by Nina Freedman
I’ve been resisting writing this article.
For twenty-five years, my second job was architecture. To most, my professional life seemed to be my first job. It wasn’t. I operated with two brains. As an Associate or Director of Architecture, while sitting in high-powered meetings with high profile clients, I simultaneously planned supper. I noticed the clock each day at 3:00 PM, remotely imagining my son streaming out of school. The two times each year that I left work early to pick him up were some of the best afternoons of my life.
First, some facts:
-I was a single mother, with sole custody, from my child’s infancy through his college years.
-I made $48,000 a year when he was young, which covered all expenses including day care and preschool tuition fees.
-I paid sitters so that I could work unpaid evening and weekend hours.
In other words, I paid my place of employment to work there.
-My sick days were used when my son was sick.
-It never occurred to me to leave architecture.
I write this post for many reasons. Because my students (male and female) question whether they can be a parent and an architect…. (I know the question is valid.)….. because many of my female colleagues (even with partners) left architecture when they became mothers…. because I don’t see young architects becoming parents. When I mention motherhood, it seems that I speak to blank faces. (What’s going on? You are in your mid 30’s. Are you thinking about it, or is it too frightening to talk about?)…. because I wonder if this is a generation gap or something more…. because I see a maniacal, almost religious and sacrificial obsession with work.
Here were the questions I truly wrestled with:
How could I fulfill and express my creative inner world, when I was so busy and tired? Where was my voice?
Although there were financial challenges, ‘money’ was not my question– I was more afraid of long-term invisibility.
Although I often asked myself about creativity I put on hold, I came to realize that I had participated in a profound, creative experience. Being a mother informed intention. It informed how I think, design, how I treat employees I work with, and my preference of projects. Being a mother is a natural multi-tasking experience which extends to work. The lessons of mothering, in my experience, have lead to self-care. Being a parent has cultivated in me an alternate perspective. Motherhood has curated me.
Motherhood is consuming, exhausting and expensive, more so when practicing architecture. In most architectural firms we do not have day care centers (not yet), sufficient women in leadership (who are also parents), decent hours (in creative firms we want to be part of), adequate compensation and benefits (to pay for children), or adequate paternal leave.
I do believe, despite all this, that we have the current cultural capacity for change in our profession.
Ultimately is it about the validity and support of an informed and individual choice.
by Nina Freedman
*The title is stolen from a documentary film directed by my son.