I happened to be over at my friends Kimberley and Jay’s (name changed) for lunch in sunny California a couple months back. The couple live in a gorgeous, swanky duplex in uptown Palo Alto. I’ve known Kimberley all my life. She’s this feisty, super ambitious boss-woman who has hustled her way into an Ivy League and then onto a top-notch venture capital job. Jay too comes from an Ivy League background and is the tech brain behind a leading social media giant. They are the Beyonce and Jay Z of the Palo Alto corporate circuit, if you will. Their two little kids - Liam and Tisha are literal angels. Liam just got into second grade and Tisha would start school in fall.
Over lunch, we spoke about Liam’s phenomenal progress at school. He’s always been an inquisitive child. I remember distinctly how when I visited the family last year, Liam’s eyes lit up seeing me survey class recordings from Early Steps Academy on my iPad. “Mama, I wanna do this class too!”. Looking back at their careers, both Kimberley and Jay agreed that preparation for success starts early and that school wasn’t enough. And so, he has been enrolled for the course later this year.
Just when Liam was telling us how excited he was for this new class, Kimberley happened to blurt something unfathomable. I think it sounded like “Jay’s in for a big promotion next month - they are making him the Global CTO. We’ve been keeping so busy lately. The kids really need us. I’ve been stalling the offer to become a Senior Partner - I think I’ll finally let it pass. My children should be enough for me. About time I dedicate myself to the household. Jay and I think that would be the best”
I felt a knot rising up my throat - my ears were having a hard time believing what they heard. I wanted to say something for sure, but I just held it back at the moment. Later that weekend, I had a long, long conversation with Kimberley over the phone.
This blog is now my catharsis.
If you’re a working woman and you have to make a choice between your career and your kids, I’m sorry. We expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children as though they don’t work. It’s shocking how women of the 21st century still have to make the stark choice Kimberley was faced with: family or career. Even the most privileged lot that can afford child care, baby sitters and house help is having to make that decision.
As for mums, they are guilty for working and guilty for not. I wonder where this guilt comes from? From traditional, antediluvian notions of gender based duties? From blurred boundaries of work-time that spills into family time? From half listening to your children’s stories? Or perhaps from not being able to be a volunteer at your kid’s school or attending that science fair. But Mum, you’re not the first one who’s sneaked away from work unnoticed to make it just in time for your kid to look up and see you there (all while frantically checking your inbox for any urgent emails). You’re surely not going to be the last one either.
This cycle of guilt is endless. Trust me, you’re not failing. All mothers, at some point, have felt this way. For every working mom who’s struggling with this guilt - consider me the mouthpiece. You are doing a great job and your kids will turn out just fine despite the hours you spend away from them. So as long as you get that quality time with family and are able to meet your child’s emotional needs, you’re doing a kickass job! A working mom is not a bad mom.
Back to Kimberley. Over the phone call, I tried my best to talk her out of this ruinous decision. I mean, everyone but her could see it was truly bad. After an hour or so of speaking, I put the phone down not expecting much.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept turning in bed thinking about the episode. She was bright and young and had a long way to go. It was not like she was planning on restarting her career sometime later - this was the end.
Cut to 3 days later, I was on my way to work. My phone beeped - ‘I’m taking the offer up. You’re right, Liam and Tisha would still love mama. :)’. I could feel a smile on my lips.