I think I spent the last decade deciding if it’s okay to give up my career for my kids.
Instead, I am choosing peace. Finally. I am settling into the reality that I work relatively few hours a day. I can’t work with other people because my work hours are too erratic. And my earning power, just like the research says, probably topped out at age 40.
So here are things I think about now. Because there is a lot of extra space now that I admit there is no struggle. The deed is done.
1. What can I do to slow down time?
Time goes very fast when you have kids. If you don’t have them yet, just know that no one can make this clear enough. You just have to just experience it. Like telling you what arthritis in your knees feels like. It’s impossible to explain to someone with strong knees. But time is going so fast, so I spend a lot of time reading about how people deal with time passing. I love this story about a father’s death. It is a lesson in marking time to slow it down.
2. What can I do to be a good person?
First I’d have to define what a good person is, right? It wasn’t taking care of a homeless teen, because I really messed up my kid’s summer doing that. And I messed up my bank account. And probably a lot more. But being a good person for me is most likely when I respond to an email from a random person with empathy and advice when they were expecting neither. And I read about new ways to express goodness because maybe I’m missing a way that would change things up for me. Like, I’m thinking of writing a letter to a tree.
3. I want to help other people not make the same mistakes I did.
I want people to feel powerful when they choose compromise over career ambitions. I want people to feel like it’s fine to put getting married ahead of having a career. I want to feel like the friend who sits you down, with a hand on your shoulder to help steady you for the news. In this respect I think I’m part of a movement. And in that vein, here is a blog dedicated to showing the truth about life as a partner of a big law firm. I especially like the post that is an interview with a woman who couldn’t take maternity leave for either of her babies.
4. I want to watch the next generation to teach me new ways of seeing.
Millennial women understand they will be leaning out in order to take care of kids. They are okay with it. This reminds me of when my mom’s generation made a big deal of coloring their hair. And my generation took it as a given and moved on to the next topic. I want to watch for the next topic. (Note: meanwhile millennial men are not as prepared, and they are shocked to find out that parenting while you have a huge job is maybe impossible. I confess to be looking forward to seeing that play out as well.)
5. I live without air conditioning.
I didn’t realize it was a big deal at first. It is just how things are on the farm. But people who live on farms come to our house and ask how can we live without air conditioning. And my brother wears workout clothes to dinner at our house in the summer because he knows he’ll sweat so much. My older son told me 90 percent of people in the US have air conditioning. “We are living in the third world!” he told me, after he told me it’s too hot for violin practice.
I tell him to shut up and practice. But I do give some thought to why I like living with no air conditioning. And the reason is because I notice the weather so much more. I notice the morning air is cool and a little damp. I notice the sun is hot in the dining room in the afternoon, and I know I can open the windows at the end of the day to get a cooling-off breeze from the west.
We eat more popsicles on the porch because the house is so hot. We notice more when we are outside in the air, like how the fireflies come out when the sun dips below the horizon, and how the sweat dries on your arms.
Also, you work a lot harder outside during the day if you do not have a cool, frosty house to settle into at 3pm. Air conditioning separates you from your surroundings. And if I am slowing down my career to spend time with my family, I want to do it consciously. And if that means I do it in sweat then that’s okay.
Each of these five things is a way of seeing the world a little differently, and trying something new. And what’s remarkable about the struggle about career or kids is that I thought, the whole time I was struggling, that if I scaled back my career then my life would get boring. But in fact, when you have kids and you struggle to not have to adjust your career then you end up trying to keep time standing still rather than allowing yourself to evolve over time and try new things every chance you get.