Jennifer Griffith WaylandReal Women, Real ChoicesSan Francisco, CAPhotography by Mark WaylandStory by Jennifer Griffith Wayland
Deciding to opt out of your career can mean more than a few sleepless nights.
My decision to step away from my career to spend more time with my son – as well as finish the novel that had occupied the back of my mind for ten years – was a hard decision to make. I was an independent woman, I said to myself and to my husband over and over again.
I fretted over the loss of my income and the level of freedom one’s own money provides.
Did this mean I had to give up my last minute shopping sprees every three months when I carved out an hour to myself?
Most important: what would this mean for my relationship? You hear the horror stories of marriages that fail as couples experience big life changes. Would my husband see me differently now that I traded in my Tahari suits for LuLuLemon pants? Clearly, I would look different. But, would I be a different person?
We spent two years discussing whether or not I could leave my career. There was the money to consider. There was the time I had invested and the fact that I was finally starting to see my efforts pay off. I had attained a lot of responsibility and I was making good money. “These are your peak earning years,” so many people told me.
There was also our family and the fact that my son had been in preschool full-time since he was two. “He is way too young for school,” my Father reminded me, disapproval spilling from his lips.
There was the the fact that our laundry never got done and one too many times we ran out of toilet paper for more than a few days. Our refrigerator was often bare and we ordered in more often than I like to admit.
Our lives were pinched and we were constantly racing from morning to night. By Friday night we were so stressed we simply wanted to “let the air out of the tires,” as my husband likes to say. This typically meant over-serving ourselves on wine and waking up fuzzy on Saturday morning.
As we discussed making this change in our lives I flared up whenever I considered taking on a more traditional role. I was not going to stay home to make lasagna and offer him a martini as soon as he came home.
My mind went back to my mother cleaning the house every day, leaving vacuum lines in the carpet as a way of demonstrating her work. Waiting for my Father to come home, greeting him at the top of the stairs and keeping dinner waiting until he was ready to eat.
“That is not going to be me”, I declared.
Before making the leap I called friends who were recruiters and my mentor and asked them what they would think of someone like me leaving the workforce and potentially wanting to come back again. They all told me, “You have two years. After two years, you might have to start over again.”
I felt some comfort in their guidance, but also some worry. What if I stepped away at forty and at forty-five wanted back in? Would I have to repeat the slow climb of the corporate ladder?
Then most of them always paused and took the business out of the conversation. They revealed their feelings as friends. Many of them said, “If you can really do it and you guys are okay financially, take the time off. Having two people working can be hard on a marriage.”
Something happened when I revealed myself to others; when I voiced my concerns and worries. People began sharing their stories with me. They began leaving the surface conversation and opening up to me in an entirely different way.
There was the friend who wanted to take a year off, but wasn’t sure how. The co-worker who was driven by her mother’s words of being financially independent and who is the bread-winner today. An acquaintance who wants to take time away from her career, but has yet to really plan for it with her husband. There are so many stories untold. Too many unshared.
As women continue to gather more opportunity, we need to do more than ask for raises and sit at the table. We need to change the dialogue; we need to reveal our deepest doubts and our concerns. Share our successes. Divulge our struggles. Without judgement. Most of us are only just beginning at this pursuit of it all and we have so many old rules to undo.
When I question myself and the decision I made, I remember what my Mother told me about her own personal happiness. The happiest time in her life was when she had me, even though my parents were poor. “It was easier then, honey. We lived more simply and we were happy.”
As women evolve, perhaps the best thing we can do is not try to do it all at once, but to be real and realistic about what we can do now. To celebrate our choices and support one another in our commitments. To include our husbands in the process because they are part of the solution too.
If we aren’t revealing our true selves and revealing what drives us, then aren’t we missing out on learning from one another? If we are learning from one another and getting real, we can find the humor in the challenges of this new world.
Wouldn’t we all feel lighter by admitting that sometimes the toilet paper doesn’t get purchased for a week and you begin to wipe with whatever is available? Or that you sometimes yell at your children to go to bed, but it doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. You are exhausted and over-worked.
The best thing we can do is to be honest with ourselves and realize none of us have figured out how to manage all of this change. And we really don’t want Sheryl Sandberg and Gwyneth Paltrow pretending they have any idea what it is like to be us. They have no idea.
It’s time for us – the every day woman – to open up. It’s time that our voices lead the conversation. If we get real with one another about our pursuits, wouldn’t we all sleep a little better at night, whatever choices we make?