Are you struggling to blend work and life? Thinking about a “short” career hiatus to be home with children for a critical time period?
Look before you leap! Most women who say they’ll leave for a couple of years actually stay out an average of 12. There’s always a “critical time” to be with children—when they’re toddlers, starting school, transitioning to middle or high school, navigating the college application process or working through a particular social or academic problem. But it’s also critical for you to consistently build long-term financial security—every year out you forfeit up to 4 times your salary.
from my book Ambition Redefined:
At one of my presentations on how to return to the workforce I was speaking about the controversial “lean in or lean out” debate and advising that, first and foremost, women should lean in the direction of financial security. The woman in the audience agreed, but then she took the discussion in a different direction. She told the story of her 7-year-old daughter, who had recently said, “You know, Mommy, when I grow up I want to be just like you. I’m going to find a nice guy to marry—one who makes a lot of money—so I don’t have to do anything.” This story elicited howls of laughter, especially when the woman ended with, “Apparently, I’m not a mother, I’m a hooker.” But then all the women in the room realized the story is not so funny, and the discussion moved to the subject of role models and how children view the “work” you choose to do each day.
Flexwork is a new frontier for mothers who want fulfilling careers and financial security without foregoing their caregiving responsibilities. One of the most exciting prospects of this new way to work is that it allows for mothers to set a pragmatic standard for their children. Women can have as much of a hand in providing financial security as their partners, and this in turn sets a fantastic example for their children to follow. This new ambitious woman is a role model for daughters and sons, showing them the wonderful reality that modern women can indeed have it all—at the same time.
This is a vital lesson to learn—not only for children, but also adult women who still may think that consistent work is somehow a betrayal of one’s family. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, as working to provide financial security is a valuable form of caregiving.
When daughters can observe their mothers staying on top of multiple responsibilities, it gives them freedom to define themselves with the same variety. Young women who see their mothers only managing households do not have a professional role model for later in life, when they question whether they have what it takes to gain financial independence. And sons who observe the same may grow up with unfair expectations of their future spouses.
Acting as a professional role model for your children doesn’t require you to be at the top of the corporate ladder—smaller, part-time jobs are still just as helpful for inspiring conversations about balancing work and life. And those skills are just as valuable as instilling kindness, integrity, honesty, and all the other character traits parents want their children to adopt. The woman who cares for family and wisely builds financial security for herself and her family is the ultimate role model. Not because she broke the glass ceiling or leaned in at every opportunity, but because she fought to forge her own path and found the best way to work that fit all aspects of her life.