Life... Not at Work

WITH AMY JOYCE - WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST  |  Sunday, June 10, 2007
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Last month, The Post's Amy Joyce mused in a Sunday Outlook piece that as a career columnist, she wasn't sure what advice to give herself about returning from maternity leave. After it ran, her inbox was flooded with responses from readers. In her final Life at Work column before she takes a six-month break, Amy shares some of those reactions. Below are additional comments she received. Continue the conversation by adding your own thoughts.

You will see that being a parent will never compare to writing a column -- parenting will always be harder, more draining, but way way way more rewarding. I gave up a fat paycheck (for a little paycheck and spit-up on my shoulder) to be the parent I am (and we picked up debt to boot), but my wife and I feel like it's been the greatest bargain we ever got. Remember -- there are two of you in this and you can both make choices.

--Jeff Miller (father of Ben, 7, and Megan, 5), Adjunct Faculty, University of Maryland

As a 48-year-old father of three teen and tweens, and a two-career marriage that we have now been juggling for more than 16 years, it has always struck me that, in couples where parenting is shared, it is much much easier for women to handle the work/family balance than it is for men. ... The prevailing societal and workplace attitudes just don't accord dads the flexibility it provides moms. I am currently a self-employed consultant, with office at home, in part to accommodate my wife's position as CEO of a local non-profit. While I do not regret any of the decisions I have made and have always made sure I could have a lot of flexibility, it has been a total partnership. Let's talk about parents raising kids rather than perpetuating traditional stereotypes about gender roles. Just some food for thought.

-- Rob Muller, Chevy Chase, Md.

How can anyone seriously think that being a full-time mom and having a challenging full-time job can both be accomplished. I'm a nearly 60-year-old male who over the years decided that kids need their parents whenever they need them and not when work allows. This is especially true during the early years. Indeed, don't many kids get in trouble at the home of friends whose parents aren't home? I think part-time work can be done once the kids are in school most days. But nothing is better than having a parent (it could be a stay-at-home dad, too) home when the child gets there. Kids need their parents -- period.

-- Ben Bagby

While I recognize that one specific case doesn't prove the general, let me describe my wife's situation. While our two children were very young, she was a full-time mother (during the '70s) and after they were both in school or I was at home with them, she worked part-time (e.g., selling real estate). After the youngest was in the fifth grade, my wife "returned." On her first day at work she defused a situation and saved her "client," using "mommy" skills without even realizing that was the case. Over the following years she went from ad hoc administrator to formally managing and bettering the organizations she took over from retiring men.

-- George Gluck, Rockville, Md.

I am two months into three months of maternity leave. I thought my choice would become easier once my daughter was born, but truthfully, it became even harder. The "job" of taking care of a newborn is the most challenging one that I have ever worked and my position in publications involves lots of impossible deadlines, long hours, and stress as well as the opportunity to work with amazing people on rewarding projects. It seems ruthlessly unfair to have to decide between taking care of a helpless three-month-old who relies on you for her very sustenance and a career that you find rewarding and meaningful. I just hope that when my daughter decides whether or not to have children, that us GenXers will have made strides toward making the workplace more accepting of moms who decide to take time off for their families, without penalizing their choice with lower-salaries and less opportunities.

-- Frances Bevington, 30, Falls Church, Va.

I have three daughters now (and still only 33 -- like you -- still young). I worked full time after number one was born (had to), stayed at home when number two arrived only 18 months later (had to), and three months after number three arrived, I was offered a PhD scholarship to study early modern history -- which is utterly fabulous! I wasn't happy working full time, wasn't happy at home full time, and between numbers two and three I worked part time -- which ticked all boxes. Now I study full time but have more flexibility than "real" work, though far less money, but the babies are really happy, and still well loved despite the juggling. It is possible to do both, but somehow, important as work is, it isn't AS important as the children. But we are all different.

-- Amy Barnett, Cambridge, UK

My husband and I are both in our early thirties and expecting our first child. We are both defense contractors working full time. I grew up in Arlington and both my parents worked, with my mom retelling how she went to court (she's a lawyer) three days after delivering me, an exaggeration I'm sure is probably not too far from the truth. My dad was a workaholic (according to my workaholic mother) that never missed any of my games for the five different sports I played or any of my brother's games. To me, they made it work. I never felt neglected or unsupported, so why does it seem like an impossible mission where, even now, before I have delivered my first, I feel guilty? I have no idea what to tell HR about my return schedule. Everyone has an opinion and I'm sure they're all right, but I can honestly say I have no idea what I'm going to do except keep working until it's time to go to the hospital.

-- Lindsay Samora, Colorado Springs, Colo.

I had my first and only child at 32. I have a journalism degree and an MBA -- I found it easy to return to work full time because we had a nanny come in during the day and leave at night and my husband worked at home. It was great until my daughter started kindergarten. I found that I started cutting back my hours to be able to meet the bus. My daughter starts high school next year and I haven't worked in three years. I figure when she goes to college I can work again as much as I want. So it's not a hard and fast to work or not. You may find periods of time when you want to and times you don't want to.

-- Jaime Busse, 46, Fairfax, Va.

Whatever you decide will be the right decision for you. And you get to remake your decision as time goes on, and the baby grows and you and your husband grow, so you get lots of chances. And there always will be alternative ways to do, and if you do one of them, then that will be the right thing to do.

-- Valerie A. Young, Advocacy Coordinator, National Association of Mothers' Centers

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