I love to watch my little girls sleep. They are calm, full of possibility, and not asking me to change them for the 4th time that hour into another fairy, princess, or pirate costume. As I watch, I imagine what dramas, adventures, heartbreak, and careers (I am a career coach after all!) lie ahead for both of them and it’s hard to discern what my hopes are for them and what my actual expectations are.
My free-spirited head-strong 4. 5 year old has always had a mind of her own and her attitude taught me early on that she was her own girl, with a unique personality; wonderful, and not at all a clone of her mom. This helped me pull away the layers of hopes I had dreamt up when she was 20 weeks in utero and I found out a little girl was in our future. As she took on the world through her independence, I worked hard to stop putting my aspirations or assumptions of who she would become onto her tiny little shoulders. By the time my younger daughter was born I felt that I was doing a pretty decent job of embracing the individual personalities each girl would have. That being said, I still do catch myself making offhand comments about “when Josie is CEO of a company” or “when she opens her own restaurant.” After years of watching their personalities form, I come up with careers that I think they will definitely master. Of course, these career predictions change as fast as the whims of precocious preschoolers change. So what exactly do I hope for when it comes to the lives my girls create and why do I bother to write about it?
I hope they have choices. I hope they never have to stay in situations that aren’t working for them, that aren’t helping them grow, and thrive, and laugh, and play. I hope they work (I do, I can’t help it) but I also hope they have the choice to create the work schedule and environment that brings out their best and matches the priorities they hold at any given moment. So what does this mean for me, and how I mother them? How do I help them achieve a life full of choice? I’m not quite sure but I think it involves helping them develop a love of learning so they have the education to back up their goals. I am also pretty sure it involves showing them what love is and how it never means giving up who you are, what you like, or who your friends are. I want them to choose wisely if and when they do decide to marry.
I have read countless books geared towards us working mom set, and most of them are written from the perspective of a fairly privileged, educated woman who does have the choice to either work or not, be married or not, have more children or not, schedule housecleaners, nannies, gardeners, date night etc. or not. One of the themes that seems to come through is a hint of complaint about the fact that there just are too many choices. As if moms are paralyzed by choice and opportunity, a burden the generation before us didn’t have.
Can I be candid? To me this is nonsense. Instead of lamenting the various choices we have and the way it makes us feel afraid to move, how about buck up and spend some time figuring what you want and who you are, and have the courage to be that person and pursue that goal? Take choice by the horns and run with it. You want to work part-time to have more time with your family? Figure out a way to make it work. Talk to your employer, talk to other moms who do it, create a situation that makes it possible. You want to start your own business? There is no easier time then now. Truly it will only get harder. Trust me, I work with MBA students and I have heard every counter to this argument including “ I have a newborn” to which my response is, “Do you think it will be easier when you have a full schedule of t-ball and ballet classes to take your kids too?” You want a meaningful career that involves decision making? Pursue another degree, ask for management opportunities, apply for a new job, seek out a mentor that has that role. Take proactive steps so you are creating a life that includes endless choices and a plethora of paths to venture down.
I hope this for my daughters, I seek this for myself, and I encourage it of you.
About the author: Maggie Tomas works at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota as Associate Director and Career Coach in the Graduate Business Career Services office. Her background includes teaching and career counseling at the college level, namely at the University of St. Thomas, University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), and Brooks Institute, a well-known film, photography, and design school where she served as Director of Career and Student Services. She is a contributing writer to several blogs and publications including Opus Magnum, Women of HR, and Job Dig.
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