Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Guilt, Motherhood, and Professional Success for Women

After almost a decade working in Higher Education, I realize that I feel guilty for my commitment to my career.  Today I attended the CSUB “19th Annual Latina Leadership Conference” and listened to successful women share their stories.  As each generation shared their journey it seems that professional women are our own worst enemies.  But it is not as simple as just get over it and be ambitious.   

Career versus Motherhood 

There are several factors to consider when thinking about our careers, and for many women the foremost issue is motherhood.

I am not a domestic goddess: I am not gifted in the area of sewing, crafting or cooking.  I love my children, but even if I won the lottery tomorrow I would not choose to be a full-time stay at home parent.  As my husband has now entered the workforce the conversations have shifted to how I am going to address the care of our children.  The decision to raise two children requires a commitment of an immeasurable amount of home labor.

Studies, like the link above, that ask mothers if they are “spending enough time with their children” are inherently flawed.  As women, we are lucky to get stuck with social pressures that remind us constantly that our sex requires us to nurture.

My partner is a feminist who was a willing stay-at home parent so I could start my academic career.  I am capable and enjoy being a leader but I feel guilt about my male partner’s sacrifice for my success.

I can’t believe I wrote this sentence:

I am capable and enjoy being a leader but I feel guilt about my male partner’s sacrifice for my success.

I know it is redundant to repeat a sentence, and it was hard to write it the first time. This confession demonstrates the internalization of both gender archetypes and that I am a barrier to my own personal success.  My professional success has provided for my entire family.  Regardless of my gender-- my education and experience makes me better qualified to be the breadwinner in our family.  Then why the heck do I still feel guilty?

My Self Inflicted Glass Ceiling

My partner supported me through graduate school, the start of my first full-time academic post and in the full-time care of our two children.  His action and words of encouragement validate me as I work on  my doctoral dissertation and yet doubt pervades my choices.

My doubt brings two interesting points of clarity:

How do other highly education mothers without incredibly supportive partners overcome social pressure and personal guilt to succeed professionally?  How can I earn a fair wage, promotion, and professional success when I hesitate to recognize my own value?

Life without Kids

The outcome to both of these questions is simple; patriarchy influences professional women.

I have several successful female friends without kids.  It is a common misconception that the choice to not have children voids social pressures.  In my experience people assume that women without children are either broken or not living life to the fullest.  

"Having it All Without Children"

As the above stories conclude, the assumption that women without kids are somehow unfulfilled is absolutely wrong.  With or without children, professional women are influenced by patriarchy.


This week my preliminary defense of my dissertation is scheduled.

Friday March 28, 2014 10am at CSUB Education Building 123 

In spite of self-doubt, I keep plugging away and I am getting the job done.  This weeks blog was cathartic to write and embarrassing to share.  But I shared it because I hope it validates other professional women who are struggling with their own careers to know they are not alone.


  1. Chris- first forgive yourself. It's ok to be who you are. Your background built a need in you to be validated, be successful, be the child with the "firsts", wanting to be at the top of your game. My mother worked full time in the era of June Cleaver. It showed me how to be strong, be independent, to be a working mom and enjoy success. My Dad was more like John, with the kids, taking us to activities but he worked full time too. I was a working mom too and thrived on the recognition and validation. But I loved being a mom too. So I chose to work close to home to be involved in their activities be the cheer coach, be the parent who helps out, be the carpooler. Your kids are great. Inara gets to see a strong woman and understand she will have choices as she becomes a womam. Nathan has the opportunity to see that Dads can be the nuturer, can be involved. Second, forgive yourself. It's ok to be who you are, where you want to be, and recognize thay you may not be totally suited to be Mrs. Cleaver. Ensure that your kids know you love them, that is what really counts. Kris

  2. What a thoughtful and insightful thinking that you should turn into your own magazine article at some point in the future. Your share a variety of perspectives - any of which could make an outstanding article: female leader, Latina leader, balancing home and career, following your passion and modeling for your children, communication between parents, etc.

  3. I had my first child at 30, followed by 3 more in the next 6 years (while earning tenure). Each time I got pregnant, I had a nagging feeling like I was letting my employer down in some way. I didn't apologize for being pregnant...but I felt like I was supposed to. No one on campus ever expressed disappointment in me, overtly or in subtext. The guilt I felt was pretty much self-induced. I have made it a point to purposefully generate a positive environment for family expansion (and all family news and obligations) in my department. I believe one of the reasons our turnover is so low is that everyone feels like their work-life balance is valued.

    I don't know how much more accomplishments I can ask my family to support, though. Although I find my work rewarding, my 4-year-old doesn't. She just wants me home. Every time I am asked to attend a university function outside of business hours, I consider the effect on my family. If I accepted a higher position on campus, how many more events would I be expected to attend? It's already hard enough declining the number of events that I do.

    After my doctoral studies are completed, I owe my family more of my attention--not less. I can't imagine jumping into more leverls of responsibility after what I've just put them through.

    For anyone who is listening...finish school BEFORE you have children if at all possible.