What's Your Title?
Woman, mother, daughter, caregiver. We all carry titles. From a young age I knew another one for me would be working parent.
This vision was likely fueled by my competitiveness with male academic peers, which began with spelling and math tests in first grade. Maybe also shaped by my childhood experience witnessing multiple divorces on my suburban cul-de-sac and never wanting to be in the position where I couldn’t support myself financially. I knew I wanted to have a career and a family.
Linda, my mom, stayed at home and raised my three siblings and me while my dad worked. Smart and artistic, I always felt my mom’s love and presence. She always encouraged us to pursue our dreams. She and my dad set the expectation that my siblings and I would graduate from college despite neither of them graduating themselves.
I learned from Linda the sacrifices parents make for their children. She left college and a job when she married my dad and gave birth to my older sister. I think she enjoys living vicariously through my career adventures but mostly she’s been my biggest support system as a parent. As I struggled at times with my decision to leave my children in the care of others, she listened, empathized, and never judged.
Jackie, my mother-in-law, managed the office of a small legal practice. I think she would have been an attorney or judge had times been different. She was tough as nails, but also kind and caring. She and my father-in-law raised seven children with one parent working days and the other working nights. Jackie was a role model for weaving together a fulfilling life of career and family.
Jeff, my husband, came into our marriage in full support of my career, but also with a modern view of what co-parenting looks like in a two-career household. He’s just as likely as I am to stay home with a sick child, and more likely than me to unload the dishwasher. He’s the master scheduler and has made his own career sacrifices for our family. Whenever I waffled on what was best for our family, he offered support in my decision to pursue a career. Balancing our careers and family has never been easy, but Jeff is my rock of resilience. He doesn’t back down to a challenge, nor crumple in the corner when it gets hard.
While these people and experiences shaped me, my confidence, and my courage, I ─ like every mother ─ have battled self-doubts, feelings of guilt and regret, and even judgement from others. This included questions people would ask me ─ not my husband ─ “Will you go back to work after you have the baby?”
As we had more children, it was the leader ─whose wife stayed home with their four children─ who was surprised I would return to work after parental leave with twins.
More recently it was the leader who introduced me to others at work as a ‘mother of six.’ This one bothers me the most.
But I’m proud of women who have the courage to make their own choices, the right choices for their family, and choices that change over time. Women who are brave enough to pave their own life path, not one based on societal expectations fueling other’s opinions.
While I initially loathed the title ‘working mother of six,’ I have since embraced it as who I am and the proud choices I have made. I couldn’t be here without Jeff, Jackie, and Linda.
Lisa D is an executive at a Fortune-500 organization and mother of six boys ages 8 to 18.
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