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Glamorous Path May Not Be For You

Tue., March 26, 1996

She strikes me as a guided missile; a woman on a direct course to her target.

I follow the perfect trajectory of her career with awe. There was graduate school, then the first job that was the steppingstone to the second, better job. There was the lateral move to another company that eventually paid off in the best job.

There were also boyfriends and glamorous travel and, finally, the marriage to an equally dedicated professional man.

On twin pathways, they have followed a course to success.

Over the years, as I follow their course, I wonder at times if my awe is mixed with jealousy. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to follow potential to the end of the path.

“What would you like to be doing if you could?” my husband asked me one day. I told him the point was moot. Once I decided to work part time, I put myself on a Mommy Track and idled most of my professional ambition for a while.

This woman I watch from afar has made compromises, I am sure. She and her husband must find jobs in matched sets, although one time they moved for his benefit. The next time it was for hers.

The bottom line, however, is that they have no children and this is what gives them the freedom to focus on their work.

No, children are not leaden weights. They do not drag you down. But the decision to have them and the responsibility to care for them enter into every equation as you calculate your next move. Pension plans, health benefits and school districts become heavy factors to weigh before changing jobs.

“I’m not working full time anymore,” my friend, an attorney with a 1-year-old, told me. “I work three-quarter time. Now I come home every day at 5.”

When I probe further, it turns out her chances for making partner also have been reduced. She does not sound disgruntled, however. She sounds pleased.

Funny how regular hours assume tremendous importance when somebody is waiting for you at home.

A family can be the reason that overtime is not always worth what it pays. Getting home can be worth as much as getting ahead. Children are like a rubber band. They allow you to wander only so far and then they snap you back to the basics.

Obviously, supporting a family can add tremendous pressure to the urge to succeed. A wage-earner can feel driven to provide.

“I wish I could work at home like you do,” my husband will say when the pressure gets to him. And I wonder how much he means it.

When I watch successful women without children, sometimes I am envious. What would it be like to pursue your career full-throttle? Do you feel exhilarated, or do you feel like motherhood is a dream deferred?

Yes, you can have a fulfilling life without having children. Yes, you can have a full-time career and also be a great mother.

Still, I realize that, for me, I have made the only choice possible.

I do not have the emotional energy to focus equally in two different directions. If I threw myself full time into my career, then I would be doing everything else part time. I could not stand that.

My family grounds me and centers my life. That is why my course no longer follows the shortest distance between two points. I have meandered and detoured toward my professional goals. There are days I regret this, but I am never sorry.


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