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Women's Work is Never Done

Womens_Work_Never_Done.jpgI was at a family-style birthday party awhile back. Although most parties these days are kids-only, this one had plenty of parents sticking around, so I did too. During the course of conversation, another mom asked me if I was still working. I responded, that, yes, I do work.

"But only part-time?" She queried. And then launched into how she wanted to help get me back in the work force.

Just last week, another person phoned me up to tell me that she had seen a commercial on television about an employment program she thought would be a good match for me.

"When you are ready to change careers!" she told me brightly, as if it were a forgone conclusion that I must be unhappy, unfulfilled, or uneducated.

What about me screams that I somehow don't have a "real" job?

I'm reminded about how many parenting and pregnancy magazines I read during those "early years" had tons of advertisements for "going back to school" and "finding a meaningful career" with all kinds of bizarre assumptions that pregnant ladies or new mothers are undereducated and somehow have tons of time on their hands. One particular ad showed a barefoot lady sitting on the floor in a corner. So, apparently she couldn't afford shoes or a chair? (And, how is she supposed to get her big pregnant belly up off the floor, hmmm?)

While I was pregnant with my first child, I did neurosurgical planning for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. I conducted fMRI research surrounding a new anti-anxiety drug, and assisted with fascinating projects surrounding topics like phantom limb pain. I was also preparing to defend my Admission to Candidacy Exam and Master's Thesis. Less than a month before I gave birth, I earned a Master of Medicine. (My clueless lab director wanted to schedule me to run the lab meeting only a week after my due date. Instead I quit and moved across the country.)

So no, I didn't have time to "earn a associate degree online!" while waiting for my offspring to arrive because I was earning an advanced degree from an Ivy-League medical school, brick-and-mortar-style.

Before being a mother, I was an intelligent, educated woman. But once I gave birth, I got mailings from all kinds of vocational schools. Don't you want to go back to school so you can support your family?

Of course, the advertisers don't actually know me. Still, I noticed my husband didn't get communications from such mail-order degree programs. (And, one of my alma maters started sending him information as an alumnus, while I was just the wife.)

I would have thought that family and friends would remember that I'm more than just a mom.

But no.

At one point when my son was going through challenging toddler behavior, a family member told me I should talk to her friend's daughter. This young lady was a college student at the time, hoping to go to graduate school in neuroscience or psychology. "Maybe she'll have tips for you!"

Um... I have degrees in psychology and behavioral neuroscience. You want me to get advice from someone who hasn't yet graduated? Did birthing a baby erase my credentials?

People are surprised when I'm not available in the middle of the day during standard business hours. They are surprised when I'm still working at night, past when "traditional" jobs end. They almost seem annoyed that I'm not at their beck and call to do the things that folks believe stay-at-home moms are begging to do. And yet, almost in the same breath, they wonder what else I can do to busy myself, since apparently I'm not doing enough.

It almost begs me to carry a sign around: "Would you ask my husband to do what you are asking me to do? Why not?" Why the assumption that his time is more valuable than mine, or that I am somehow "unfulfilled" while he is perfectly content?

I understand how lucky I am to have flexible jobs that mean that a sick child will not completely derail my day. It will complicate things greatly, but at least I don't have a boss that will be upset that I'm not physically in the office. I'm blessed to be able to go watch my son at his gymnastics workout, and just pull out my laptop if I need to get some work done.

But flexibility comes at a price, since I frequently feel "on call" for both paid and unpaid work alike. And so when someone indicates that I need to do even more, it stings.

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