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.
+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.)
+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.
+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!