The Vicious Cycle of the Mommy Track

The following is an article from Teal In Motion, a lifestyle blog focused on personal style, parental musings and pop culture. Author Teal Conroy is a working mom-of-two who can't resist a good sale, an excuse to dance or a wrinkly bulldog face. You can follow her blog at www.tealinmotion.com

Lean in. Lean out. Lean on. Lean back. With so much directional leaning, I feel myself swaying out of control on my own axis. Working moms weeble and they wobble but they don't fall down.

Recently, I walked away from the opportunity to apply for a promotion. Never have I been one to pause at the middle of the ladder I am climbing. I pull my way enthusiastically up each rung. This time, this specific time in my life, things are different. I suddenly find myself on the dreaded Mommy Track and I'm not sure if I should blame society or blame myself.

If you aren't familiar with the term, "mommy track" was first coined back in 1989 by The New York Times following an article by Felice Schwartz in The Harvard Business Journal, discussing the phenomenon of women with families are being placed in lower paying jobs with little upward mobility. Fast-forward twenty-five years and the mommy track is very much still in full effect. Wage gaps are real; women make 77 cents to every dollar men earn. Corporate boards are comprised of only 17% women, where national statistics show that the tipping point for success is a board comprised of 33% women. While I know that preceding generations of women would champion their efforts as instrumental in how far we have come (as they should - just watch one episode of Mad Men to gawk at the marginalization of women in the workforce), we still have so far to go.

So here I am - a fourteen year career under my belt that I will happily brag has seen some illustrious growth. I'm extremely proud of my resume and my accomplishments and I'm confident in my abilities to rise and succeed in new challenges. Why am I holding back from taking another step forward?

I've got one big reason - time with my family. With each new tooth that pops in, with every new word that stutters forward from excited little mouths, and with each milestone that is passed earlier than I could ever expect, I find myself desperately trying to be a part of the action. To be present at every moment.

But, I can't. I have a commute that adds up to more hours than I see my kids each week. Events occur during the weeknights and weekends that leave me bitterly networking rather than reading bedtime stories. I'm glued to my iPhone, frantically checking emails well after working hours because the expectation to respond seems more pressing than the expectation to help my son finish his puzzle. The laundry, the dishes and the leaves in the backyard pile up and seem to mock me into cleaning them up when all I want to do is collapse after the kids go to sleep. Even with a terrific partner in my husband, who does more than his lion's share of work and chores, the checklist of what I need to do versus the checklist of what I would love to do seems staggeringly unbalanced.

Without the flexibility to work remotely or to change up my hours, something had to give. It was back on me to make a choice: do I lean in like everyone tells me to or do I lean back and put my career ambitions on pause?

If I lean in, then I may find myself crying in my car each morning when I leave the warm, open-mouth slobbery cheek kiss from my six-month old. I risk my health, which seems to suffer under moments of stress (hello, adult acne and chronic migraines. I never miss you.) I place myself in a role where the anxiety of missing the precious moments makes me angry at the work accomplishments that replace them. If I lean back, then I'm perceived as lazy and uncaring about my work and my career. I sacrifice opportunities for greater income for my family. I become enraged about a country that has forced me into this decision because corporate culture is not one that is supportive of work/life balance, both in our laws (ahem, paid maternity leave) and our empathy ("if you don't like it, then quit!").

Thus, I find myself vacillating on where to lean and instead, feel like falling down and collapsing under a big blanket with some ice cream, a full DVR and a pity party for one. Instead of doing that, I pick a track and I run forward with a full commitment to my decision.

I choose family every time, but that doesn't mean that I necessarily feel good about it. Do I blame myself for my choice or do I blame the societal factors that led me to the decision? Hard to say - I think the two are intertwined. The question keeps getting posed: Can women have it all? My answer is no, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't push for the ability to have laws and a society view that allow women to try to give it our best shot. Until then, I am going to do what is best for me, right now, in the moment, for my family. Nothing is more important than heading down the track towards what holds the most meaning, rewards and fulfillment for you.

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