Although I’m a self-employed entrepreneur and I’ve worked hard to create a thriving business, I struggle with my career identity because I’m also a mom who stays at home to work.
I admit that there are times when I’m just plain uncomfortable because I find myself stuck between two identities. On the one hand, I’m the ambitious career woman who is the breadwinner in my family. I feel immense pressure to work and to make a significant income because, without it, my family will suffer.
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At the same time, because I work from home, I want to have more qualities of a full-time stay at home mother. I want to do it all: To make lunches, to play on the floor with my twin toddlers and to pick up those sleepy little kids every time they wake up from a nap looking so adorable with their hair sticking up everywhere.
However, if I’m being honest with myself, I still haven’t found a way to feel successful at all the roles I play in my life. If I’m being brutally honest, I’ve struggled with seeing myself as a strong career woman ever since I became a mother.
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Maybe it’s because I’m the default parent or because I’m around my children more than my husband is. Even though both my husband and I have very serious and demanding careers, when one of our children is sick, I’m typically the one to take them to the doctor or to cancel a call with a client because I’m the one who’s already at home. It just makes sense for me to take them rather than to have him come home and do it…right? These are the questions I’m still exploring.
Sometimes I’m a little jealous that my husband wakes up, dresses nicely for work and heads out the door…whereas I spend most of my day in yoga pants working on my computer. But what makes me the most envious is the public perception of what we do. People take my husband and his career seriously. I’ve even had neighbors and friends tell me I’m so lucky to have a hardworking husband so I can stay at home—when in reality I make far more money than he does.
Most people don’t realize that, although my car is in the driveway and I’m picking up the paper in my pajamas, I’m actually putting in significant hours during the week to run a full-time media business. I’m just doing it inside my house while my babysitter cares for my toddlers. And yet, I rarely correct what others perceive, not wanting to come across as defensive, rude or just plain ungrateful. Maybe the solution is being prouder of what I have accomplished and telling more people in my life about what I do. After all, I can’t expect people to assign me a career identity when they don’t even know I have one.
Ultimately, I’m not writing this because I have the answers, but because I’m not alone. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2014 Report by Babson and Baruch College, of the more than 9 million U.S. businesses, more than half are owned by women. Many of these women are mothers or will become mothers in the future, and there should be an open dialogue about how to create a career identity not separate from, but in conjunction with, our roles as mothers.
After all, if we don’t try to define, accept and promote what we do as entrepreneurs, no one else will. It’s completely up to us to work together to create this identity not just individually, but collectively—as strong working women.
Catherine Alford is a personal finance expert.