My daughter informed me the other day that she wants to be an interior designer when she grows up. This was news to me, because up until now she’s always wanted to be a singer, and possibly an actress or a fashion designer, but that last one is just because she likes to watch Project Runway.
At first I wasn’t sure where interior designer came from, but then I realized that we’ve been redecorating our den for the last few months, and I think she’s really enjoyed helping me pick out fabrics and rugs and furniture. (Also, I recently videotaped her singing Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain,” and when she watched it back I think she was a little disheartened. “I’m so much better in my head,” she said, after she saw it. “I stink in real life.” Which, to be fair, isn’t true. She does have a very pretty voice, but I think she realized for the first time that she may not be a shoo-in to win The X Factor when she turns twelve in two years).
Anyway, what was interesting about the fact that she wants to be an interior designer is not that she wants to be an interior designer. What was interesting was her explanation that being an interior designer a) allows you to “actually make a living,” as opposed to being an always-struggling-to-make-it singer or dancer or actress, and b) (and here’s where it gets really interesting), it’s a good job for a mom because you “don’t have to, like, have a boss and stuff and you can do it when you want to.”
Okay, now, when I was nine, I don’t recall thinking about what would be a good job for a mom. In fact, I wasn’t thinking about what would be a good job for a mom when I was twenty-five. Actually, now that I think about it, it didn’t even occur to me that being a mom might interfere with my job until I actually was a mom. And then I was like, crap, how come nobody told me that it might not be so easy to work fifty hours a week and take business trips and have a newborn at home?
So on the one hand, I guess I’m kind of happy that my daughter is already being realistic about the types of careers that allow for flexibility, and that she’s already thinking about her priorities in life. I suppose she’s heard me say enough times that writing is a really great gig for a mom because it allows me to set my own hours and be home for my kids after school, and I suppose the lessons of my life story – high-powered lawyer turned middle-powered college counselor turned low-powered novelist – must have sunk in to her little brain enough for her to understand that actually, no, you can’t have it all, or at least, not all at the same time.
But on the other hand, I feel a little sad about the idea that she might already be settling for less than she’s capable of – at nine – all in the name of having a good mom gig. I mean, how does that bode for the next generation of women? Is it possible that the lesson of our generation is that being a high-level executive or a partner in a big law firm or the chief medical resident at a hospital just isn’t worth it? Are we teaching our daughters that the real goal for a career is finding something to do that allows us to work from home, so that we can be there to drive carpool in the morning and help with homework after school?
I wouldn’t wish on my daughter a career that forces her to choose between her work and her family. But at the same time, I don’t want that choice to be taken away from her, either. I know lots of mothers who have big, important, time-consuming jobs, who are also happy and fulfilled and are able to find a balance and make it work. I can’t imagine if someone had told me not to bother to become a lawyer, because in the end, it would be too much for me to also be a mom. It was true, of course, but I’m still not sorry that I went to law school and became a lawyer. I know what I’m able to achieve, and what I chose to do with those achievements were up to me.
Maybe, at the end of the day, it’s better that nobody told me how hard it would be. Because I would have hated it if I’d never even tried.