I haven’t been able to blog last week. This thing called work kinda kept me busy.
Working on a fashion supplement for a national newspaper took up the most time, then there were meetings and fighting the shadow I told you about.
On Thursday I went to a little get together by a fashion designer at The Dorchester. As usual, I had child 3 with me. A few women came up to look at her, and we got chatting. Like always we came to the inevitable question, how do you manage work and children?
I don’t know. Not a clue. It’s plain messy, busy and hard work.
“We can have it all.” I heard one woman say, as child 3 started crying and I blushed self-consciously, struggling to soothe her.
What is ‘having it all’? I’m back talking about that old chestnut: work-life balance. How much of your time is work and how much of it is life?
For us working mums, it’s the holy grail. There’s only 24 hours in a day and only so much you can squeeze into it.
So I was riveted when I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece. For two years she worked in Washington with Hillary Clinton and her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills.
My workweek started at 4:20 on Monday morning, when I got up to get the 5:30 train from Trenton to Washington. It ended late on Friday, with the train home. In between, the days were crammed with meetings, and when the meetings stopped, the writing work began—a never-ending stream of memos, reports, and comments on other people’s drafts. For two years, I never left the office early enough to go to any stores other than those open 24 hours, which meant that everything from dry cleaning to hair appointments to Christmas shopping had to be done on weekends, amid children’s sporting events, music lessons, family meals, and conference calls.
It reminded me of an incident in my last full-time job in an office – although, might I add, that my schedule was nowhere as manic as Slaughter’s. One morning, not long after I got into work, my phone rang. It was from child 1’s school; he wasn’t feeling unwell and had to be picked up. Then the day after, child 2’s nursery rang. She had a fever and had to be picked up. Both times I had to leave the office in the middle of the day to get them. I still had tons to do, my husband couldn’t get them and I couldn’t afford to pay extra for my child minder to pick them up. At times like this, I wish I had extended family living close by. My then office had a 9-to-5 clock-watching culture, and I could feel the judgements being made as I left the office.
It was round about that time when the penny dropped for me. I was running on empty and something had to change. My life was unravelling and I was not in control of what happened to me.
Not long after, I started working for myself. Owning my schedule has made me feel like I have my life back. Don’t get me wrong, it is bloody hard. And if the right full-time job came along, I would certainly consider it.
I’m no less ambitious than I was in my 20s. The only thing that changed is that I now have three children.
I’m slowly learning to look at my life – and career – in the way Anne-Marie Slaughter described it.
Along the way, women should think about the climb to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope, but as irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when they turn down promotions to remain in a job that works for their family situation; when they leave high-powered jobs and spend a year or two at home on a reduced schedule; or when they step off a conventional professional track to take a consulting position or project-based work for a number of years. I think of these plateaus as “investment intervals.” My husband and I took a sabbatical in Shanghai, from August 2007 to May 2008, right in the thick of an election year when many of my friends were advising various candidates on foreign-policy issues. We thought of the move in part as “putting money in the family bank,” taking advantage of the opportunity to spend a close year together in a foreign culture. But we were also investing in our children’s ability to learn Mandarin and in our own knowledge of Asia.
So you see, it’s not all over when you have kids. It’s just different.