On Leaning In and Being Maxed Out

There have been books and articles in the news lately about working mothers being “maxed out” and also about women “leaning in” for career advancement.   This essay isn’t about me, it’s about my mom, and others of her generation- the early ones, who leaned in and for whom being maxed out seemed okay.


I was born in the USSR, and my brother was born in India.  My parents arrived in the USA with a 1 year old and a 3 year old, two suit cases, and some rubles, which were a nearly worthless Soviet currency.  My mother’s father gave her his life savings to pay for our plane tickets. We had no relatives or friends in America and neither of my parents had ever driven a car.

As soon as my mother realized her physics degree wasn’t going to make her employable, she enrolled in university to pursue a master’s degree in electrical engineering.  We didn’t go to daycare.  She dragged us to school and to computer labs and we played with boxes of computer punch cards while she did her homework.   We were told to watch TV so that we could learn English, and we were enrolled in school as soon as possible, which for me meant being younger than the other kids in my class.  The choices they made showed how much they cared about me and my brother, but their daily lives didn’t revolve around us.

And so it went on.  My mom cooked, and if we didn’t like what she made, we could use the microwave to make frozen pizzas.  Nobody was home when we got back from school, but we didn’t think that was weird.  My parents’ lives were about their kids, but not about always being there to attend to them. Somehow we got all the lessons- music, ballet, photography, art, even horseback riding- to make sure any hidden talents had an opportunity to flourish.  But I never expected that my parents would be there to watch me do sports or other activities.  Why would they be?

My mother got her third master’s degree when I was in high school, this time it was in computer science.  This was while she worked full time at Ford Motor Company.  Her career was marked by achievement, and scarred by blatant discrimination that was the norm at that time.  Despite all of this adversity, she never gave up pursuing her career.

There was only one priority in our household, it was simple- academic excellence.  My parents always said nobody could steal your education, it’s the one thing that is yours and can’t be taken away.  So we ate sugar cereal and microwave pizza and watched a lot of TV, and we were left alone most of the time, but we did well in school because we understood the importance of it.  It was the one thing our parents asked us to do well.

Lately there are new books and articles about women Leaning In to their careers, and about moms being Maxed Out, and I’d really love to know how my parents survived raising us while pursuing their careers, and without freaking out about it.


I sent this essay to my lovable mother, and this was her short and telling reply,

Dear Ramune,

I think that somebody is making money brainwashing young people on how difficult it is to do natural and obvious stuff.

Love, Mom

Ford Ford rewards 2

moms grad pic



Filed under Essays, My Mom

12 responses to “On Leaning In and Being Maxed Out

  1. Your Mother sounds like an amazing woman! My parents also taught me the value of education and I hope I am doing a good job of passing that onto my own children.

  2. Amy Mitchell-Farmer

    I knew you in high school and was always impressed with your dedication to your studies–you were very well rounded and ever so smart….how did you ever survive without your mother catering to your every whim? LOL. It was the same way in my family..with 4 kids, a dad who basically disappeared, and a mom left to deal with all of it on her own, I never expected my mother to orbit around me like a planet..but I had what I needed and I knew what was expected of me to become a responsible adult. I think this is a major problem with the 20 somethings I see coming up through the business world now..they have been catered to, cheered on every step, and told they are amazing with everything they do. In the real world, your accomplishments are not always acknowledged, you don’t have a personal cheer squad following you around and sometime, GASP, your work goes unnoticed to those around you. They don’t know self appreciation or just doing something for YOUR OWN happiness–without group approval. Thanks Mom for “ignoring me” every once in while, letting me make my way in the world some times, and allowing me to make mistakes and suffer the results. It’s made me the strong woman I am today.

  3. Geez, I’m freak’n just reading about it. I could see it with two but when you have 4+ kids, it’s a whole different ball game. I have 5. 2 who are in the military and going to college and one that will be signing up after H.S. I also have one who is home bound only because he had a back injury but is the families ‘Tech-Support’ guy. And a daughter who is in the lower rank but so proud of her. Married a good guy and gave me two beautiful grandchildren. Everyone’s lives are different. Maybe I should of made more of an effort but being home was the ideal choice for me, to make sure my kids grew up to be good productive individuals. I am proud of your parents nevertheless. 🙂

  4. fantastic response from Mom.

  5. Everything about this is spectacular. I wish I had the ability to not be freaked out like your mom.

  6. Wow, Ramune. I had no idea! I wish I had known you better in high school 🙂 What I’m most impressed with, and what I see so lacking in mothers today is your mother didn’t stop living her life while raising your family! So many people I know just spend their days carting their kids around to all their various activities, giving up what they want to do. It’s a tough balancing act…and to do it all without giving up yourself, AND instilling the same drive in your kids, that’s the ticket! Your mom sounds like an amazing woman, as do you!
    Peace, Sarah

  7. Teresa

    Your mom had it right, which is why you are successful today. You learned that you don’t get things without working for them and sacrificing. Kids today feel entitled and rarely understand the difference between want and need. Sadly, people will only understand when these same entitled children will be the ones responsible foe their care when they are old.

  8. This is lovely Ramune! I grew up similarly in many ways.. parents didn’t need to hover over us all the time. We could cook and feed ourselves and others when we we 12 or something.. and no one thought it strange. Academic excellence was the only thing that couldn’t slip though.

  9. Samuel K. Moore

    Thanks for sharing this, Ramune. This sounds very much like the story of my in-laws (and by extension my wife) who are from Punjab and came here in 1972. Actually, the parallels are uncanny.

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