Right after giving birth to her son, Liam, last April, Jennifer Reyes thought, “What have I done?”
An assistant principal with a doctorate from UCLA in education and informational science, Jennifer had worked hard to position herself for a career where she could make a significant impact. Now, she said, “This line of work appears to be in conflict with the kind of mother I want to be. I wondered if I might have made a big mistake.”
Jennifer longs to be the caregiver who spends the most time with Liam. And she also needs to work: “I think I would go a little crazy without the stimulation of the professional environment,” she says, “and my work aligns with my value of service to others.”
Ideally, Jennifer would like to work half to three-quarters time while she has small children, yet realizes that her job demands full commitment and occasional long hours. She is in charge of instruction at her charter high school in Lakeview Terrace: coaching and evaluating the teachers, directing and delivering professional development, and overseeing the school’s academic program.
She has made compromises at work. She negotiated to end her school day a little earlier than in the past and prepared herself to “tolerate the feelings of embarrassment of not contributing enough in favor of providing for my son.” When she has two late nights in a row at school, she tries to schedule a half day at home to reconnect.
Still, she wonders if she’s doing the right thing. “When I thought of what it takes to do my job well, that would result in my doing badly in my new ‘job’ of parenting. Conversely, doing well at parenting — having a sizeable chunk of time with my son every day — would result in my doing badly at my job as instructional leader. It actually wouldn’t be possible.
“I felt torn and really beat myself up about it, especially because I had come close to taking a less intense job with a shorter commute, but decided to push myself to grow my career. Now, I am reminded that I love my job. It is extremely meaningful to me and fundamental to who I want to be in the world. I try to take comfort in the example of dedicated working moms and in the sight of my happy, healthy boy.”
Jennifer is luckier than many working mothers in that she has an involved husband who helps with chores and housework, giving Jennifer extra time with Liam. “He would prefer to know the house cleaning was done well, and I would prefer to bond with my son,” she said. “I do more shopping, more research on baby-related issues. We divide dinner duties — one cooks, the other cleans up.”
Jennifer leaves home at 7 a.m., returning at 5:30 p.m. Marcus, a general contractor with flexible hours, takes care of Liam in the mornings. “We could never afford childcare for 10½ hours,” she said. With her full schedule, she says, “I have never been so tired, and I never would have imagined I could get by on so little sleep.”
As Jennifer struggles to find balance, her attitude toward work has dramatically changed. “For the first time, I have something in my life that is clearly more important than my career. I may be one among many who can make a difference in education, but I am the only one who can be a mother to my son.”
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