By Zenitra, The Working Mom
“Hello Yellow” the clerk says to Chante as she sashayed around the receptionist’s desk. Greeted with a bouquet of daisies which perfectly match her sunshine colored pants suit, her hair is laid and her walk is confident as she maneuvers through the corporate office. It is clear the she is a business woman. Watching Two Can Play That Game as a freshman accounting major in college I knew that that would one day be me. The problems of tomorrow wouldn’t stand a chance against the older version of myself that would be solving them on behalf of some Fortune 500 company.
I had always wanted to be a business woman and used every opportunity possible to color in the details of what that dream could look like in real life. I had pieced together a vision of myself complete with chic pinstriped suits and comfy sneakers for the commute.
As early as 1991 the power of media worked its magic through the eyes of Sue Ellen and Rose Lindsey in Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. This movie covered so many common workplace dynamics. Tension between a rival co-worker, inappropriate colleagues, project management, team work, and great leadership at General Apparel West (GAW) were all a sneak peek into the daily minutia that lie behind revolving glass doors and 40 story buildings. I walked away from this movie believing that if a 17-year-old could save GAW from tanking, then surely I could make an impact on the corporate world, too.
But becoming a business woman wasn’t the only thing on my to do list. I also always wanted to be a mother. I can remember being as young as 13 years old and saying a prayer for my future kids nightly. I would pray for their health and as I got older the distinction of physical health, mental health, emotional health and spiritual health would all be added.
I always knew I wanted to have 5 kids since I come from a large, close knit family. My grandmother was 1 of 5 and each of her siblings had 2-7 kids each. My mom and her first cousins were TIGHT! They did everything together including have kids together. Now enter the 80s and folks weren’t having quite as large of families any more. On average, my mom’s generation each had 2-3 kids, but because of the size of the base, there still were a lot of us and we too started out doing everything together.
As we the 4th generation got older, I noticed that “do everything” together turned into somethings together and eventually just a couple things together. The days of seeing all of my cousins at the Fourth of July barbecue or our annual Christmas Eve dinner were becoming more and more a thing of old.
I’d listen to the stories my mom would share about her teenage years and time spent with her cousins and reminisce on the days playing with mine well into night at family functions. I quickly began to realized that my familial experience wouldn’t quite add up to my mom’s, but I had a fix for that. My solution was to have 5 kids of my own and teach them the importance of being tight in order to get the family gang back on track!
Interestingly enough, I don’t recall seeing any images that would truly inform what this dream of being a business woman would look like when combined with the dream of being a mother. Yet and still I pressed on and I pursued both dreams somewhat independent of each other. Over the years I advanced in jobs as my relationships matured and eventually, there I was a career focused married woman expecting her first child.
Business travel had always been a part of my career and luckily my travel schedule decreased as my family grew. I went from being on the road three to four months at a time as an auditor to traveling 3-4 days a week as a brand ambassador both pre-family. I was able to get that down to 3-4 trips quarterly by the time I had my first child and now that I have two children, it’s just 2-3 trips a year. I quickly realized after having my son that having four more was likely out of the question! Blending these two dreams just wouldn’t allow for it if I wanted to maintain any type of sanity.
Being away from the kids for work brings about countless types of parental guilt and we all have different ways of coping with it. I have a co-worker who buys a gift for each of his kids in his destination city. For me, I chose to use it as a teaching moment to talk about everything from different modes of transportation when my kids were toddlers to learning geography and fun facts about new cities as they progressed to elementary school. Thank God for technological advances because FaceTime kept us connected and helped with these social study lessons. Being able to pan over to all of the airplanes outside my window while I awaited boarding or seeing the details of each hotel room brought a sense of wonder and curiosity to my kid’s life. Talking about the colors of airline logos or being able to jump on the hotel beds both helped to demystify the toddler understanding of why mommy was away.
As with my travel schedule, many things with work just are what they are and you have to figure out how to make it work for your life. There was no movie to teach me how to navigate the decisions you have to make as a working mom. Do I choose the free afterschool program that ends at 5:30 or the paid one that ends at 6:00 knowing it’s nearly impossible to even make it home from work by 6:00? Do I choose the extracurricular activity that my child really wants to do that meets during the busy workweek or the one that will still teach him a great skill that he’s less interested in, but meets on the weekends? I’m still looking for the movie that shows that sometimes family dinner happens at the office. Or one that allows the main character to talk to her girlfriend about coming home late from work three days in a row and not seeing your kids because they’re already in bed. Maybe it’s up to me to write that script. I’ll add that to my never ending to do list!
A friend once told me that you can’t be 100% career focused and 100% focused on being a mom as there’s but so much of you to go around. I choose to find levity in the fact that although I can’t be both at the same time, I do get to choose daily, weekly, monthly, and beyond which side of me will take priority knowing that I’ll always return to the other with equal fervor very soon.