The Fashion Magpie Marriage

Remaining Interesting.

A couple weeks ago, I sat down to coffee with a dear friend and we talked about this, that, and the other thing before the conversation funneled into the familiar territory in which I so commonly find myself when talking with women in their 30s: careers and babies and how to juggle the two.  I have an unusual arrangement in this regard, as I have a nanny three days a week so I can write, and then I’m a stay at home mom the other two — and so I often sit back and listen to these conversations noddingly though without input, as I feel I’m not qualified to comment on either of the two more common arrangements: full-time working mother or full-time SAHM.  I am always struck by the overtones of guilt and defensiveness that permeate these conversations, and they leave me sad and philosophical.  That day, though, I was rattled by something my friend said:

“A friend of mine told me she felt she had to work outside the home after they had children because she wanted to remain interesting to her husband.”

Remain interesting to her husband.  The words lingered in the air like cigarette smoke, sickening me.  At first, I scoffed at it, summarily dismissing the inane sentiment that career woman = interesting and mother = boring.  The notion that my intelligence or ability to spar and ideate might be tarnished, diminished, or somehow rubbed off by my new role as a mother — what is that?!   

And yet it would be disingenuous to say that I didn’t get it.  I thought immediately of a brainstorm I once led with my management team at a former job about how best to resolve a complicated workflow issue.  It was stimulating, requiring ingenuity and nimbleness of thought.  We clustered together in a small conference room around a white board, tossing out ideas, citing articles we’d read.  I navigated the dynamics in the room, dodging tempers, appeasing big personalities, coaxing quiet-but-smart types to contribute.  I facilitated the conversation to its resolution and offered to spearhead the implementation.  On the way out, my boss gestured to the small war room we’d just been in and said: “You’re good at that.  Thanks.”  It was not an earth-shattering accomplishment, but I felt respected and intellectually challenged and, well, like a grown-up businesswoman who had earned her keep.  I was also eager to replay the conversation to Mr. Magpie that night, to get his perspective, to impress him, to pass along the compliment I’d received.

I in turn thought about the myriad lively exchanges I’ve had with Mr. Magpie on matters of business, management, workplace culture, product–often empassioned, often accompanied by wine, always showcasing just how invested we have been in our jobs and our teams.  And I thought of the time he sat in an audience of over 200 while I delivered a Ted-talk-like presentation on designing products to improve the financial health of low-income youth and afterward came up to me with his eyes rimmed in red: “I am so, so proud of you.”  Gulping something back, seeing me in a new light.  The time a coach from a female entrepreneurship event I was participating in asked him at a cocktail party: “How does it feel to play second fiddle to this woman?”  (I hated her for saying that, for invoking some kind of weird gender role dynamic, for belittling him — but I loved how he shrugged it off and shut her up with a polite: “It feels great.”  And my heart doubled.)  The times he would squeeze my hand or give me a thumbs up just before or after a big meeting or presentation when we ran a business together.  His enthusiastic — “Yes…yes!  That’s awesome!” — when I would mock up a new product feature or run through a new phrasing in our sale pitch.  The way he would excitedly pace from one end of our kitchen to the other while mulling something over, electric with energy, prodigious with thought. The feeling of being his equal, of being respected and trusted and leaned upon in all things as his co-founder.

The thought that I could lose this interest and respect was new and devastating to consider.  I wondered, suddenly, how he saw me after all.  I wondered if the slow and inevitable transition in dinnerplace conversation from business matters to baby food would gradually take its toll, whether slowly he would start carrying his workplace musings elsewhere, would assume I was too disconnected to comprehend or empathize with them.

I fretted over this for the better part of a week.  I intentionally kept our evening discussions far afield from mini’s evolved nap schedule and the new bibs I’d just ordered.  I asked about his day, asked after what had happened with a new project, offered my own perspective.  I contemplated telling him what was on my mind, but knew exactly what he would say to me: “You’re being ridiculous.”

And, well — I was.

I am still the first person Mr. Magpie turns to for help with wordsmithing.  I routinely edit his emails to colleagues, letters of recommendation he has penned for members of his team, materials for his presentations.  Usually they’re already flawless, but I nitpick anyway, knowing he wants another set of eyes — or, sometimes, the pat on the back he deserves.

He will often call me in search of my perspective on matters related to management.  “This just happened…what do you think?”  Or, “What would you say to this person?”  I always oblige.

He recently contemplated inviting me into his office to help with a product design training he was trying to run, as I have facilitated them in the past.  I was flattered that he would think of me and trust me in front of his new team.

So, I guess I’ve still got it.

And so I have decided to place that corrosive concern in an enormous wooden chest, lock it with a key, and toss it overboard.   Or maybe burn it first and then toss its ashes overboard, just so there’s never a chance it can come floating back to me.  I don’t need that deadweight, that extra burden of guilt and self-doubt.

But mainly I am writing this to say to the other moms out there who might be grappling with the same fear: don’t let your motherliness sit as a counterbalance to yourself.  By that I mean that motherhood is a part of me — not another version of me, and also not all of me. In this sense, the notion that I might become uninteresting to my husband as a stay at home mom betrays a false dichotomy.  It presumes that we are different people in the home vs. at the workplace.  But I am not.  I am me everywhere I go, whether I am pushing a stroller or leading a sales call.  I am the same observant, dare I say interesting person.  And so are you.

Post Scripts: Things You Need to Know About.

+I don’t know how I missed out on this (originally published in 2016) but I am GAGA over Chanel Dror’s wedding day details.

+I am somebody.

+Hold the phone.  J.Crew just came out with a jogger version of their dreamy pant, which — as you know — is pretty much the most comfortable thing ever created, and I own it in multiples.  Ordered immediately.  (These cost less and come in great colors, too.)

+Eight years in!

+I’m in a cashmere state of mind apparently.  Has anyone ever bought any pieces from White+Warren?  I’m drooling over this in the pearl white and this bell-sleeved beauty.

+When was the last time you felt like a fish out of water?

+This satin bow hair accessory!  SO GOOD!

+You must read this book.  It is so juicy and mind-boggling and fascinating.  I need to unpack what I feel about it.  I actually worked for someone startlingly similar to the Holmes described in this book and so it struck a deep chord with me.

+Pageantry.

+Adore these embellished mules!  So chic!

+I have been hesitant on the leopard/cheetah print trend that has been everywhere lately, but this skirt with a simple black tee and black mules would be pretty damn chic.

+Love this plaid blouse!

 

20 Comments

  1. This post is one of my all-time favorites. My heart broke a little thinking of you musing over the fact of your motherhood and how it might affect your being interesting to your loved ones … my eyes are actually filling with tears as I type this! I’m so glad I read through the comments, too, because I was going to say something very similar to Kate — I think your writing here has a lot of relevance to not just mothers, but to anyone who’s experienced a major transition in life. Your words are like a salve, and they also help me relate better to most of my friends, who have all become mothers over the past year or two.

    Anyway, I am rambling, but just know that like all of your writing, this post really resonated with me … and I’m sending you a hug!

    1. Hi MK! Thank you so much for writing this — I am so happy I wrote this post even though it felt…awkward? Ungainly? I have had so many sweet emails and direct messages and comments along these lines and am surprised and relieved it resonated with so many of you. I also appreciate the hug 🙂 xo

  2. Sitting here with tears brimming in my eyes, as I’ve pondered this very same topic over and over again as a new mom to a 9.5 month old who also works part-time (but as a VP in finance, so like the least part-time part-time job ever). “Motherhood is a part of me — not another version of me, and also not all of me” is going to be echoing in my head for a long, long time.

    1. [Insert heart breaking emoji.] I am so happy this post found you and resonated with you. These are big, meaty, identity-related transitions and not for the faint of heart. Xoxo

  3. your post has my mind percolating, as always. My new baby girl (!!! baby 3 was another girl!!!!) L is now 3 weeks, middle sister G is 16 months, and big brother P is 3.5. My hands and heart are very full. BUT, I miss my calling as a high school Latin teacher SO much. I miss my students, the connections, the work, and even my work clothes if I’m being honest.
    With 3 under 4, it’s not feasible for me to return to a public school salary and put my children into full time daycare. My husband is so supportive and would encourage me to do it in a minute if I wanted to (and I recognize the privilege of even having that option).
    I’m in a weird balance of loving the special time with my littles, yet longing for my former career with my “other kids.”
    SIGH. Maybe I’ll return to the classroom in a few years when my own are in school, or maybe I won’t go back. I’m not sure. I am more than “just a mom,” and hope that my children and I are able to see and remember that.

    On a detour, I have two of the cashmere cable cardigans from White + Warren. Both are probably 3-4 years old. They are so luxe, so soft, so cozy – you will want to bury your face in them. A splurge for sure, but I love them!

    1. Anna!!!!! Congrats on baby number three! You are seriously a hero. Mother of THREE under FOUR. I mean! What!

      I completely understand the tug and pull you feel. One of my good friends said something interesting to me a few years back when I was agonizing over career decisions: “trust that every decision you make is the best possible one you can make at a given time.” I take such comfort in that. There are no rights or wrongs; we are simply making the most informed, logical decisions we can at a given point in time with the information we have in front of us. Slightly out of left field, but I am particularly taking solace in that while we look at schools for mini. I don’t know for a fact that we’ll be in our same apartment or same neighborhood or even same city or state for that matter in the space of a few years. But trying to make decisions based on flimsy maybes is insane and paralyzing. Instead, I have to move forward and make the best decisions I can right now based on what I believe we will be doing — which is staying right here in Manhattan because we love it right now.

      Anyway, that’s a petty decision point compared to the ones you’re tossing around, but I thought the underlying wisdom of my friend might serve as a salve while you weigh through these thoughts. Step by step, day by day, month by month. You’ll continue to make the right decisions, even if those decisions eventually change.

      xoxo

  4. I have been a silent reader of your blog for years. Wait for it every morning! I am a management consultant and with 7 month old twins, I often wonder if going back to work would involve people wondering if I was no longer cut for the job! I know for a fact though motherhood is much much more taxing and fulfilling. Just the positive validation I needed. Thank you!

    1. Hi Bhavna! Thank you so much for taking the time to write in about this, and for being such a dutiful reader! So glad it resonated with you and arrived at the right time. xoxo

  5. Echoing Hitha’s sentiments—this was just the perspective I needed right now. I so admire you for embodying your facets so fully, instead of letting them embody you—it takes real conviction!
    And ahhh Bad Blood! I didn’t get a sense of what really drove Elizabeth, which was the most intriguing part to me. Would love to hear your thoughts!

    1. So glad this resonated with you, and thank you — I hadn’t thought about it taking conviction but appreciate the compliment 🙂 And BAD BLOOD! I have some thoughts going live on le blog tomorrow. xoxo

  6. Wow. Wow. Wow.
    I’m so glad I saved your post as an end-of-day treat, with a cup of tea and having put out a billion fires.
    This was poignant, honest, and beautifully written. And I’m feeling all the feels.

    1. Thank you you so much for the kind words. So glad it reached you on the right day at the right time 🙂 Thank you for reading. xoxo

  7. Thank you for writing this. I’m transitioning to a new role that is very back of house. It’s going to be a good skill builder for me and is the right choice. I have struggled a bit with losing the outward facing role I have now- will I be less interesting now that I won’t be interacting with XYZ? Will I have less to talk about with my husband or friends?

    Your words come at the right time for me, and your conclusion is soothing to me. Thank you.

    1. Hi Kate! Fortuitous timing! I completely relate to this line of concern, too. I’ve worried in the past about taking jobs that seemed on the surface of them a demotion or a step backward or jig-jag to the left. Trust that you are still the same fascinating person to all of your loved ones! And never forget that you control your narrative and can articulately explain your decision in a way that makes people intrigued, excited, understanding. So happy you found this post today! xoxo

  8. Ugh I needed this today–not necessarily for remaining interesting to my husband, but to myself. Sometimes I feel like I just am not a very interesting person anymore–six months into motherhood and sooooo much of my mind is occupied with minutia that’s not interesting to anyone but a mom–and none of my friends are mothers. Thank you for this post!

    1. Aw – so glad this reached you. My heart throbbed a little bit at the thought of worrying you’re uninteresting to yourself! I know what you mean, though. The early months can be isolating, and you forget how much you have to offer, and how interesting and worthy your observations of early motherhood are. Trust me when I say that other moms would give an arm and a leg to sit next to you, hear your thoughts, and spill their own. Hang in there!! xo

  9. You always hit the nail on the head! These posts resonate with me as I am a new mom this year working outside of my home. I dream of what it would be like to be a SAHM but struggle immensely with the same thoughts like those you have so eloquently laid out in this post. Your writing is a gift!

    1. Thanks, Candace! So glad this reached you. I think no matter what path you choose, it’s always a struggle. I don’t know any mom who is 100% at home with whatever her arrangement is. Or, well — maybe she’s reached a sense of calm and purpose in her decision-making, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t fall prey to self-doubt. It’s a tough transition all around. But trust yourself — you’re doing the best thing you can for your family.

      Anyway, I could go on and on on this topic. But thanks for writing this 🙂

  10. Ugh, I feel you on this. But I too am lucky to have a super-supportive husband who understands why I’ve been working ‘til 1am on this latest contract (“because it’s what you want to do”). He even jokes that if my work continues, he’ll quit and be a SAHD so I can bring in the “big bucks.” SUCH a contrast to guys I’ve known in the past who were seriously threatened by the thought of my possibly making more money than they were. When I was in college and still going to medical school, I had an acquaintance come up to me at a party and tell me, unsolicited, “I’m still going to make more money than you.” !!!!!!!! And then when I got into my doctoral program a couple years later, an ex told me I was going to be the perfect wife, since I’d be well-educated and would be able to have interesting conversations at cocktail parties but not be a financial threat. Yes, seriously. (Also, wtf. At that point I was in the middle of a masters program at his alma mater and my undergrad institution was no podunk college either.) All that to say, you will always be interesting no matter what you do, you just need to find the right (supportive) guy who will realize what a gem he has. Love how amazing your husband sounds/is. Having a baby doesn’t mean you lost whatever made you interesting- it has just added a new (and interesting!) facet to your life, and if others are too dim witted to see it, well, their loss.

    (Now I need a morning glass of wine to brush off the annoyance of even thinking about those other turds in my life – it’s not too early, is it?)

    1. UGH. Yucky grimy. Sorry to have dredged these unfortunate memories up — and glad that those voices of retrogression are firmly in your past. (Where they belong — well, they actually belong nowhere.)

      Morning wine is totally permissible after chewing on those thoughts! But maybe make it a glass of sparkling and order a side of fries at your favorite local bistro and toast to yourself being just as interesting now as you ever have been. xo

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