On Returning to Work After Having Kids
Last night, my husband and I got into an argument.
I was watching a documentary discussing the application of a community practice the Maori tribe of New Zealand applied to Baltimore youth in danger of becoming involved (potentially permanently) with the criminal justice system. It’s an intervention called "conferencing" that draws on the power of community, shame, and emotion to bring attention to, process, and amicably resolve crimes committed by youth. The program has seen really excellent outcomes and a very low rate of re-offense, keeping the youths (and their cases) out of the criminal justice system permanently.
While watching this show, my husband by my side listening to a podcast, I was inspired. I wanted to bring this program to my area. I had worked with the criminal justice population, and the institutionalization just pierced my soul. Rehabilitation, from what I saw, was nearly impossible once someone entered, regardless of available interventions.
This would be my chance to be part of the solution.
In my head, I was already on the phone with this program, already lobbying, traveling to Baltimore to learn, and writing proposals. I was all in. I turned to my husband, completely assured, pointing at the television, and said, “I want to do this.”
“It’s not safe,” he mouthed to me, earbuds attached and iPod in hand.
“Yes, it is! Don’t you see? This is my opportunity to be part of the solution!”
He shook his head and removed his earbuds, “It’s not safe.”
“What are you talking about? It’s children!” I raised my voice, growing frustrated.
“All this time, working with these populations, and there’s been no real success. And here’s a successful model! We could actually divert youth from the criminal justice system altogether!”
“But they’re criminals,” he sighed, “and it’s not safe. Why do both of us have to work in unsafe environments?” An overreaction, perhaps.
“But your job’s not safe,” I challenged, “Why don’t you leave it then?”
“Because I get compensated for it,” he replied.
Truth is, he is compensated for it, and much better than I would ever be, trying to affect change in a community setting. Did it really matter, though?
“But I was doing this job when you met me,” I reminded him.
“I know,” he said, “but now we have a family. I just don’t think we both need to be working with these people. Why can’t you just stay at home until the kids are older?”
I could feel a haze of red steam rising behind my eyes. I saw flashes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, and Hillary Clinton. I was strongly considering strangling him with my bra. I was pissed.
“And what should I do?” I questioned. “Which job should I get?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. I could see he was frustrated as well. “Anything but working with criminals, drug addicts, and crazy people.”
“But I did that for eight years! That’s what all my credentials are in! Where should I work then? A GIFT SHOP?” I was out of words. I might as well have swallowed my tongue. I stood abruptly from the couch and left the room.
I descended the steps in a fog. Should I have never left work? Who the hell is he to tell me what to do with myself? I can do WHATEVER I WANT. If I want to go back, I WILL. I never agreed not to go back to work!
Our argument, which we were able to work out (seems neither of us were half as passionate about it this morning), seems to have brought up a larger question. If two skydivers meet and fall in love, does one of the skydivers change his or her career once a child is born? If two cops meet in Police Academy, and they have children, does one take a desk job? If a couple meet in the military, does only one reenlist?
What’s truly best for a family, anyway? My husband seems to think there must exist one "anchor," someone who doesn’t work rotating shifts, in the middle of the night, with individuals of ill-repute. There must exist a person available to wipe the noses and kiss the boo-boos. There must exist a constant parental presence. There must exist an individual who stocks the fridge. And, right now, that person is me.
Does it matter who makes more money or who has more passion? Is it better to have a constant presence or someone to model responsible citizenship and demonstrate the true capabilities of a woman? Is it possible to do both?
Part of me knows that I’m right, and the rest of me knows that he is, too. Would our children do better or worse if we were both frazzled in high-stress, potentially dangerous careers? Would we do better or worse as a family with three kids in day care or preschool? Is my restless nature and unquenchable thirst to create positive change in this world an asset or a hindrance to our family?
Maybe it’s both. Maybe my children’s needs are greater than my own. Maybe now’s not the time to take action. The issue will, for sure, require further examination.
But the question remains: Is it ever a wise choice to leave one’s career in favor of family due to the nature of the job? And does it matter who leaves?