When I was a little girl, the majority of my friends did not come home to an empty house like I did. They knew that their moms were waiting for them with a hug, a smile and some cookies and milk. Their moms were there to make sure they changed out of their “school clothes” so that they could go outside and play. And once their dads came home from work, they knew it was time to “wash up for supper” and join the family at the dining room table. I’ll admit it; as a little girl, I was a little jealous.
Both of my parents worked outside the home, sometimes getting home just in time for my brother and me to go to bed. For several years, we would stay at a babysitter’s home after school and then, when I was deemed old enough to stay home alone (9 or 10) it was my responsibility to make sure that my brother and I ate supper, cleaned up and got homework done. I had to make sure that my brother and I took our baths and were ready for bed when our parents got home. It could be very lonely sometimes and my brother and I lived for those days when our parents could take us to a movie, the zoo, or just sit down and play a game with us. But looking back, I realize that my mom's decision to work outside the home wasn’t so much a choice as it was a financial necessity.
Once I reached high school, many of the girls I knew studied bookkeeping and shorthand, hoping to acquire secretarial skills. Some were interested in childcare. And a few were hoping for a career in nursing or teaching. It was very uncommon for girls at that time to even consider a career in law, finance or engineering. And what all these girls had in common was a plan to workonly until they married and started their families.
But I was going to be different. I had made up my mind that kids were not in my future. Instead, I would attend college, and then go to graduate school. I would work for a huge, prestigious company and never look back. The corporate ladder was there, waiting for me to climb it straight to the top. There would be no time for a husband, let alone children. If I was going to work, I would go “all in”. Let those other girls stay home with their babies.
I laugh to myself when I think of the person I used to be. Everything back then was black or white, yes or no, no room for compromise. It never occurred to me that I could enjoy a career and a family. I didn’t have to put myself into a box and conform to someone else’s set of rules. I didn’t have to find myself at one extreme or the other. Sacrifices would be necessary, as well as a constant need for flexibility and balance, but it could be done. And there was no right or wrong way to do it.
Today, career roles, and even family roles, no longer have to be defined by gender. Little girls can grow up to command either a boardroom or a classroom. Little boys can grow up to become nurses or administrative assistants. There are stay at home moms and stay at home dads. And many families pull together, sometimes out of financial necessity, to ensure that chores, meals and childcare are delegated evenly and fairly.
As the mother of 2 grown step-children and 1 teenager, I have experienced each type of scenario. I worked outside the home for several years, doing work that I enjoyed and paid me well. I have also spent time strictly being home with the kids – baking cookies, organizing play dates, volunteering at school, and being the carpool mom. And now, with the oldest children grown and gone, I enjoy a successful career that allows me to be home, while still having the time to create a teen hangout for the neighborhood kids and travel to my son’s sports activities.
The point is that life is about choices…YOUR choices. As a brand new grandmother to a baby girl, I see the possibilities that await her. And I hope that she grows up knowing that whichever direction her life takes in terms of career and family, we will be there to support her and help her. By letting go of those old perceptions I had and just living out my life and adjusting to its twists and turns, I have been able to enjoy a life that has been full, rich and balanced. And that is my wish for her as well.