Monday, February 4, 2008

Mommy-track and the exit strategy

Introduction and background

The buzz today in terms of life and career planning is about exit strategies. Typically the term is used in reference to launching a career or business. One area where the term has not been applied is motherhood and parenting. The collective gasp is already building but the concept is appropriate and has the potential to reframe how parents, especially women, view and approach the rest of their lives as the role of mothering or parenting recedes.

There have been many shifting tides of opinion about what women can, should, and ought to think about and do with their lives. But no one so far has suggested that every woman, whether she is a CEO or a part-time greeter at the big box store or a full-time stay-at-home-mom, would do well to have an exit strategy. All of these roles change or end at some point and planning an exit strategy with a back-up plan B will help guide the necessary transition.

Mommy-tracking – the first life

By design, for about 30 years, my primary focus was home and family. There were times I went to school and worked and volunteered, but the main thing was home and family. One thing that sets me apart from my parents and their generation is that I kept at the front of my brain the notion that my grown children’s lives were not to become my projects to overcome boredom.

I knew wanted to have my own activities and interests when they left home but at first I operated on a less than positive approach. When the children needed less intervention and began to move out, I started out by gradually letting go and backing away. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the approach but I think if I had grasp the idea of exit strategy I could have build a better shift of the locus of control.

Changing tracks – the shift

In the void that resulted I inserted a lot of fluffy activities. There was nothing wrong with the activities I just wasn’t thinking beyond being a motherly-manager type. Unlike career-track women, mothers and homemakers are not often encouraged to look beyond their current skill sets to plan this life shift. It took going back and looking at the reasons I left college and gave up on journalism school to lead me back to thinking about taking up writing again.

Once I decided I wanted to write professionally, I built a plan to relearn how to write and to finish my degree. I thought doing those two things would reveal what I should write about and in what capacity. That approach might work for some but it didn’t work for me. So I left the university with a great education but no exit strategy.

Moving out on the mainline – the second life

It has taken two years of stumbling around but I am finally getting a vision for a dual track path to building a second-life career as a writer. The approach for me seems to combine cultivating some regular paid writing slots while developing the art of writing in an area I plan to move into eventually. Depending on the area of interest, age, and preparation, another person’s approach might look different.

I have not seen much of a conversation about the adult “tween” years and I am opening a space in my blogging to explore how broad a need there is for this dialogue. I am learning a wholly different way of thinking about what the rest of my life should look like and how I manage it. There seems to be others who are searching for a safe place to think about and talk about their ideas for the post-children but pre-retirement years of their lives.

However, being a woman I think and write about this from a woman’s perspective. It is not meant to be exclusionary; on the contrary many topics will be applicable to men and fathers who are welcome to read and participate in the ongoing discussion.


Melissa Donovan said...

I'm not familiar with this challenge on a personal level, but I do know from watching the women in my family that this is a worthy topic, one I'm sure would provide much value to readers. I also think it's applicable to men, as the empty nest struggle affects them as well, although often in a different way.

Melissa Donovan
Writing Forward

chelle said...

I am not there yet. It is much too soon for me to be thinking about them leaving since I am dreading kindergarten :) However, I am not afraid to explore my own ways of expressing creativity in order to provide me much needed balance as a mother and a woman. Awesome topic!