Surprisingly in 2010, the subject of career vs. family for women is a prevalent one, hot on the heels of President Obama’s Supreme Court pick Elena Kagan. It seems the media and middle America are opposed to another single, older, childless woman sitting on the Supreme Court because she “sends the wrong message.”
This topic is a bit absurd to me, and I could go on and on on how I feel about it. But instead, I thought I’d share what memoirist Elizabeth Gilbert talked about when I heard her speak recently, because it seems so relevant to the debate. She recalled a theory that life coach Martha Beck wrote a few years ago in her Advice column for O, The Oprah Magazine. Gilbert recalled that Beck said:
.”..in all her travels and all her studies, [Beck] has found that there are precisely four kinds of women who she meets: 1) Women who chose career over family and feel conflicted about that choice. 2) Women who chose family over career and feel conflicted about that choice. 3) Women who–God help them–chose career and family and who feel really conflicted about that choice and 4) The mystics.”
She went on to say that Beck described the mystics as women who are able to balance all of these things because they have found their deep, inner voice. I think these four categories almost perfectly sum up women, but I think there should be a special category for each: the New York Career Woman. Because as hard as it is for each of those categories, I imagine that the hustle, crowded-ness and overall environment of New York City increases those challenges two-fold.
I grew up in the suburbs, so my idea of one day being a mother and having a family involves a green backyard, the kids riding a school bus down tree-lined streets, driving to work in a car, and having barbecues on the deck on the weekends. I’m young and childless, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom for the majority of my childhood, so I imagine balancing this act of having the picturesque family while also having a thriving career and climbing up the ladder is no easy feat.
But what must be even harder is balancing both of those things as a New Yorker.
I am reminded of this conclusion every day in the city. I see mothers sweating as they carry a stroller down flights of subway stairs, a toddler screaming crying behind them, diaper bag and briefcase flapping at her side. I see mothers reading over documents on the bench of a crowded playground, attempting to catch up on work with one eye with the other eye on the odd-looking man in the trench coat who is lurking around the crowded city playground. I talk to women in my office who catch a gleam of envy in their eye when I talk about my unmarried, young life living in the city as they wipe milk stains off their blouse and talk about how early they had to wake up to get the kids ready before their commute.
I mean, I’m exhausted enough as it is when I get in from work everyday, and I’m one person without many obligations other than taking care of myself, working and paying rent. When the time comes (no time soon!) can I imagine doing all of that PLUS having a husband and kids?
This was something that I had never really considered before, since I always automatically envisioned my later life as a working mother in a green-grassed, car-filled suburbia, but now that I’m beginning my career in a field that is 90% concentrated in New York and begin to think about the future, will I have to consider instead balancing an ambitious career with a vision of my kids trailing me in sweaty subways and blacktop playgrounds?