Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin made global news in 2005 for standing up to the infamous Neil French (the creative leader of their network at the time) who bluntly declared that female creatives aren’t cut out to be CDs at a Toronto event.
In this excerpt from Darling, You Can’t Do Both (HarperCollins Canada, 2014), they explore Mommy Fear and how women might be in for a surprise if they actually ask for what they really want.
When Ellen Ma was climbing the corporate ladder as a director of marketing for a national retail chain, she took one look at the nonexistent work-life balance of some of her female colleagues and figured that career plus children wasn’t in her cards. “I could barely manage myself—I didn’t want to introduce a family into it,” she says.
Her only friends who were able to swing the mom-career combo either had loads of backup from relatives, or the money to pay a staff of housekeeping and child-minding helpers. At the time, Ellen had neither. So she opted for top, not the tot. She said, “I saw them struggle. Yes, maybe the outcome would be great. But I always felt the journey should be pleasant, and I didn’t see any enjoyment in all of that.”
When she relocated to Asia, Ellen’s feelings would take a surprising turn. There she discovered that the cultural norm of living close to extended family members provided working mothers with built-in babysitting—and the support to have both a high-flying career and a fulfilling family life. Had she lived there earlier in her career, she says, she might have made different decisions about family and work.
Neither of us would ever say the choice to skip parenthood is a bad one. But if you want a baby, have a baby. We’ve said this to quite a few young women who’ve shared their struggle with the big decision. If you take a pass strictly because of career fears, we fear you could have regrets.
Don’t let your career ambitions, negative headlines or today’s pressure to be supermom stop you. Just do it. I’ve never met the career woman who said she wishes she had do-overs on having a child. There’s always a way to work it out. Nope, it will not be a breeze. You will not be perfect.
The life of the working mom gets plenty messy. But with the right conditions and creative strategies for achieving your goals, a future that includes both a decent home life and the career you want is possible. Darling, you can do both.
Let’s look at the sticky subject of Mommy Fear for a moment. No, I’m not talking about the unfounded terror we all face in paranoid moments that some unspeakable harm will befall our offspring. I’m talking about the kind of anxiety Kara Goodrich [read related excerpt] confessed to during our post–awards show huddle: the fear that motherhood renders you a lesser employee in the eyes of the boss.
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Laurie Brown was a rock and roll It Girl. She was a veejay for MuchMusic. She became famous for her on-air interviews with the music elite, like Miles Davis, Robert Plant, Lou Reed. She had fun little side projects, like playing the sexy/sadistic cop in Corey Hart’s music video for “Sunglasses at Night.”
Laurie was on a professional high when she found out she was pregnant. While she was thrilled to be having a baby, she was terrified of what it might mean for her career. She’d be the First. Ever. Pregnant. Veejay. If she could keep her job, that is.
“I thought, what’s going to happen? Rock and roll was all about sex, not the consequences of it. But when I finally shared the news with my boss, here’s what I heard: “This is groundbreaking. Do whatever you want.” There weren’t crazy camera angles to hide my expanding middle. No one freaked out. I asked for more time than I ever thought Much would give and it all worked out.
I think women more often than not will be pleasantly surprised when they just open their mouths and ask for what they want. Like me, they just assume there’s going to be a problem. They fear they’ll be seen as aggressive, a bitch, or there will be some kind of backlash. I’ve found men love a woman who can say what she wants and needs.”
Laurie’s worries didn’t play out, and she has little doubt her experience can hold true for others.