Occasionally friends and old clients rope me into doing a couple hours of consulting work here and there, and the other day I found myself listening in on a business conference call. The subject of targeting a certain product to stay-at-home moms came up, and this led to the subject of women outside of the workforce in general. One of the women on the call said in passing, “Obviously an ambitious woman could never be happy staying at home with kids.” The group reacted to this statement as if she’d said “the sky is blue, ” and moved on to the next subject.
What’s surprising is how often I hear this. I’ve had a couple of friends say the same thing to me within the past few months (each time leading to the awkward moment when they realize that I am one of those stay-at-home mommy people now). To my ears it sounds like a shocking, borderline offensive statement, yet I know that that’s not at all how it’s meant. Many people perceive it to just be an obvious truth.
Since I seem to hold the minority opinion on the matter, it’s left me to wonder a lot lately: Can ambitious women be happy making their full-time job the raising of children and the running of the household? My gut reaction is to say yes, of course, since I think of myself as ambitious and I’m happy with my role as a housewife. But the more I think about it I realize that maybe that’s just my personality type — I’m ill suited to be a mother, so raising my children is far more challenging to me than any job I ever had, leaving me with a feeling of great accomplishment that we’re all still alive (so far). Also, my entrepreneurial spirit (read: inability to handle being told what to do by a boss) makes it fulfilling for me to come up with my own little challenges and projects, even if they don’t involve a salary or any other sort of public recognition. …Or maybe I’m just not as “ambitious” as I thought I was.
The other issue that usually goes hand in hand with this is the perception that men have it easier on this score, since they can be married and have families and easily fulfill ambitions outside of family life. I think that there is some truth to this, although plenty of men have to stifle their ambitions, at least job-wise, to support a family (most of the fathers I know are not pursuing their career dreams because of financial or work/life balance issues). But since a husband’s traditional role puts him outside the house for much of the time, I suppose it is easier for men to pursue personal goals that don’t necessarily involve the family.
All this is to say…what do you think? Can the ambitious woman be a happy housewife? Is it easier for ambitious men to be happy husbands and fathers than it is for ambitious women to be happy wives and mothers?
This sounds like a fun/interesting conversation, I can’t wait to read the comments.
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