By Shoshanah Marcus, News Editor
My grandma often reminds me of the remorse my mother felt when she dropped me off at my grandparents’ house when I was six weeks old. As a young and passionate registered nurse with a husband in medical school and a newborn baby, my mother felt an overwhelming sense of guilt for leaving her baby during the day in order to pursue her career. Though I was well taken care of by my grandparents and other relatives, it was very difficult for my mother not to feel as if she was somewhat relinquishing her conventional responsibilities as a mother by not being fully present in my early years. From an outsider’s perspective, my mother seemed to have her work and family life in perfect balance: she worked in a field that she was passionate about but could also spend plenty of time with her family. However, in the ‘balance,’ my mother often felt as if her family life distracted her work and her work interrupted her family life.
After reading Yael Chatav Schonbrun and Elizabeth Corey’s “Work-Life Conflict Can’t Be Solved — and That’s a Good Thing” in The Wall Street Journal, I began to think about the additional expectations hindering Jewish women from having a competitive career while fulfilling their traditional role as a mother. Though there has been a recent revolutionary movement for Jewish women to undertake more time-consuming and rigorous careers, such as in the medical or law field, working Jewish mothers often feel residual guilt for not fulfilling their societal expectations as a mother and housewife. As a result, many young Jewish women pursue a job that allows for flexibility so that they can feel a sense of self-accomplishment in their careers while having enough time to take care of their families.
However, the part-time nature of a job should not be the ultimate criteria in choosing a profession. Instead, Jewish women should be encouraged to pursue their passions without underlying feelings of guilt, just as Jewish men are. In their article, Schonbrun and Corey explain that though both men and women reportedly have a work-life conflict, “women tend to be more prone to guilt and self-doubt about their choices.” While the role of a mother is arguably one of the most fulfilling and important roles a woman can undertake, Jewish women should not be limited by the expectations surrounding motherhood. Though there are important and unique responsibilities that come with becoming a mother, women should not feel the need to suppress their passions out of fear that they will not be able to ‘balance’ their career and family life. Instead of attempting to balance their work and personal lives, which implies that the two roles are interconnected and intertangled, women should feel empowered to separate their careers and family in order to truly be present in both facets.
Weighing one’s responsibilities both in and out of work can become overwhelming and burdensome to many. In their article, Schonbrun and Corey add, “[y]et in a culture that prioritizes both intensive parenting and constant attention to work, the conflict between roles can be beneficial, since it forces us to take turns detaching from each.” They explain: “Instead of lamenting the difficulty of balancing the two endeavors, then, we can try to appreciate the productivity from forces in opposition.” Rather than attempting to weigh both aspects of life and expect some sort of harmonious balance, women should feel empowered to not only separate the two aspects of their lives when possible, but to also accept that work and life will rarely be in perfect synchronization.
Rather than placing one’s professional aspirations and personal endeavors on a scale to weigh one priority against the other, perhaps the two important commitments should be viewed as a juggling act. One of the most important rules of juggling is to focus on the ball at hand in order to adequately prepare for the next ball. This metaphor can be extended to the work-life struggle. Not only does focusing on the task at hand allow one to better execute the task, but detaching from one task in order to complete the other allows for maximum productivity and self-fulfillment.
Professional aspirations should not be limited by the societal expectations surrounding motherhood or any other personal endeavor. Young Jewish women in particular, who often feel the pressures of raising a family, should not fear the crushing balance, but instead celebrate the juggle.