“Mommy why do you go to work and Nadjma stays home with me?” asks my daughter. Her question takes me by surprise as I struggle to find the right words. I thought this was an issue long since put to bed, but my inability to articulate an answer betrays a more nuanced reality.
At 20, I wanted to be just like my mom. She had kids at a young age – three by the time she was 27 – and while she pursued many interests, being a mom was her primary occupation. In college, when my friends were setting their sights on careers in banking and the law, I declared that my highest ambition was to become a mom. At 26, I had an identity crisis. My long-term relationship was over and I felt far away from my goal of having kids while young. With my one clear goal out of reach, I began to focus on the area where I was still relatively in control – work.
By 33, I had my dream job, an MBA and an equally ambitious and successful husband. I was even questioning my long-held belief that I should have a family. I’d been promoted three times in three years and the next stop was Vice President. Having kids felt like a speed bump. The entire concept suddenly seemed incompatible with my life. I was fearful of jumping in, but I was equally fearful of waiting too long, of fertility issues and other potential regrets. In the end, I had to cling to the faith I had in my early dreams, in the partnership I had with my husband, and in my own ability to make it all work.
At 34, my daughter was born. I took 12 weeks off, relying heavily on my team to keep the wheels rolling. While I enjoyed the time at home, I felt anxious. I worried my team didn’t miss me enough. I worried I would not be able to limit myself to just 45 hours a week. I worried my career would slow down.
My fears were unfounded. I was promoted to VP in the time I had expected and my career has continued to grow. There are tradeoffs, but they are ones I readily embrace. And then my daughter asks a question before bedtime and I am worrying again – does she need me at home? Is she loved enough? I’m pretty confident I’m worrying without reason, but worry is par for this course. I know if she asks the question again, I should have a better answer. I should tell her I have two jobs, both of which are important to who I am. There are days where it is impossible to do them both well, but I keep trying because these are things I love. So why do I go to work when I could stay home? I do it because I want to, because I can.