Growing up during the 1980s, I was surrounded by affirmations of the unlimited opportunities for females. It seemed that every sitcom featured a working mother – Claire Huxtable, Maggie Seaver, Angela Bower. Each of these women had successful careers and happy children. At school the "women can do anything" mantra was reinforced as I sat side-by-side with male students and scored higher than them on math and science tests. However, as I pursued my undergraduate studies in Biology and my doctorate in Neuroscience, I began to wonder whether a career as a lead scientific investigator would really fit into my future. My biological clock was ticking, and when I had kids, I wanted to have time to watch them grow up. Most successful scientists devote the majority of their lives to their work, a feat that is not as burdensome as it sounds because most successful scientists love their work. However, with my desire for a family in mind, I turned away from the path towards glamour in the world of research and explored careers in which I can be a researcher in a more ancillary role.
Females have the same opportunities and potential for success as men. This is a statement that seems obvious to me. But after being faced with choices that impact my career and role as a mother, I’ve wondered whether there are certain careers that are incompatible with motherhood. Or, to be more precise, are there certain careers that are incompatible with a mother being actively involved in the day-to-day lives of her children.
There are numerous times when the question is raised about why more females are not in leadership positions, and I’ve often wanted to scream, "Because females have motherly instincts!" Occasionally a woman appears who chooses not to have children or who has no reservations about having a nanny raise her child, but the majority of women place their motherly role at the top of their priority list. While countless females have shown that a person can have an accomplished work life alongside a successful role as a mother, there are certain careers that are left out of this combination. Although it is certainly possible to be both a scientist and a mother, it seems that to excel as a lead scientist, one’s focus needs to be on their career. And to excel at being involved in the lives of one’s children, one’s entire focus can’t be on their career. Which brings us back to the initial question – are certain careers incompatible with motherhood?
I believe that many prestigious careers are incompatible with good motherhood. If I need a cardiac bypass, I don’t want my surgeon to rush through the procedure so that she can be on time for her kid’s soccer game. If I’m ever wrongly accused of murder, I certainly don’t want my attorney to stay home with her sick child rather than come to my defense. If I’m awarding a grant for research, I don’t want the money to go to someone who will only half-heartedly be studying the research topic. Conversely, if I were a child, I wouldn’t want a mother who I only see for a few hours each week.