Creative Voices: Is It Ok to Lean Out?

Women and work is a complicated relationship, and one that can be profoundly changed by motherhood. Karen takes a look at her own search for balance. Whether you are a stay at home mom, a work at home mom or a work out of the home mom, you'll want to read this story.

By Karen Bannister

I am preparing a presentation for a local trade show for parents. As the owner of Entrepreneur Mom Now, an online women’s resource and networking group, I am eager to share my passion for finding work-life balance with women who are welcoming new family members, new routines, and a few shoulder’s worth of new fear. 

I often feel tension in women’s circles when talk of careers surface. There are women who have chosen to put a hold on their career, and focus on family life. There are other women who continue with routines similar to pre-baby days. And there are other women who land somewhere in the middle, working part time, venturing into entrepreneurship for freedom or seeking new flexibility from supportive bosses. And of course there are many women who feel they have no choice, in whatever path they are walking. No matter what you choose (or don’t), and what you find works best for you and your family, others that chose differently have an opinion to share. It’s not quite as charged as breast or bottle, but it is up there in the debates some women foolishly engage in. Are our kids better or worse off for daycare? Well that often depends on what the respondent has chosen for herself (or been given to work with), and which scientific variable you choose to hold in higher esteem.

I have a deep awareness of women’s issues, and believe I have quite a profound stake in the improvement of our world toward equality. Not only am I myself a woman, but I am raising one too. And raising two on the other side of the gender fence, who need also to set about creating compassion in the world. We all have a stake in equality, and must realize it’s importance (and how much the things that are wrong with the world do stem from the belief that one group of people are “better” than another). For women who are sailing the ship right now, young children and dreams on board, knowing when to lean in, go all in, lean out, turn, dock or whatever .. well it isn’t really black and white. We still talk about “having it all” – “can we have it all?” “how does she do it all?” “oh I don’t know how she does it!” – and we still talk about balance.

Women who have risen to the top of their industries (and payscales) write about the power of showing up, demanding what we need, going all in, “leaning in.” And scientific studies emerge to tell us that sure we can ask for what we want (a raise, flex hours, recognition) but we shouldn’t ask too strongly, we shouldn’t speak too loudly, we shouldn’t come across as too aggressive oh and then again cultural expectations for women’s behaviour are so deeply engrained in our culture that asking might actually backfire on us anyway. 

We talk about balance and “having it all” but know too that the only way we can do it all is to have a team to support us. We talk about 50/50 parenting and share in household chores, but I know many women whose husbands do the laundry, but whose same men have no idea when their mother’s birthday is (and how she got that pink shawl in time last year). Because often partners are really good at sharing the work, but not really the responsibility or the minutiae of detail it takes to adult daily, like knowing where the milk is in the fridge and when your toddler’s next doctor appointment is. What’s more … we may know we need a team behind us, but feel so utterly alone whether because we are or because we believe we are, unable to mass people – help costs us money we don’t have, family isn’t always there – to have our back, and share in the workload. Is anyone out there? 

And many of us are haunted by our role as “the one who always shows up.” When the kids are sick, we take time off of work or slave through it regardless of our own health. What stay at home mother hasn’t puked in the toilet before helping her child do the same? What work at home mom hasn’t attempted a conference call using Netflix as a babysitter?

But it’s so much more complicated than “I’m going to work today” or “staying home is squashing my dreams.” There is this muddle of emotion that tells us that our view from this side of the fence has actually changed our entire perspective on the world. That toiling in a dusty office until the sun sets before slugging our way through traffic before the daycare starts charging twenty dollars by the minute isn’t all there is in life. Yes the grass is always greener but sometimes the profoundly moving experience of pushing life out of your vagina changes your entire perception of all grass. Maybe you want to work, but now want to choose only very powerful work – the kind that lights you up – because time away from your child isn’t worth writing reports for that wacko anymore. Maybe you actually want to lean out, take it slow, enjoy the snuggle of afternoon naps and sticky fingers on bathroom mirrors while you try desperately to take a wee. You’ll figure it out, but later.

Still maybe you feel the weight of obligation – to work or not work – this obligation is yours, and it is also the world’s.

I hope women take on more roles of leadership and power … hey, I want to be in one of those roles. It makes me sad when people tell me they don’t believe they can accomplish their dreams, while their children are young, or at all now that they are a parent. But I also hope that equality gives women the opportunity to chose their own goddamn path, and that that path can change as often as she does, as she is touched, and touched again by the profoundly altering persona of mother. Does she want to lean in? GOOD! Does she feel like leaning out? GOOD! Lean in or lean out, she (you) all need OUR support. How can we create a world where mothers get to choose?


Photo Copyright: stockbroker / 123RF Stock Photo

Karen Bannister is a creative mom of 3; a writer, editor and digital publisher. When not writing for the web, she's trying to keep up with her three little ones, enjoying family and outdoor time.

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