Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The road not taken

Did you read the heartbreaking The Return: A stay-at-home mom attempts to go back to work after nearly two decades. Can she revive her career?

Two quotes stood out.
"It was against everything I ever thought I was going to be," Beckett said. "Everybody I knew went right back to work, couldn't wait to get back to work. It was hard to reach out and find people who would support me." A few months after Nellie was born, Tarbox and Beckett had a couple over, and when Beckett said she wasn't returning to the firm, there was silence. Then the woman said, "You're going to make it harder for the rest of us."
Her distress wasn't all family-related. "I have a very hard time feeling like I'm walking away from the law." But looking back, she wouldn't change the path that led to her current career limbo. "Raising children is honorable and worthy," Beckett said. "I felt ashamed of my choice, like I was ... failing the feminist movement." Above all, she wants her daughters to be more confident about the lives they choose and the role of motherhood.
Amy Beckett is an attorney. If you are interested in the situation of mothers in the legal profession, I highly recommend Joan Williams' book,  Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It.  I've blogged about the book ad nauseum.

She also wrote a great letter to the editor (of the NYT) recently about the plight of women in science and engineering.

The Road Not Taken, a poem by Robert Frost


  1. Excellent post, as always. Further to this topic, a couple more stand-out quotes to add to your collection:

  2. Interesting article! Too bad in this country woman's choice of stay home vs go back to work is a political statement either way. Current situation with maternity leave is brutal - it is mentally and physically damaging for a woman and a baby to get back to work after 6 weeks. And with the high childcare prices and long waiting lists for a spot in a good place no wonder so many women decide to stay home!
    Thanks god my university is the best - I have a semester off to take care of my little one. Adding a summer, I don't have to be back full time until she is 9 months old - and then yes! I will be ready to dive back in, because at this age she will benefit from a good daycare!

  3. I had to work all through both pregnancies and then go right back to work afterwards. It wasn't fun and there was nothing feminist or wonderful or worthy about it. I had to work and there was no choice. I would have loved to stay home for a few months but it just could not happen. Her story broke my heart. I'm glad she was able to stay with her kids, but there needs to be a re-entry path for women who do. We need to keep applying pressure on our government to create more family friendly environments for all workers.

  4. That article is heart-breaking- but at least it ends well.

    I think the hardest thing for me to read was the negative comments she got from her female friends both when deciding to stay home and when deciding to go back. I suspect they came from the friends' insecurities, but they must have stung. When will we start seeing every woman's decision as her own, and not a statement on our own decisions?

    When will we stop undermining each other, and just start working together to build a society that treats both women and men fairly?

    I have been unbelievably lucky so far in my own motherhood path... I am working, but that is what I want to do. And I have a job that is decent from a career perspective AND from a balancing the home life perspective. I have a partner who is a true partner in all of this.

    But why should those things be luck, and not just what every woman can expect?

  5. @Cloud

    I think the first comment was true. The friend was making a statement of fact, not merely trying to undermine her.

    My first thesis advisor stopped supporting me financially when I got engaged. His rationale was that I couldn't be serious about science if I was getting married. He was just openly stating the bias that I felt other faculty exhibited, but were smart enough not to say aloud.

    After all, what is the point of educating us if they are going to throw us away when we become mothers? And that is statistically more likely to happen to mothers than fathers. It's a vicious cycle.

    @LHC The NSF and NASA responses to career reentry for scientists would be laughable, if the consequences weren't so tragic. They are so tone-deaf. They just don't get it.

    That is the subject of another post--if I dare to sound like a trouble maker. Maybe we better discuss that off-line.

  6. Yeah, it is true, but it shouldn't be true. I don't think the woman in the article really wanted a 17 year hiatus, and society should be able to support a shorter hiatus (a few years).

    On a tangentially related note- I find it interesting to compare the difference in response to two different leaves of absence I took at my last job. First, I took 4 months off (unpaid) and traveled with my husband. Later, I took 3 months off (paid only by various disability and family leave insurance schemes, not directly by my employer) and had a baby.

    When I talk about the travel leave, everyone is supportive and thinks it is wonderful. I have never received a negative comment about that leave. When I talk about maternity leave, I occasionally hear comments about how unfair it is to the people who don't have kids.

    BTW, I just re-read the posts you linked to about the Williams book. There is some good reading in there. One theme (mentioned briefly) that resonates with me right now is the idea that the job of "mother" has ramped up recently. I think that is true, and I think a lot of it is actually coming from the left of the political spectrum, in subtle ways. I have a post brewing about that. But then, I have a lot of posts brewing....

  7. This topic is always such a rich one for discourse. I read a great book years ago when I was at the crossroads:

    I never expected to WANT to stay home, I was a career woman from when I was age 10. So I was stunned to feel so conflicted after the birth of my first child. This book helped me understand these feelings, with the most helpful quote being something like, "If I am too smart to stay home with my child, does that mean we only want DUMB/Uneducated women raising our children?"

    Ultimately, I have worked most all the way through, with breaks of only a few months at a time for births or unemployment. That works with my core beliefs, but I judge no one. Every one has to measure their own lives, the needs of their children, family, themselves, and finances.

    A mile in each other moccasins, indeed.


Comments are open for recent posts, but require moderation for posts older than 14 days.