My daughter sat down in a coffee house, opened up her laptop and said, “Oops, milk on the keyboard.” No surprise there. With a 10 month old baby, she often pumps while working in her home office. I smiled and said, “The new working mother.”
She is not exactly like those controversial working mothers who have been so much in the news lately but she understands them. You know, Marissa Mayer, the pregnant and brand new Yahoo exec who said she will work through her maternity leave. And Anne- Marie Slaughter who gave up her state department job to spend more time with her kids and wrote in the Atlantic that working women still can’t have it all.
My daughter Sam, a freelance writer, went back to work within days of giving birth. Her book deadline had been pushed up and she had to get writing. Before I could protest, she said, “I know it’s crazy but please don’t tell me I can’t do this. ”
And she did, scheduling postpartum conference calls with her editor and co-author from her hospital bed and meeting her deadline not three months after delivering a baby boy. But no, she doesn’t go along with the idea that working women should keep pushing right after delivering. In fact she’d advise new mothers to take their three months maternity leave and sit back.
As she says, “the only time working mothers get permission to take time off is during maternity leave.”
I need to add that her husband also thought it a bit ambitious to jump back into the job but she was determined. Too much time off might put her at risk for losing the next project. Now when I ask her when she intends to take a genuine maternity leave, she says, “Soon, maybe 2013.”
Anne-Marie Slaughter, the one who found it impossible to continue her government job and be at home for her teenage boys, wrote in the Atlantic that younger professional women are right to resent the expectations set by older working mothers. The ones who gave the impression that you could have both super career and super kids.
In the 1970s when I was a new mother I took three months off my reporting job, worried I might be losing career ground, made sure I read the newspaper every day and continued to write freelance until I went back to the office.
My generation of working mothers felt we had to prove we could do it all – to our bosses, ourselves, society, our own mothers. We didn’t dare relax. Our assignment was to get one high heel in the door and hold it open so others could follow. And we knew if we failed to show we could handle our jobs as well as our kids without complaining we’d mess it up for the next pregnant professional.
Things have improved for working mothers. Better day care. Family sick leave. Some progressive employers offer flexible work hours. More women, like my daughter, work from home and are self employed. That gives them more freedom to juggle their time. But they know the same guilt, exhaustion and worry of every working mama that the baby or the job is getting short shrift.
A nanny has made it work for my daughter. She can write in her home office, take breaks to nurse and pump and check in with her baby who’s in the care of a loving honey-haired Montessori-trained Texan who likes making organic baby food. My generation would have considered a nanny a luxury for rich women. My not-rich daughter set up a nanny budget as soon as she knew was pregnant. It’s a big financial chunk but she says it’s a cost of doing her job. And staying sane. And being down the hall from her baby.
We both agree with Anne Marie Slaughter that the best thing that could happen for working mamas is to elect a woman president and 50 women senators. Women with children who know in their tired bones what it really means to put family first.