Posts tagged " women and careers "

From Bibs to Boardrooms (pub. Oct. 30, 2008)

August 8th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments




I had lunch the other month with a powerful group of women. Around the table sat a highly intelligent and accomplished bunch made up of small business owners, executives, and/or entrepreneurs.


I didn’t meet these women through a business organization or college alumnae program. We actually met many years ago, when it seemed as if all of us were always pregnant or nursing (actually this wasn’t an illusion – for years we were always pregnant or nursing) and we spent a lot of time together learning, swapping advice, laughing, chatting and simply being there for each other. Had you asked us to look ahead at that point to the time when our children would be grown, I think you would have been met with sleep deprived gazes that couldn’t comprehend that there would be a day when diaper pails and bibs would no longer be the central decorating theme of our homes. Our short term goal was to get a solid night’s sleep, our long term one to finish a magazine article in one sitting; I certainly don’t think any of us anticipated our present lives, still dedicated to our families, but also engrossed in careers.


And yet, here we were. What had been a group of full time stay at home mothers who shopped together for triple strollers, bought pots at restaurant supply stores and were mistaken for a preschool when we went to the park en masse, had in the blink of an eye found ourselves the mothers of adults who no longer needed us hovering over them.


And while our husbands, by assuming full financial responsibility, had given us (and themselves) the precious gift of time with our young children, by the time those years passed, our families’ bank accounts were in dire need of infusion. While we all had college degrees and some of us more advanced ones, our resumes had huge spaces in them that were less than impressive to prospective employers.


Yet, somehow, as I looked around the lunch table, each of us when the time was right had turned the vast skills and experiences we had gained in those years of focusing on being wives and mothers and transformed ourselves into driven, competent, and savvy professionals. Rather than being discouraged by how little others would appreciate our home based accomplishments, we assessed our own talents and interests and carved out a niche for ourselves.


I think it is entirely possible that if in the early years of our marriages we had been aware of the financial realities of the future, we might have been drawn to make different, perfectly rational decisions. Perhaps we would have had fewer children or kept our feet in the door through part time employment, or opted for nannies to enable us to work full time. Looking back, I’m glad we were naïve. While I don’t advocate digging one’s head into the sand, sometimes we need to thank God for keeping the future hidden in a mist and trust ourselves that when we need to step up to the plate, we will be able to do so. 

Free to Choose?

April 20th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet


I was chatting with a young mother recently while two of her three sons simulated a boxing match. The baby watched avidly from his stroller. Turning to me, my companion said, “I’ve never been a boy. How am I supposed to understand them?”


I don’t really think she was expecting an answer. But the differences between the genders don’t go away as children get older. Over the last few years, I have watched my daughters and their friends transition from adolescence into adulthood.  I have seen that the challenges they face are entirely different from those that my son and his peers face as they navigate the same years.


I know that today’s social and economic realities dictate that both sexes explore career options.  But there are very different implications for boys and girls though it is perhaps politically incorrect to point this out.  The burden of career commitment rests far more heavily upon the shoulders of boys than upon girls.  Deep down, young men know that their masculinity is intimately linked to their being successful providers.


They know that any woman who decides to take “time out” from her job and focus on her home has not made herself any less of a woman.   They know that when a woman decides not to return to work after maternity leave, much of society approves.  However, men also knows that if a man announces to his wife that he no longer feels like going to work he will be viewed as an irresponsible failure.  For him, work is for keeps.


The woman in her twenties or early thirties who adamantly declares that she doesn’t want children or that having a family won’t interfere with her dedication to her studies or career, may well mean it sincerely.  But young men can get themselves into quite a mess if they gamble on those feelings never changing.   


Economic factors often force many women into the workplace even if they truly would rather be building a home or spending more time with their children.   But women whose economic situations allow them genuinely to exercise choice often choose to work only part time or to stop working altogether.  I have read that in countries such as China after years of being fully integrated into the work force, more women are choosing to stay at home as economic and social changes allow that option. 


But, whether we think it fair or not, men don’t have the luxury of choice in this area.  As a society, we ardently defend the idea that women should have full access to professional schools and the careers of their choice.  But we also insist that they should have complete freedom to opt out of school or work if they choose.  Then we refuse to acknowledge that we have different expectations for men. Something is wrong with this picture, isn’t it?  Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that one who is obligated to do something and does it, is exhibiting more greatness than someone else who volunteers to do the same thing. The act of doing what we should rather than what we choose requires greater commitment.


Since graduating college, my son and his friends have been navigating the career waters trying to find occupations in which they can prosper and thrive. In contrast to summer jobs they may have held, they are now looking at years, not weeks, of work ahead of them. Embracing this challenge can be a part of what molds them into the type of men who will make good husbands and fathers, the type of men whom our daughters seek as life partners.


When we pretend that gender doesn’t matter, that – as a group – young men and young women have equal stakes in the job game, we are lying to both sexes. While I admit that sentence would have infuriated me at eighteen, and probably will infuriate most college students today, I think our society suffers when we pretend that we can make up any rules we feel like, even when they run counter to reality. Those little boys I saw whose behavior was perplexing their mother are going to want to wrestle and struggle in ways most little girls will never understand.  And if they channel that masculinity and grow up to accept the yoke of supporting a family, they deserve our appreciation.




The Return of Sue Barton

April 7th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet


I have just re-read Sue Barton: Visiting Nurse. If you are male or perhaps a female under a certain age, you might not be familiar with the Sue Barton series. But for girls born during certain years, not reading Sue Barton would have been like not reading Nancy Drew. Don’t even dream of telling me you don’t know who that is.


Nancy Drew is still around. In fact, her books have been (unfortunately) updated and she was even the star of a recent (unfortunate) movie. But Sue Barton, whose adventures took place in the 1930’s, has gone the way of the corset. It is easy to see why.


In this era of “girls can do anything” a female detective is still deemed relevant. A nurse who works in hospitals and clinics where every single doctor is male is less so.


In the book I just finished, Sue is working in Manhattan as a visiting nurse, going into the homes of immigrants and the indigent as a combination nurse/social worker/Mary Poppins.  She soon faces a major dilemma, one that seems quaint to any contemporary reader. Her fiancé, a doctor naturally, is establishing a practice in New Hampshire, and despite her commitment to and satisfaction with her work, he balks at a multi-year engagement while she remains at her post. The idea of a commuting marriage doesn’t cross anyone’s mind.


The issue is resolved when Sue tentatively approaches her supervisor, expecting condemnation for thinking of leaving so soon after her training has finished, and instead receives delighted congratulations. If memory serves me correctly, in one of the future books Sue will even stop nursing professionally as she raises a young family.


Back to 2010. I know a number of bright, accomplished and capable young women who are either working in the nursing field or training to do so. A number of them thought seriously of attending medical school, but in the end decided against that path. Why? Because while they are drawn to the medical arena and think they would find working in that area personally gratifying and meaningful, they also value being wives and mothers. The number of years and the dedication necessary for training as a physician, the debt incurred during schooling and the investment of hours needed to establish and maintain a practice discouraged them from pursuing that course. In a way that might horrify some of their mothers who came of age in the sixties and seventies, they are willing to trade prestige, responsibility and higher income for the ability to better balance family and work.


They have watched older sisters, aunts and neighbors attempt to have everything and in the process sometimes lose too much. Some of them were raised by mothers who chose to stay home with their own daughters, and in retrospect, they appreciate that decision and want to emulate it. Others, while proud of their mothers and knowing they were always loved, felt that they want to be more available to their own husbands and children than their mothers were.


There is one big difference between the girls I know and Sue Barton. Approaching adulthood in the 1920’s, Sue never thought of being a doctor. (If there are Sue Barton experts out there and I am wrong, I await correction). My daughters and their friends are encouraged and wooed by professions that Sue Barton would have had to claw her way into if she so desired. Many of their peers are among the large number of young women who are going to medical school and whose primary goal right now is being a doctor, a career they often plan to mix with marriage and children.


I don’t see girls entering nursing rather than medical school as “settling” or not being true to their inner selves. I think they are showing a level of self-awareness and maturity that bodes well for their success in all the areas they view as important in their lives. I look forward to watching those lives unfold.  

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