My younger daughter (“C”) and I were talking a few months ago about Y2K. She had a vague idea what it was about, unaware that I was at work all night in the basement of our old Emergency Operations Center. Indeed, our senior management team spent the night in the EOC, playing cards and watching the lack of emergency unfold around the world. She has no recollection that I was at work. I take that as a win.
But mom was at work – as were all of you in local government – when it felt like the rest of the world was home. We worked on Y2K. We worked late into the night on September 11, 2001. We worked through the worst of the Pandemic. We worked on Memorial Day, on Veterans Day. We worked parades, high school games, rallies, and of course, meetings.
I started calculating how many Select Board meetings I have attended over the last 21 years: more than 600 nights when mom was at work. And that doesn’t count the 11 years that I was a department head and Assistant Manager, or any meetings of the Finance Committee, Personnel Board, Planning Board, Building Committee, etc. And we cannot forget Town Meeting – that accounts for at least 4 or 5 nights per year. I missed one night of Town Meeting in all of those years, when I was about 11 months pregnant. I can recall missing only a handful of Select Board meetings – a few conferences out of State, seeing Flogging Molly on my husband’s birthday, my father’s wake, and watching C play “Old Joe Clark” on the violin at a third grade school concert. Generally speaking, I was at work.
I love my chosen career, and I wish there were fewer night meetings, but I can honestly say I did not worry about my kids. I knew they would be OK. And they were. And they certainly are now. Lara Bazelon, in her book Ambitious Like a Mother, tackles the complex relationship that mothers with leadership roles have about their choices, the myth of “work life balance,” and the visceral reaction mothers have to anything that feels like ambition.
With respect to daughters of working mothers, Bazelon cites a 2018 Harvard Business School Study by Kathleen McGinn. “Employed daughters of employed mothers, when faced with the opportunities and challenges of having children themselves, appear both willing and able to emulate their mothers as they manage employment and caregiving roles simultaneously.”
Bazelon continues, “Empirical studies show that children with working mothers (are) doing fine – even thriving. The daughters of working mothers (are) more likely to be employed, earn higher wages, and have jobs with supervisory responsibilities.”
Interestingly, though, empirical data showing that children are not harmed when their mothers work full-time outside the home has done little to reduce the anxiety and shame their mothers experience. She says “When we became mothers, the standard became even more exacting: never ever could we admit that – even once – we had put our careers first. Doing so would have invited a torrent of judgment. Not only would such a woman be perceived as self-aggrandizing, she would also be branded a Bad Mother.” Does that resonate with anyone?
The truth is that ambition is not toxic. Working long hours in a fulfilling career can actually be good for your kids.
Our Select Board held its meeting on 9/11. After that meeting, I came home and watched television coverage for hours. Because American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 took off from Boston, there were many local stories. I have never forgotten an interview with a woman whose daughter died on one of the flights. In the interview, she was confident. She said that her daughter knew every day of her life how much her mother loved her. What a gift that is. My daughters know that about me, and I know that about my own mother. And isn’t that just as important as being home every Tuesday night?
Let’s Practice, embracing our ambition, and our kids.
How about you? Have you been accused of being “ambitious” as if that were a bad thing? Have you figured out “work life balance?” Do you want to see the video of “Old Joe Clark?” Only kidding C – we’ll see if you read to the end.