Making Room for “Ima”

After writing about gender and children, I ran into two blog posts about the other end of the debate – the work-life balance that it takes to be mother and have a career. They come from two very different sources, which I think highlights how prevalent this issue is in society. The first article is from Sisterhood, a blog run by the Forward newspaper (to which we subscribe), entitled “Making Room for Ima on the Bima”. A recent graduate from JTS Rabbinical School laments the difficulty (and outright chauvinism) she experienced during her job search – questions asked about whether she could handle being a mother and being a rabbi, which she suspects prevented both her and her female colleagues from getting jobs at the same rate as their male colleagues, despite being in similar life stages (i.e. with small children). More importantly, she proposed the life experience of being a mother would undoubtedly be helpful in a profession that requires compassion, sympathy and patience, all of which are increased by parenthood. The comments on the post were also particularly interesting – one pointing out that perhaps she would benefit from talking to female Reform rabbis, the earliest of whom are now getting toward the end of their careers, and another pointing out that life experience in general, not just parenthood, should be considered an asset for rabbis joining congregations.

The second article, from the NY Times, intentionally provocatively titled “Should Women Be Doctors?” talks, among other things, about the rising incidence of part-time doctors. The article is particularly interesting because discusses two different conclusions reached by bringing the same data. On the one hand, medical school is an investment both by the schools and by the students, and perhaps we’re not getting our “worth” out of the doctors if they choose to work part-time for any part of their career. It gets pretty deep – should the women have become doctors in the first place, if they can’t or won’t be doctors full-time for their entire career. Should they, instead, let someone else (i.e. male or a woman not wanting to have children) take their spots at schools and in jobs? On the other hand, perhaps part of what’s going on is that the old model was not sustainable. Is it fair on anyone to make them work 100 hours a week? Or to put the pressure on that if they don’t do it, they are somehow misusing their education? My own father is a physician, and the demands on his time have been numerous and varied. Only in the last few years has he stopped having to make hospital calls. My parents plan their vacations months ahead, and when they decide to move or he retires, he is required to give at least three months notice. The first comment to the article also points out something important – since 80% of women become mothers, to discriminate against them in this way is basically to discriminate against women. Consider then, that each of the viewpoints laid out were espoused by women, and you add yet another layer.

I found these articles and the questions they particularly interesting as I am starting grad school in a few months, and preparing to spend a fair amount of money on it. Knowing that there will likely be a period of time in which I won’t be working as well as a period in which I might work part-time, I have asked myself a couple of times if it’s worth it, especially since it’s likely that this might happen fairly soon after I get my degree. The answer, since I’m still going to grad school, is yes. Even if I didn’t work a day in my life after school, it would probably still be worth it for having fulfilled a dream of mine. However, I think I have more to offer than being a mom. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not anti-mom, but I want to keep contributing as an individual as well, in a professional sense. I can’t see what the future will bring, exactly, or what my professional contribution will be exactly. I want to help fix non-profit organizations, and I want to do it well – whether that will be full-time or part-time, it’s hard to say.  It will likely be complicated, especially in the world of non-profits that often expects miracles from three full-time employees doing the work of five. Maybe I will be in the position to make a difference – to help figure out how to get the most from people while still getting what we need from life.

Oh, and one last article that I saw on this subject – Our Lefty Military. I admire the military for a lot of things, and this is definitely one of them.

So, female professionals and family concerns – what’re your thoughts?


6 thoughts on “Making Room for “Ima”

  1. I once heard it said that you can have two out of three – family, career, and social life – and I found it to be true in my experience. My choice was family and career; I’ve worked full time since graduate school. Our children were in full time daycare where they made life long friends.

    It is a lot of work and there isn’t anyone giving you kudos for your effort. Therefore it is important to make the choices that are right for you!

    • Fascinating – I think I’ll probably end up with the same choices, or at least, similar. Part of this blog is helping me to figure out what those right choices are and to bring those discussions into the public.

  2. “…since 80% of women become mothers, to discriminate against them in this way is basically to discriminate against women.”

    Not just discrimination but all out sexism! It’s ridiculous that in our own time, after our mothers, aunts and older female relatives fought so passionately for our right to work in professions outside the home that this question (is it “worth it” for a woman to go to college and get a degree if she knows that she’ll end up part-time at some point in her life) still exists at all in the collective sub-conscious of HR departments throughout the country.

    I especially love your link to the article about our Lefty Military 🙂 Living in a military town, it’s refreshing to hear how the military is actually closer to the left than the right. But… even though it’s a great example of a single-payer universal healthcare system, the way I’ve seen that applied just means that everyone has access to really crappy healthcare 😦 It might not be true everywhere, but here I hear over and over about really long waits for doctors appointments and then completely misinformed and rude doctors who order unnecessary tests or misdiagnose conditions, etc. It’s pathetic and our soldiers and their families deserve better!

    • My mom, being among those who definitely fought for those rights, is disappointed that we haven’t come farther – especially in the area of quality, affordable childcare so that women aren’t worried about their children so they can work. I think what was particularly alarming about the piece in the NYTimes was that it was a woman making the argument as though 1) it makes any real sense or 2) it wasn’t used for YEARS by men, except in a different sense – women being made less fertile by the stress of working, which would of course lead to the collapse of the human race.

      As for the one-payer system, the long wait to get care is also definitely part and parcel of the Canadian system, and the hospitals are often less ridiculously well maintained and manicured. At the same time, this level of care still means that the Canadian life expectancy is about 2 years more than America, and they rank higher on many measures of the health system, except responsiveness – where they still rank 7th overall, out of 191 nations (from wikipedia, but it contains actual data – It’s not a panacea, but I thought it was very interesting, given the conservative stance in this country that universal health care will somehow bankrupt us faster than the ridiculous health system we have now…

  3. I know someone right now who is pregnant but keeping it a secret because she is a contract employee (contract up shortly), with a real shot of being hired permanently, and she doesn’t want to risk losing that job. They wouldn’t say it’s because she’s pregnant, they would find another reason, but we know the reason.

    It’s frustrating. Education is always worth it, whether you “use” it or not, because you will use it in other parts of your life. There’s more to getting an education than the facts that you learn in class, there’s critical thinking, there’s doing something that you love, following a passion, etc. Even if you don’t “use” it, even if you only work part time (which by the way is fine – why does everyone have to work full time to be considered contributing members of society?), you will feel more satisfied with yourself, with your life, having followed your interests and challenged yourself.

    • I agree that it’s frustrating, and I like your point that even working part-time contributes, especially if, say, you’re using your other time for volunteering or raising children or other very worthy pursuits that don’t count as “work.” I can’t wait for grad school, and I look forward to seeing how this all plays out in my own life. Hopefully for the better!!

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