Yes, Gisele Bündchen, You Matter Too
Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen divorcing over him working too much highlight how the angsts of motherhood, the push and pull between being there for your children and your family and being there for yourself, are universal. Bündchen might be a super model and an independently wealthy woman, but she’s also a mother and wife who has spent the last several years helping support her husband’s career and protecting and caring for her kids while putting her own personal ambitions second. Gisele Bündchen, if you feel like you kept the ship floating so your spouse could achieve personal success and are now having second thoughts, you are not alone.
Much like Ms. Bündchen I had a successful career, not as a world-famous supermodel but as a litigator in Manhattan. My office over looked Battery Park and had a view of the Statue of Liberty but, when motherhood came calling, I tucked my personal ambitions away to be there for my family. I originally intended to keep working, but after suffering a miscarriage at the end of a sixty-hour work week, I pledged to never put work before my children again. We relocated to Florida where my husband took on an investment consulting job, allowing me to be a stay-at-home mom. My son was one week old when my husband boarded a plane for a business trip. The first month of my son’s life my husband was gone twenty-three of thirty days, but I never complained. I had worked a corporate job, and I knew he couldn’t climb the ladder by taking time to be home with me and my newborn, a sad reflection on the status of the corporate world for both men and women. And my job became being there for my husband and our children and establishing a home where my children would thrive, and to support my husband’s career so he could support us.
But after having three children in four years, and having our middle child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I felt myself beginning to slip. My sense of self and my own goals became opaque and murky, overcome by my new role as mother and wife. Riddled with guilt over the miscarriage, I chose this path for myself, but with my husband gone so many nights I felt stretched too thin. I never verbalized my concerns, intent on pushing through for my children and husband, waking nightly to treat my newly diagnosed son’s highs and lows, being there for my son the best that I could. I didn’t matter. They mattered—my life became a shield, used to insulate those little beings. I watched from afar as my husband climbed the corporate ladder I always thought I would climb, becoming the cliché of domesticity I had always fought against.
And I’d do it again every time because I loved being with my children, but as they got older, my husband’s absence grew more pronounced. My own desires to resume working butted up against him being gone so much—someone had to be available for carline and diabetic emergencies. And my children missed him too. Him being gone wasn’t just about me being able to cope and juggle parenthood alone, it was them growing up without him being present. He missed so much, tucking them in at night, reading to them, being there to celebrate 100s on tests, Thanksgiving Pie Feasts, even Halloween once.
And just like that, the company that consumed all his time said they wanted to reduce his pay but keep his insane travel schedule, a subtle reminder that even when you commit 100% of yourself to your company, they will often not do the same for you. As a team, we decided it was best he found something else with less travel. We decided to put our family first. His new job is not as flashy and does not pay him what his old job did, which was an adjustment for us as a family especially with our healthcare costs being so high, but he travels a fraction of the time. For the first time in my life as a parent, I have him here as an equal partner, for bedtimes and to make school lunches, and to be there for soccer games, and to rotate responding to low and high alarms. And my children have him here as well. My boys are twelve and ten, and he takes them to soccer practice nightly and to their tournaments. He took my daughter to her Father/Daughter Dance, something he would have probably missed before. They needed this. He needed this. And, more importantly, I needed this.
My husband being home has allowed me to focus on achieving my own goals, long buried under the weight of motherhood and obligation. I began lawyering again, signed with a literary agency, wrote five books, and currently have a novel out on submission to publishing houses. I feel whole again. Inspired by my mother who went back to nursing school with four young children, I am going to run with my ambitions until my dreams are realized. When I look back at that time, with my husband gone so often, I think sometimes when you have everything, you have nothing. Sometimes when you are rich, you are poor. Sometimes when you are married, you are alone. My husband’s job was a double-edged sword—providing for us financially but taking him from us in all the more important aspects. His time isn’t for sale anymore, and this has allowed me to focus on rebuilding my sense of self. I matter too, and I want my children to see me climb the ladder I held for their father for the first ten years of their childhood.
I will not be spoken about in the past tense until I'm dead. I reinvented myself at forty-two years old, and I hope the same for you, Gisele Bündchen. You matter too!