Of Mommies and Mayors--Why women should be both.
Thursday, May 7, 1998
People who know that I have a small child wonder why I work. Sometimes, I wonder myself. If you aren''t already well established in a career, postpartum is probably not the time to start. You work twice as hard and accomplish twice as much. But since there is twice as much to do, you feel constantly half done and sometimes undone. The up side is an adorable miracle to love and cherish, a whole new spin on life as you knew it, and the opportunity to learn extreme patience. The challenge is learning to live with progress that is circular, rather than linear, since every step along the way must be explained, pre-arranged and (often) mopped up. It''s hard to measure circular progress in a linear world. It''s easy to feel like a failure.
I work for a variety of reasons. I need the money. But I also need the challenge, the stimulation and the incredible satisfaction that journalism brings to me, that it has always brought to me, since I began more than 20 years ago. Were I a man, no one would question my decision to work. Since I am a woman, that decision is questioned on a regular basis, by society and by myself. I am haunted by fears that my child will grow up feeling robbed of my presence--this despite some of the best child care in the world and all appearances that my child is happy, healthy, cheerful and perhaps more sure of herself than any 2 year-old has a right to be.
A lot of professional women drop out of the work world, at least when their children are young. I am sad to report that many of them don''t get to start where they left off. It might be politically correct to espouse family values, but it''s hard to find personnel directors willing to internalize those values enough to overlook a five or 10-year gap in employment.
I also wonder what the work world loses when women head home during their child-bearing years. Certainly, as a writer and an editor who has become a mother, I have developed new perspectives on the stories I choose to cover and how I choose to cover them. Issues like child care and education have naturally become more important to me, but there are less obvious emphases. I look at how we cover leisure time, crime--even politics--in new ways; ways that link what daily newspapers used to call the "women''s world" with the wider world.
I think too often we create artificial barriers between mommies and mayors, between those who make policies and those who have to live with them. Surely we are both instigators and participants, we are what we do from 8-5, but also what we do from 5-8. I spend a lot of my time--on and off the job--trying to explain to non-journalists how politics and policies affect real, every day life. (And if you don''t believe there''s a link, imagine what would happen if every airline executive was required to travel nonstop across country with a toddler and a baby. Bet you''d find bigger seats and someplace to change a diaper.) In short, I have to believe that becoming a parent has shown me more compelling ways to link our home self with our work self--the two sides that together are our whole person.
Lastly, I would like to think that being a woman journalist allows me to serve as some sort of a role model. Not just for my girl, but for all the other growing girls as well as the girls grown to women who--like me--have a passion for journalism. Or law. Or medicine.
No doubt, a huge percentage of America''s daughters will themselves be working mothers. I don''t know how they will find the perfect balance in their dual lives. I don''t know if such a balance exists for any woman. Or any man.
I do know that I want them to believe they should attempt the balance, measure their successes with a circle, know that there is joy in the quest.
Jill Duman is news editor of CoastWeekly. Public Forum is open to members of the community who want to express their views on subjects of general interest. Submissions must be original to Coast Weekly, 600 words in length and be accompanied by a photograph of the author.