I grew up not questioning whether I would work once I have children of my own. My mother worked, my aunts worked, my friends’ mothers worked. Women of my grandmothers’ generation did not work, but that was the past. They stayed home and usually took care of three, four and in the case of my father’s mother seven children. Generation of my parents had at most two children and this seemed to be the norm for the upcoming generations, such as my own. It is true that women in rural parts of Bosnia still stayed at home to take care of their children, but in a way they worked too, taking care of their farms and animals on their farms. Husbands usually went to work in the factories to supplement the needs that the farms’ outputs could not cover.
I grew up in a city thinking that we were progressing towards a society where men and women could truly be equal in one’s country’s economy and participate freely in the job market, taking positions that once were only reserved for men.
When I came to America to study engineering I was convinced that I will have a career and move forward, not thinking what would happen when the children came. I immigrated to America after I finished college and found a job, navigating through America’s immigration system, path long and thorny, but that’s a story for another time. When my husband joined me we both focused on making a life for ourselves here in New England. We wanted better for our children then what a war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina could offer. We ended up having two boys, a house and two jobs, seemingly living an American dream. We were classified as a middle class family that could live comfortably and provide education and opportunities for our boys.
This is where the illusion stops. As the tender infant years of my children are passing I am realizing that being a working mother with a husband who works as well is no picnic in America. My company allowed me to work part time from home for a few months after my maternity leave ended. I had ten weeks paid maternity leave through my company due to my C-sections. My parents who still live in Bosnia visited for a few months and helped me take care of my children when they were babies to make my transition back to work easier. I did not stop working when I gave birth to either of my children and I continue to do so. We found wonderful daycare center close to our house. Cost of the daycare was at the time twenty percent of our family’s combined income. Still, I was one of the few working mother’s in America who was lucky to have all of the above, company that was fairly supporting, supporting parents and the ability to pay for daycare.
At the end of the day I am exhausted. I work nine to six with little flexibility in the work schedule. I am no Sheryl Sandberg and I do not have a COO’s income that she has, so no cleaning lady or a cook to ease my burdens. And I do not work for a large corporation with ton of benefits. I do have an extremely supportive spouse who equally shares both household duties and chores and our children rearing responsibilities. He is a Superdad and I do not have to think twice about leaving my kids with him for a week when I travel for work. After I return from these trips our house is reasonably clean and the kids are fed good home cooked meals (no TV dinners or McDonalds while I am away) and laundry piles are not too big.
Since majority of young women will probably not work at Facebook or Google or other similarly progressive companies who provide full time maternity and paternity leave, who allow their workforce to be flexible with their schedules, it is important for them to understand that keeping the job while raising children is an extremely tough situation for most women in America. I was lucky, but a lot of women, single moms, those working for minimum wages, are not as lucky.
I want to give a voice to those mothers and fathers who do not have a support network and supportive companies. There are many of them out there. They have little opportunities to “lean in” as Sheryl advises them to do. They cannot take assignments that will propel their careers because they will eventually have to choose between taking a few days off to take care of their sick child and getting that report or project done within a scheduled timeline dictated by the company. Companies these days have little understanding for their workforce and unless you work in an environment where your boss is a family man or a woman who understands what you are going through there is very little you will be able to do to succeed in such an environment.
I remember during my MBA studies we had a speaker who came from one of the big banks in New York City. She was one of the Vice Presidents and she spoke about her career. One of my colleagues asked her about how she managed to succeed and get promoted to the role of the Vice President while taking care of her family and she said that while her son was little she was never promoted. She said: “My manager told me that he could not justify promoting me over my new colleague when I asked why based on my seniority I did not get a promotion. He said that I left promptly at five and he often stayed working late, giving him higher visibility with the management team thus justifying his promotion” She did not start climbing the ladder of success until her husband quit his job and became a “stay-at-home” dad.
So being a working parent is hard if your partner is also employed full time. It always seems that one has to sacrifice their career and the pursuit of one’s goals in order to support a family in America and not only monetarily (more often than not it’s the women). I wonder if the issue is not with the families or women or men leaning in or the willingness of the mothers or fathers to succeed. It seems to me that the issue is with the society itself not being supportive of the families. It is mostly one sided. A person has to be free of all the constraints that a family commitment brings. They have to be able to dedicate themselves one hundred percent to the job or a career or a pursuit of a goal in order to succeed. Our support network is non-existent. Families do not live in close-nit communities anymore. There are no more aunts, friends, grandmothers who can take care of the sick babies or pick up slack when a mother or a father is feeling under the weather. Villages do not raise children anymore. We are being pushed to do more, to achieve more, and to give more and our health and our personal well-being are suffering. We no longer feel that we belong anymore, within our companies and within our society. Working parents and working mothers especially feel alienated because they have little opportunities anymore to get the help that they truly need.
I am a working mother. My husband is a working father. We both have our goals and dreams and we love our family. We sometimes feel lonely and we cling to each other like two branches that fell far from the tree finding themselves on a clearing rolling in the harsh wind of reality. We long for an American Village in which our children can truly experience the American dream and live their lives as we had hoped they would when we immigrated to this country. We want this village not only for ourselves, but for all the working families out there.