Tale as old as time: I chose to have a baby because my husband and I were in love, and we thought babies were adorable. The simple truth is that those really were my main motivations. When you find yourself staring at strangers’ newborns on the Metro and doodling baby names in your work notebook, you know: It’s time.
The slightly more extended version is that we decided to have a baby when we were 26 because my husband and I were lucky enough to meet when I was (just) 19-years-old. He was 20. We married two months after I finished my master’s degree— and settled into newlywed life by living apart for three years while he served four nearly back-to-back deployments as a naval officer.
People are always surprised when I say that living apart was truly a blessing in disguise. While my husband was away, I was able to focus entirely on my professional development. When my dream job — editor of the On Faith religion website — opened up at The Washington Post, where I was working, I pulled together a detailed pitch of how I could grow the site, even though I was barely qualified for the position. Long story short — I got the gig. Terrified and elated, I threw myself into learning new skills. I operated on adrenaline and lots and lots of coffee. It was incredibly demanding but I was really proud of the work we were doing. Without that break, I’m not sure I would have been ready to move on to the next big challenge (motherhood), but with some hard-earned experience under my belt, I was hopeful that I could take those digital media skills with me wherever I went next.
Our son Henry was soon on his way.
Millennial women, like myself, plan to have families when they feel they are secure in their relationships and careers. But they also imagine that omnipresent technology, a renewed push for gender equality at home, and an evolving work culture will give them the freedom and flexibility to increasingly do so on their terms. I’m determined to help them be right.
Many of my friends and peers have happily adjusted their professional lives to the demands of new motherhood. One opened up her own law practice to have more control over her schedule; her husband takes over childcare and family life when she’s occupied with clients and cases. Another learned to code while taking a few years “off” to care full-time for her children. (This is no vacation.) Some go back to school to pursue a new passion. Others work multiple consulting jobs for major organizations–from home. Still more new moms I know get up early and stay up late to finish projects while the kids are asleep, in order to get more face-to-face time with their little ones during the day. Technology has welcomed the workplace into our homes. Our generation of mothers is determined to get more quality time with our families back in return.
Millennial women are truly redefining motherhood. We refuse to be pigeon-holed into labels that fuel the mommy wars like “working mom” and “stay-at-home-mom.” All moms work. All moms love their children. Our generation of women, an historically well-educated cohort, deeply rejects narratives that say that taking care of kids full time is “giving up,” or that working women are bad mothers. Many of us move in and out of these roles as our family lives evolve. And we are blazing a new path beyond the struggle to have “balance” or to “have it all.” With work emails dinging the smartphone in our back pocket and a diaper bag by our side, we simply want to live the lives we’ve imagined. We’re doing that through a more conscious integration of our personal and professional lives, alongside our husbands and partners. This is the future of the American family, and the American worker.
At Motherly, the digital platform I cofounded, we’re hoping to lead the way.
Jill Koziol and I started Motherly because we felt that too many conversations about motherhood left our digitally-native, no judgment generation out of the mix. We wanted to provide constructive solutions on topics like how to negotiate for flexibility at work, inspiring examples of women who have helped to empower mothers and practical tools and tips for women in the midst of new motherhood. All of the moms we knew wanted to support and help one another — finding and sharing information and inspiration along the way. Where was the digital home for the modern mother? We decided to create one.
That’s what the modern woman does. She doesn’t accept pre-ordained narratives around what her work or family lives should look like. She doesn’t slow down when others tell her she should, or go to work if she’d rather be home. She dreams of the life she wants, and does whatever it takes to get there.
Elizabeth Tenety is a mom of two and cofounder of Motherly, a digital community inspiring and informing women on the journey to motherhood.