Girls today need role models for more than just career choices.
I sit in the hard black chair while our new pediatrician looks in my daughter’s ears. “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” she asks my little girl.
“A teacher,” my 10-year old pipes up proudly. “But I also really want to be a mom.”
“Well, you can certainly do both. You can be a teacher, an astronaut or a doctor — and a mom,” she says. “You can be anything you want.”
Or just a mom, I think to myself. Like me.
I bristle at the doctor’s comments. Although I know she is not aware of my profession, I feel slighted.
She hit a nerve, not because of any insecurity I feel about my life choices, but because I have a growing concern that I may not be the best role model for my three daughters.
Was this stranger, a woman we just met, a better example for my daughter than me solely because she kept her career? If I believe my girls can grow up to become anything they want, is it okay for them to be a stay-at-home mom?
There is purpose and passion in service
Due to life circumstances — a husband who travels, a few moves around the country, and the births of three kids in 16 months — it made sense for me to leave my career as a public relations executive and stay at home. I didn’t anticipate leaving the workforce for good, but it is right for my family. I enjoy it and live a fulfilling life crammed with volunteering at my kids’ school, charitable work, and a little bit of writing here and there. I work hard, even when I’m not getting paid.
Sometimes, the day-to-day monotony of housework, errands and meals can wear me down to tears. I needed more balance, so I threw myself into activities I was passionate about to stay busy and feel personally satisfied. I consult a few hours a week for an old client, just to keep my foot in the door of my industry. I’m an advocate for my daughter and other children with special needs. I volunteer at my children’s schools, run PTA events and sit on committees for my local education system. These are things some people roll their eyes at, but I participate in them with vigor. And I’m okay with that, because I find purpose in participation and satisfaction in service. I have truly made a career out of raising my kids.
But more important than the satisfaction I receive from my volunteer work and parenting is the impact it has on my children. They understand that volunteering and caregiving is an integral part of living in a community, compassion is necessary for people in all walks of life, and kindness has no price tag. I am proud of that work, and I’m proud to model that commitment to community to them.
The world needs all kinds of role models
I don’t think there needs to be a debate, however, regarding either the value of stay-at-home mothers or the importance for increasing the opportunities for women in the workforce. What I hope, at least for my own girls, is that they have the self-confidence to know any job they have — whether it’s a garbage collector, CEO, or yes, stay-at-home mom — is worthy of respect and should be valued. Self-worth is not about the salary you earn, it’s about working hard and feeling good about the work you do.
My daughters may choose a different path, however, and I need role models for them. They need role models like my friend who started her own communications firm so she ensured she could get to her kids’ activities, or the high-powered sales executive who lives on my street and is the best meal planner I know, or even my pediatrician, whose husband decided to stay at home for a few years while she started her practice.
My girls need to understand that their options are endless if they don’t give up on their dreams — and that there are alternatives if their dreams change.
While I may not be my daughters’ mentor for career choices, I can be their role model regarding how to treat other women. Instead of rolling my eyes at a working mother for forgetting an event, I can offer a ride to her child. When a career woman is running late because of a business meeting, I won’t complain to my kids; instead, I tell them it is hard to balance work and family life, and that mom is doing the best she can. And when a pediatrician tells my daughter she can be anything she wants, and be a mom — I nod my head yes.
Because if we want to raise girls who believe they can grow up to do anything and be anyone, then we have to support the women who make different choices than ourselves. If we don’t, what message does that send to our girls?