career and a fabulous one. Perhaps I haven't realized my career dreams but it doesn't mean I don't want one!

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  7. I feel the same frustration all the time, albeit from a different position. I am recently married, and planning to get into law school within the next two years (when my second degree is over) and get pregnant as well. To complicate things, I am married to a highly specialized physician, who will probably always bring in more money. He is insanely supportive, however, when I talk to certain people I always get the assumption that I am just biding my time in school waiting to be a educated trophy wife, or the suggestion I can always pick up law school after my kids are older. I didn't work this hard to be the wife of a doctor, or take my "miss degree"! I think women can have it all, and you are a great inspiration!

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