You Can Do Both

I watched Mona Lisa Smile last night. I’d seen it once before, but didn’t remember much of it. One scene in particular stuck out to me. This one right here (the first two minutes):

Now, I don’t normally talk about things that may be deemed controversial on here (or maybe I do and just don’t know it!), and I know that this movie is set in the early-mid 50s when the roles of women were very different and would soon be changing, but I just felt like Julia Robert’s line “You can do both” was too simple — it made it sound too easy. I tried talking about it with Marc before bed last night, but all I really got from him (he was trying to read a book at the time) was that she may not be saying it’s easy, just that it’s possible to do both.

A couple things to say, I guess. First of all, it depends on what your definition of “both” is. To some people “both” is having a job/career and having your children in daycare until they are school-aged (and possibly even then in those work hours before and after school as well). “Both” may be working part-time and being home when your children are home. “Both” may be doing a Norwex or Tupperware (Man, I love Tupperware!) kind of business in the evenings when your husband’s around to watch the kids.

When I think of what “both” is: having a career and raising kids, I just don’t see how you can really do both fully. And that’s simply a matter of the logistics of time. Both take time. Both take daytime hours time. And you cannot be a lawyer at a law firm (like the girl in the movie was hoping to do) and be taking care of your kids at the same time. At least not full-time. Not that I think women are or should be destined to being at home or being the standard part-time receptionists for the rest of their lives. I’m simply saying that having both a career and family full-time cannot be done. Your obligations will have to be divided because your time will have to be divided. I’m not making a moral judgment on how women choose to divide their time, but when Julia so off-handedly said “You can do both”, it didn’t seem to grasp the scope of what that means and the sacrifices (and, let’s be honest, exhaustion) that can mean.

Later Marc said to me, “But you’re doing both”, to which I replied, “But that’s precisely the point! My circumstances are so unique!” I feel so lucky that my life has somehow turned out the way it has. I got my degree right out of high school. I started my Masters but when I realized I would need to do a multiple-year PhD for that Masters to have any value, and since we always said we wanted to have kids when we were young, Marc and I both quit our Masters and promptly began procreating. I always said, “I’ll whip out the kids and then decide what I want to be.” But then I didn’t really think about it. And, certainly, my priorities changed too.

I mean, I would be a really good lawyer. My dad’s a lawyer. I’ve a got a practice sitting there if I want it. It could be mine in three years, if I wanted it. But I just can’t. If I hadn’t had kids and Marc had chosen something that would keep us in Prince Albert for our lives, maybe I would’ve done that. But I just didn’t want to. I also knew I didn’t want to be stressed for the rest of my life and be bringing several briefcases home every night and talk to my family while glancing down at a file (no offense dad — you are a great multi-tasker), but I just didn’t want the stress.

And I didn’t have my mind made up for a long time, until one night it struck me that I might have just the right personality, strengths, and passions to be a counsellor. Now, as of this semester, I’m only five classes into this Masters degree, but so far I think it’s a good fit. And with Marc being in school and me taking part-time classes, the kids are always with one of us. And I should be done the degree the year Olivia’s in kindergarten, after which I can hopefully counsel part-time, or at least flexibly and mostly in school hours. We’ll see how it all pans out, but that’s the plan. And I feel very fortunate to be able to pursue this career and be around for my kids. But I don’t know of many women who have stories like mine.

It just seems to me that the choices are still more complicated for women. There are an increasing number of stay-at-home dads, but it’s still mostly moms at home. And I wonder if there doesn’t need to be some women’s lib (like there was in the 50s about women having careers) about the importance of mothering. So that women who choose to be at home with their kids don’t perpetually feel like what they’re doing is meaningless. I mean, I know Oprah says once an episode that “Motherhood is the hardest and greatest job in the world” but nobody listens to her anymore. And I know all too well how easily picking up the same dirty socks off the floor can begin to feel meaningless.

People need time. Little people need time. Mothers need time to think about who they are and what they’re doing and how they have great value. And time becomes this strange thing when you have kids. It can simultaneously fly by and drag on endlessly. Sometimes I think I would’ve been a better mom if I’d worked outside the home a bit. Like I would’ve appreciated the little nose-miners more if I’d had the chance to catch my breath a bit. But then you’d miss stuff too.

So much to juggle and so much to balance. Today, for example: morning trip to the kids’ school in Niverville doing a “mock” bus ride in our van, followed by a short playdate, then a headache, finding out I have to go do some registration stuff at the school, do the student card picture, pay my tuition, and eat a free (hooray!) lunch in the cafeteria, bathe the kids, taking the girls for haircuts followed by Meet the Teacher night, free (hooray!) supper at their school, ice cream social at Prov after we got back from Niverville, put the kids to bed, and get settled for Madeline and Marc’s and my first day of classes tomorrow! Deep breath. (But luckily no headache at the moment.) Just a lot to juggle. Even on days when we aren’t all over the place, I still normally have at least 2 to 4 people talking to me at one time, or who suddenly need me for something just because I walk by their bedroom door. You know how it is…

I’m lucky to have a few really great mentors in my life. I can think of three specific ladies from our old church who are all kind of my secret heros in one way or another. But they’re all very different. And the advice they give me and their opinions are all different, too. And that’s what it’s going to be like for any family, any mother. Different people. Different situations. Different answers.

I guess what I’m saying — since I’ve made a short story long — is that becoming a mother is never really simple, however you end up playing out that role. It’s not just a “You can do both” done, easy-peasy kind of thing. None of it is going to be easy, in the end. And sacrifice just kind of becomes a way of life. But a good kind of sacrifice. The best kind, actually. It’s just not easy.

Posted in Life, Motherhood | 8 Comments

8 Responses to You Can Do Both

  1. becky says:

    Hey Dixie, I very much understand your frustrations with the easy-peasy line of “you can do both.” One book you may want to read sometime is The Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart (I blogged a quote from the book here:

    The book describes the deception women are under when we think parental duties are split 50/50 between both parents. (the one line I remember most was her describing the difference between the definition/implication of “mothering” a child vs. “fathering” a child)

    That said, this whole issue of working moms vs. stay-at-home moms is so touchy. Just the thought of it puts me on edge, and I felt that edge when reading your post (I don’t think you intended an edge — it’s probably just me and my own baggage).

    Yes, I work full-time. Yes, in the past Emma has had to go to daycare for three days a week, and this year she’ll be in preschool 5 afternoons a week. Does that make me less of a present or fully-engaged parent? Not at all.

    I think if I were to be home with her 24/7, that would be the prescription (for me) of becoming less engaged. We working mamas learn to juggle quite a bit too — including learning how to not feel resentful at our two full-time jobs (see the book The Second Shift for what I mean).

    Anyway, it’s worked (really well) for our family. I know you weren’t trying to make a dichotomy between the different types of mothering in your post above, but I just wanted to provide a sort of counter-point to the sacrifices behind what it means to be a mama who works outside the home.

  2. Toni says:

    If I’m reading you right then basically you’re saying that it’s not possible to do both fully at the same time, and thus both will be compromised by the other *to some degree*. And that would be the case even with a supportive husband who helped out in whatever you might perceive as equal measure.

    I guess a problem with mothering is that it’s so ubiquitous no-one values it uniquely because everyone can theoretically do it.

    Anyway, congrats on finding an alternative path that keeps your brain engaged and fits round the life choices you’ve made for your family.

  3. Heather says:

    I need to chew on this one… All I know is I am a much better parent when I am “doing both” I work half time (when I am not on Mat leave) and we are all much happier 🙂

  4. Johanna says:

    I don’t have much experience to speak from yet, give it a couple more years, but I did the nanny stint for a year. Maybe it’s because they weren’t my kids, maybe it’s because I like kids, or maybe it’s because I don’t have a career to be passionate about, besides loving and teaching children, but I honestly couldn’t believe that people paid me decent money to take care of their children for 8 hours a day. It was the best job I’ve ever had, and I don’t want to miss those experiences with my own kids.

    I want to be there when they make silly jokes or when they smear poop all over the wall. Even when it’s just Nate and I, we still struggle to get everything done at the end of the day, when we both work full time.

    I’m already praying that our finances allow one of us to stay home with our kids and to take care of house things that need to get done. I would love it to be me, but if that’s not possible, it’s ok- as long as one of us is there.

    I know for me, I could definitely not do a good job of both a career and family and I’m praying that finances allow me to not have to.

  5. Hello everybody! Thanks for your comments. I couldn’t get, first, the monitor and then the internet to work this morning and I was very much anxious to see comments on this lengthy post from last night.

    I think the whole point of the post, like Becky pointed out, is that it’s not EASY to do both. And I guess the other thing I was trying to say is that “doing both” just b/c of the logistics of time means that you can’t physically do both full-time. I don’t mean that both will be compromised, as Toni said. That seems to give the feeling that both suffer, when really all I’m saying is that both can’t be full-time.

    The mothering debate really is so touchy b/c we all do it differently and because we make a choice to mother in a certain way (full-time working mom, part-time working mom, full-time stay at home mom, etc, etc, etc) it’s hard for the judgments not to follow: you’re a stay-at-home mom so you must think being a working mom is ‘wrong’ b/c you didn’t make that choice.

    I don’t really have an opinion on the whole thing. And I don’t want to judge b/c everyone’s personal, familial, and financial situations are so different. I’m glad I could be home with my kids all the time. But I also know that there is a good chance I wouldn’t have been such an overwhelmed cranky-pants if I’d been away from them a bit, such as in a work setting, or even if I’d taken more time for myself in other ways.

    That last part of my post was intended to be about ALL mothers and how we ALL sacrifice no matter how our time gets divided.

    Anyway… I was pretty tired when I wrote that post and I’m not sure if I’m awake yet today, but… let the discussion continue!

  6. Carissa says:

    I think you said it well, Dixie, and I completely agree – everyone’s situation is different. I cannot and don’t judge mothers who work, and I agree with you – I am thankful I can be a stay-at-home Mom, but I might not be so grumpy if I was working a bit here and there outside of the home too. And I absolutely agree that it isn’t easy to do both full-time well. Kudos to the moms who juggle jobs and kids! 🙂

  7. becky says:

    Oh man, I should have watched the clip before I commented. (I saw the movie so long ago, and didn’t think I needed to see it)

    Dixie, you’ve inspired me to write a working mama’s response — I’m off to go to my blog to write it.

  8. […] Dixie’s got an interesting post over on her blog, regarding the first 2 minutes of this clip from the film Mona Lisa Smile: […]

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