MANAGE YOUR GUILT
I met Grace Zales, like Sue, at my New Mothers Group at Stanford Hospital in 1996. Her daughter, Ellie, was born just days after the birth of my daughter. Grace, who was slightly older than I, had spent years trying to get pregnant. She knew she wanted to be as available as possible to her new daughter and was able to negotiate a part-time schedule with her company, Cornerstone Research. Grace always came to our Not-So-New Mothers gatherings with exciting talk of her job as a litigation consultant. The company was growing exponentially, and Grace loved her work. She also loved her new BlackBerry that allowed her to be available to her clients when she was not in the office. But Grace and her husband wanted another child. They struggled with infertility; it took eight more years for Grace to give birth to their second daughter. It was then that she finally decided to leave the workforce altogether.
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“The large gap between my first and second child allowed me time to consider how I wanted to mother differently,” Grace said. She was out of the paid workforce for more than ten years and then, when her oldest entered high school, Grace was ready to relaunch. She reached out to her old boss and is now working as a litigation consultant again. The transition wasn’t easy.
“I struggled with the guilt,” Grace told me, “convincing myself my children needed me and I was failing them. It took a while, but now they’re flourishing. I realized part of going back to work is also about letting go and allowing your children to make their own path. It’s the guilt though that can tear you apart.”
Guilt. I don’t know why it isn’t in the definition of “mother” in the dictionary. It should be. Women leave their careers because they feel guilty for not putting their children first and then when they relaunch, they feel guilty they are no longer focusing on their families. You can’t win. Do yourself a favor and have confidence your children will be fine. You took a risk and sacrificed your career to be with them; now that you are back at work, they can step in and help you thrive.
As Grace said to me once, “Maybe, in the end, all of that hovering and helicoptering wasn’t good for either of us.”
Jodi Detjen is professor of management at Suffolk University and co-author of The Orange Line: A Woman’s Guide to Integrating Career, Family & Life. She believes one of the biggest things holding women back is that we are constrained by our “Feminine Filter.”
The “Feminine Filter” as described in her book is “a commonly adopted belief system for what makes an ideal woman in our culture.” Be nice, look good, do it all. You know these tropes. The number one way we limit ourselves within the “Feminine Filter,” Detjen wrote, is through guilt. “Guilt is a very effective at keeping behavior in line because it constantly saps energy As long as women still believe deep down in the ideal woman, guilt will work to keep the assumptions real.”257
The “ideal woman,” like the “ideal mother,” is a barrier to our personal growth and life satisfaction. We’d be a better off, and the world would be a better place, if we could all figure out how to let those little voices in our heads go. So hard to do, but I believe it is the only way to get the life you want.