Not Sure You Can Have It All?  Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I had my first baby three years ago and now have another one on the way. I am an attorney in a New York law firm and the main breadwinner in our family. My spouse works from home and does the lion’s share of the child care.

As soon as I started showing and announced my pregnancy, the managing partner of our firm—who has been my mentor since I was a third-year associate—called me into his office and talked to me about going “mommy track” and not being serious about my career. He told me he was dumping me as a mentee and was going to find someone else.

I am tough, but it was everything I could do not to burst into tears. I had thought he understood my plans. I feel betrayed and I want to go back and confront him—but I’m not sure he isn’t right. I resent how much I am missing of our first child’s babyhood and am often jealous of my husband. I’m not sure what to do. Help.

Mommy Tracked?

Dear Mommy Tracked,

It is awful to be rejected by someone who you were sure had your back—and also to be questioning your own big plan on top of everything else. From a social neuroscience standpoint, your brain is on tilt right now. It is probably best to take a step back, think things through, and get yourself on an even keel before making any rash decisions.

Let’s start with the personal rejection piece. There are a couple of techniques you can use to lessen the emotional impact of what the managing partner did. If you are like most of us, ever since it happened you’ve been thinking about the things you should have said. Regrettably, this creates a loop that is self-perpetuating—the more you think about it, the more you think about it.

To reduce the emotional grip the conversation has on you, I have a couple of techniques you might want to try. The first is called labeling. To do this, you simply tell the story of what happened and label each emotion you experienced at each moment. For example: “When my managing partner started out with ‘I see you have another bundle of joy on the way, and I am disappointed in you,’ I was shocked at his rudeness.”

Another method is called distancing. You recount the events as if they happened to somebody else. For example: “She walked into the managing partner’s office expecting to talk about the holiday bonus and instead was attacked out of the blue. She was utterly dumbstruck…”

Now let’s address the ambiguity of your future, given that you are doubting your original plan. Uncertainty is very destabilizing so be gentle with yourself. I am not an expert in gender politics so I can only share my point of view here. Having been born at the very tip of baby boom tail, I grew up hearing the assurance that I could have it all: not just work but significant work that generated revenue—and romance and marriage, and children.

Having worked the entire time I raised my kids (who are now in their twenties), I found that women can have it all, just not necessarily at the same time. And not necessarily in all institutions. For example, if you want to have a front row seat to your kids’ childhood, you can be an attorney—but you may not be able to be a partner in a big NYC law firm. It has been my experience that moms who struggle to give 100 percent at home and 100 percent at work benefit most from doing what they love and are good at, in a way that offers them flexibility.

My point here is, now that you have experienced the reality of your dream, you may want to revise it and possibly shift your priorities. Let me be clear: I am not advocating the merits of one path over another. I am advocating that you choose your turn at this crossroads with your eyes wide open.

Take stock. Talk with your spouse about how you feel—just airing your feelings may reveal something important. You may decide to go the warrior route and prove yourself to your managing partner with renewed vigor. Or you may decide to make some changes to your plan. Either way, if you tell yourself and your spouse the truth as you are experiencing it right now, you will soon know what is right for you.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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