Each past generation of women has given the current
generation a gift. In many cases, they’ve given us a boatload of gifts. Thanks
to the work of our foremothers, we have the right to vote. We have broader
health, educational and political opportunities than the women who came before
us. We can own a home without needing a father or husband’s signature, and we
can exercise some control over our reproductive future.
I like to think that we, the women of today, can give
the women of the future just as many gifts, too. Among those gifts—perhaps
electing the first woman President of the United States?—I hope that future
generations of women will be able to thank us for dismantling the notions of “having
it all” and “work/life balance.”
These notions, and all that they imply, can apply to men, too. But
how often do you hear
someone ask a working dad how he “does it all”? How often do we praise men who
leave work early to coach their child’s soccer team (what a good, involved dad) yet sneer at women who leave work early to
attend a parent-teacher conference (ugh, she’s ditching work for her kid again)?
comes to work and family, the socio-cultural narratives are stacked against
As Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote
in The Atlantic last year, the work/life balance idiom “does a disservice to women at the bottom
of the income scale, implying that people have some control over this situation … It is the ultimate expression of ‘having it all’—just enough of this
and just enough of that.”
as with “having it all,” the idea of a “work/life balance” is one that seems to
contribute to lots of guilt and very little policy change.
we actually achieve that balance?” I asked another mother as we walked to pick
up our children from elementary school. “And whom does the whole ‘work/life
balance’ narrative even benefit?”
a society that does more than pay lip service to the idea of 'family values.'
that kind of wry, I-feel-defeated-but-ain’t-gonna-show-it laugh that many
parents know all too well. “Some of the best working parent advice I’ve ever
received,” she said, “came from a former boss who told me, after my first son
was born, that there is no such thing as work/life balance. I thought she was
ridiculous and pessimistic and tried my best to prove her wrong. Now I know
that she was exactly right.”
There is never a perfect 50/50 when it comes to work and family. As soon as you
think you find balance, one kid gets sick and your focus shifts solely to them
and not work. Or a huge project looms at work, and you miss a piano recital or
a softball game. Sometimes entire weeks or months go by where work makes you
distant from your family life. Sometimes entire weeks or months go by (hello,
baby’s first year) where family life keeps your brain boomeranging from home to work and then back home again.
we can probably do is aim for something like 60/40, where the 60
alternates between work and family. And then when the "balance" looks more like 90/10, we can try and make up for it to our colleagues or to our families.
And the best our society can—and should—do is make it easier for working parents to achieve these goals.
Perfect balance is impossible.
Sacrifice is inevitable.
Slaughter argues that instead of focusing on balance, we should focus on care.
According to Slaughter, we shouldn’t just focus on it: we should value it.
And that value must include adequate compensation for care work. We need more
robust paid parental leave so that new parents can care for their new babies.
We need more affordable child care options—and better compensation opportunities
for the people working to provide said child care. We need more flex time and
in-house daycare centers.
a society that does more than pay lip service to the idea of “family values.”
Thus, we shouldn’t dismantle all talk of “having it all”
and “work/life balance” simply in order to obliterate those ideas. Instead, we
should take them apart, reconstitute them and build them into something that actually works for all parents.
When it comes to blending parenting and working, the
“all” that people speak of is unachievable. Perfect balance is impossible.
Sacrifice is inevitable.
Better to strive for a world in which everyone can
have “some,” and work life and home life can be fulfilling and enriching, even
if those parts of our lives can’t ever be perfectly balanced.