As tears welled up in my eyes, my newly hired nanny quietly asked what was wrong. “I’m going to find it hard,” I replied. I was about to start a new academic job after 18 months of maternity leave with my three year old and my one year old twins. As I looked up, I saw that my nanny was also teary-eyed. “I miss my three kids too,” she said. A wave of emotion flooded over me, including feelings of guilt for my privileged position. Here I was, about to leave my three little ones with my new nanny and travel 150 kms back and forth to and from work. Here she was, about to look after my children, thousands of miles away from her home in the Philippines. She wouldn’t see her own children for a full two years. What a crazy world, I thought. But I took the leap of faith. The next day I drove to work. My nanny started her care for my kids. And that was the start of a difficult but wonderful thing.
It was one of a series of moments of letting go that I think are essential to the kind of motherhood that I endorse: the kind in which children are cared for not by a “mother” but by “mothers,” including fathers who take on traditionally more motherly roles. Over five years ago, as a new mother, I sat in a mom’s group, listening and sharing. Many of the women complained about how they, not their husbands, did most of the work in housekeeping and caring for their newborn. A good place, I suppose, to vent such frustrations. What bothered me, though, was that while these moms voiced their complaints, they clearly weren’t willing to hand over primary care-giving responsibilities. They were hovering over their husbands, demonstrating how to hold, how to feed, how to rock the baby. Not me. If I wanted an equal partnership both in careering and in parenting, I believed, I needed actively to make that happen. It’s not easy to walk out the door when your baby is crying and you feel yourself lactating—that physical attachment. But it’s necessary. And to this day, I’m amazed at how my husband can soothe our kids. I have a real respect for how he parents, and it’s because it’s his way, not my way.
Working with a nanny involves a balance between making sure your own important parenting values are expressed and brought forth and having faith in both your nanny and your children. For instance, I’ve had serious discussions with my nanny: “too much TV is not acceptable”; “processed foods and sugar are not the be-all-and-end-all.” Cultural differences are of no small significance. I’ll never forget the look on my nanny’s face when she first saw my husband and I drinking water straight out of the tap. Evidently, she had never lived in a place with such clean water.
One day, after a few months on the job, I came home to find my nanny telling me how much she and my children had bonded. She was reiterating little details of the day, so upbeat and happy, and I could tell that she really loved them. Jealously reigned and I heard myself reply to her gruffly. But ultimately, I knew it was a good thing. I knew that I needed to let my children really have more than one mother. We are two mothering women: one working and living for the dream of bringing her family to Canada; the other working and living for the dream of being both a mother and a career-woman. My husband is building his own career while also not hesitating to engage in what is typically deemed “women’s work.”
Having a nanny and an involved husband has relieved me—to a certain extent—from what Mary Ann Mason and Eve Mason Ekman call “The Second Shift”: coming home from a day of work to an evening of housework. Freedom from housework also results in more time with my kids. But it’s still a crazy and very busy life.
We mothers need to share the care-giving responsibility in order to have equality in the home and at work. This may seem obvious, but clearly it’s not a done deal. Here are some statistics for your contemplation.
Tenured Faculty Married with Children: Women, 44%, Men, 70%
Tenured Faculty Other Family Configurations: Women, 56%, Men, 30%
The Road to the Ph.D, Tenure, and Beyond:
- Women with babies 28% less likely than women without babies to enter a tenure track position.
- Women married 21% less likely than single women to enter a tenure track position
- Women 27% less likely than men to become an associate professor
- Women 20% less likely than men to become a full professor within 16 years
Women Fast-Track Professionals with Babies, by Age:
- Doctors: 27% have babies between age 32 and 37 (the height)
- Lawyers: 25% have babies at age 32, going down to 20% at age 35 (the height)
- Tenured Faculty: 18% have babies between age 32 and age 36 (the height)
Note: having babies at all other ages for these professions is pretty rare, at between 5% and 10%. Of the three “fast tracks” mentioned here, women tenured faculty are the least likely to have children.
(Stats gathered in California and discussed in Mothers on the Fast Track: How a New Generation Can Balance Family and Careers, by Mary Ann Mason and Eve Mason Ekman.)
By Laura Davis