Welcome to the 2nd post in my series Moms to Marvel. Each month I am sharing a story from an inspiring mom to get her take on working and motherhood, her decision about working or not while raising children, and her feelings about it all. If you didn’t catch the first post, check it out here. If you have a particular story you want to share, or just want to pontificate about this topic with the rest of us, contact me!
I’m so delighted that Lauren reached out to me after I kicked off this series! Though we haven’t met in person, we have mutual friend and after learning her story I feel I could talk with her for hours on end all things working mom. She is truly in the thick of juggling a career and motherhood, and she’s doing it abroad! Lauren’s perspective on how to approach this journey really resonates with me, especially when I am feeling (as I am currently) totally and completely overwhelmed by all the things. She has reminded me and exemplifies by her own actions that it’s up to us to choose our path and then do everything we can to find our way along that path. That’s not to say it’s easy, but I know I’m due for a good dose of self reflection on what “having it all” means to me right now- and then making intentional choices to get there, including the tough sacrifices.
So lets get to it! Meet Lauren:
I grew up thinking I would be a stay-at-home mom. Honestly, the idea of working (or even being deliberate about not working) outside the home never even crossed my mind. It just wasn’t something that I saw very often. When I think back on the neighborhood I grew up in and the friends I had, I can’t think of one mom who also had an active career. Occasionally there’d be the mom who had a job, but it was talked about apologetically for taking away from being a mom. In my perception, it was seen as selfishness or born of financial necessity. As far as I was exposed, I couldn’t think of any woman who was celebrated for achieving success in the workplace.
The first time I remember having a thoughtful conversation with a woman who had both a career and a family was during my graduate program in college. Mrs. Smith was assigned as my mentor. I had requested a mentor who was both female and had a family. By this point in my life the idea of having a career while raising a family had crossed my mind, but with no role models, I was not able to visualize how the two goals could simultaneously exist. I was curious to hear how Mrs. Smith had done it. I remember visiting with her for the first time. After she showed me her framed picture in the hallway of the alumni center (I think she was establishing her success to me), we sat down to chat. I asked her what her secret was – how did she do it all? The details of her answer aren’t important, except that they left me feeling disappointed. I remember walking away, feeling at a loss that there was no one right answer or secret to having a successful career while raising a family.
Fast forward four years to 2013. I was living in San Francisco, had graduated with two degrees, became a Certified Public Accountant, was recently promoted, happily married to my husband who worked full time, and was returning to work after 4 months of maternity leave after the birth of our first son. Prior to my leave, I’d developed a relationship with a very strong female mentor in my office. The more I got to know her, the more my respect for her grew. I saw how she balanced both raising her son and pursuing her professional goals and was very impressed by it. Our relationship grew at a pivotal time for me. By this point in my life, my mindset had developed far past that of my mindset as a young child. I’d had opportunities to meet women who both worked and had families (this time, for whom I had immense respect). This was the first point in my life where my deep desire to be a mother and my desire to build a career coincided. After prayer, reflection, and discussing with my loving husband, I decided to continue developing my professional skills and growing my career, along with being a mother to one.
The next major turning point was about a year later when my husband received an offer to move overseas to Tokyo with his firm. We asked ourselves if we should move and leave my career? Or should I continue to work there? My firm was willing to transfer me, and even offered me flexible working arrangements. But what about my baby? Again, after taking the time to prayerfully and meaningfully make the decision, we felt it was right for me to continue, this time on a part-time, flexible working arrangement. This allowed me to be true to my deep desire to prioritize motherhood while also allocating time to my career ambitions (not to mention figuring out how to live in a foreign country!).
Again, ideal childcare was placed before us, the foreseeable length of my path towards building my career was paved, and I accepted the position in Tokyo. At each major turning point in my life, since graduating from college, my husband and I have taken time to evaluate our situation in life together. We discuss everything, including both of our careers, our family planning, where we live, our values, the list goes on and on. From the beginning of our relationship. we both felt strong desire to be parents. At the time we married and were starting out in the world, I thought that desire would mean not having enough time for a career. But as we have discussed what we wanted, evaluating at each step along the way, a different path was paved, bringing us to this point: pursuing both. Taking the time to be deliberate at each turning point in our life has led to many unforeseen blessings; blessings in the form of things we never could have planned for ourselves. Evaluating at each step along the way has given us the opportunity to make decisions about what was best for us, our family, and our values.
As women, we hear a lot of rhetoric about “having it all,” whether it is or isn’t possible, and how to obtain it. As I’ve grown and experienced life over the past five years, I’ve realized there’s one major question that needs to be answered prior to even having that conversation: “What does it mean to ‘have it all’?” Recently I’ve forced myself to think about what “it all” means for me. Reflecting on the women in my life, I’ve realized the definition could mean very different things for me, my coworker, my sister, my friend. I know and respect women who have devoted their entire life to motherhood, others who have devoted their life to a career, and others who are experiencing both. All of us, although all female, define success and “having it all” very differently. The definition is different person to person and even changes by person as her life changes. It is the women who take time to examine their lives and live deliberately, owning the trade-offs required, making changes when prompted to do so, that have it all, including my respect.
My sister-in-law said something recently that really resonated with me. Paraphrasing, she said, “It’s not the people who seek and achieve a life of leisure that I admire. It’s those who keep working at something. Keep striving to make a difference, keep giving to those around them.” In these early years of both motherhood and my career (which I chose to have coincide with each other), I feel like this summarizes where I’m coming from. I’ve given a lot of thought to how I can best use my time – considering my education, professional skills, mothering, hobbies, etc. At this point in my life, I’ve felt that I have the capacity to do good both as a mother and in my career. It is about choosing to spend my time the best way I can. Doing the most with what I’ve been given.
I think my biggest fear in life is living an unintentional one.
Socrates is credited with saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I fear nothing more than the idea of waking up 20 years from now and looking back thinking, “How did I get here?” I want my life to be intentional.
Consequently, I think that may be the most significant lesson I’ve learned from my five years since graduating, and the most important piece of advice I’d share with any woman facing decisions about how to live her life. Live an intentional life and don’t be afraid to make a change when the situation calls for it. I believe every woman can “have it all.” In the same breath I’d say, make sure you know what that means for you. If that is being with your children full time, building a career, or some combination of both or neither do it intentionally and with purpose. If thinking about “having it all” causes you to feel unsettled or overwhelmed, it may be a sign to take some time to think about what you really want in life. “Having it all” means prioritizing and spending your time where you feel peace about it. It is my ever developing theory that this mindset will lead to the greatest happiness in life, for both you and those around you.
And that brings us to present day. I’m living in Tokyo, raising an 18 month old, and working with my firm in an international tax group three days a week (two in the office, one at home). I also manage a rental property in The States, do taxes for a small clientele, fulfill a time-intensive volunteer position for my church, write for a creative blog with my three sisters, and have managed to visit four other Asian countries during the 6 months we’ve lived here. Oh, and I’m pregnant with our second, due in four months, which means, time for another evaluation of our life.
I don’t know where this next step in life will lead, but I do know that I will feel peace about it, just as I have at every other major junction in my life with my husband and our growing family. We are figuring out how it best works for us, step by step. Here’s to another step!
Did you notice Lauren mentioned that on top of being pregnant while working and wrangling a toddler in Japan, she also writes for a blog? This mama is skilled in time management for sure! (We might need a follow up post on that Lauren…) She and her 3 sisters have put together an amazing site of cooking, crafts, party inspiration and more. My first visit left me salivating for avocada toast with egg, and they know about the great secret that is Bob Donuts in San Francisco, so I suggest you head on over ASAP. it’s called Elephant & Chick, at www.elephantandchick.com
Photographs provided courtesy of Lauren Quinn, photographers as noted.
Copyright 2015 © i am a working mom blog