When I was a kid, my grandmother told me to wait before jumping into motherhood and marriage.
“See the world, do things, and make important discoveries about yourself,” she told me, “because once you have a child, motherhood will dictate everything that you do.”
I couldn’t have known what she meant by that until my thirties, when I finally decided to have kids and it really did derail my career. Now that my kids are in school, I am finding that re-entry into the workforce; and it feels like an alien world.
But I’m not the only one who took a break from the demands of work to have kids, only to struggle with re-entering the workforce years later — there are countless mothers out there just like me. And in a recent interview with director Darren Aronofsky for Interview magazine, the beautiful three-time Oscar nominated actress Michelle Pfeiffer spoke candidly about her own “disappearance” from acting. Turns out, she struggled with the motherhood/career balance too.
Pfeiffer, who is an empty nester now that her two children are grown and in their twenties, had a few honest things to day about what it’s like to be a mother and a famous actress taking a break from the big screen.
“I’ve never lost my love for acting,” she said about her envious career since motherhood. Now that she is back in the limelight she says, “I feel really at home on the movie set. I’m a more balanced person honestly when I’m working.”
While Pfeiffer was focused on motherhood, she found the demands of a movie career to be in conflict with her demands as a parent.
“I was pretty careful about where I shot, how long I was away, whether or not it worked out with the kids’ schedule,” she explains. And for her, parenting took a more prominent role in her life.
“I got so picky that I was unhirable,” she added. “And then … I don’t know, time just went on.”
The guilt of being a working mother is real and it is potent. On the one hand, the idea of being a modern woman who can choose a career path and find success outside of the home is enticing and fulfilling. On the other hand, once we have children, mothers are often the default full-time caretakers. Any hope of having a fulfilling career becomes enormously difficult to maintain, and as so many women drop out of the workforce, they end up taking a substantial break that can last years.
I can relate to that last part in a big huge way.
It is inspiring to see women as successful and smart as Pfeiffer talking openly and honestly about the pressure women face to choose between motherhood and career. Imagine how wonderful it will be when we get to a place as a society when mothers are not the default parent and both mothers and fathers can choose a more nuanced and equal way of balancing both their careers with parenthood?
Pfeiffer, who is now 59 (and doesn’t look a day over 35), is making her re-entry into pop culture in HBO’s upcoming Bernie Madoff movie, ‘The Wizard of Lies,’ and a film called ‘Mother!’, directed by Darren Aronofsky. And I for one can’t wait to see all the fabulous ways in which motherhood has almost certainly made her into even more of an epic force of a woman and person.