At the ripe old age of 21, some may say that I am way too young to be stressing out about how I am possibly going to have a family and a career. Heck, I can’t even figure out how I would ever take care of a dog while working, much less a baby. I know that many of my peers are also struggling with the “having it all” concept that we are constantly hearing about, especially during this time when women are fighting for and winning leadership roles in top industries.
While I am still unsure what my dream job is or even what exactly I’ll be doing in my first job in the fall, I am certain that I want to have a family, but also that I don’t want to be a stay-at-home mom (even though that is arguably one of the hardest jobs a person can take on). This is perhaps largely due to my mother. My parents have both worked all my life. My brother and I went to a babysitter after school and they would pick us up after work, our homework finished and our dinners eaten. Sure, I definitely noticed that some moms were always chaperoning field trips or coming in to help us make popsicle ornaments at the class Christmas parties, but I never felt my mom didn’t love me as much or didn’t want to spend time with me. It almost made those times when she did chaperone even more special.
Other reasons for wanting a career include financial independence, something that my mom has taught me is very important not only in my own life but even for the well-being of my future marriage. Additionally, I am about to graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering. I’ve worked really hard over the last four years and, at the moment, I can’t imagine not putting that degree to use in some form or another.
Before reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In discussion was the one that stood out to me most on this topic. I will admit that though her rhetoric is incredibly empowering, it is also crazy intimidating. When Slaughter pointed out that Sandberg points to an “ambition gap” as the difference between the success of men and women, I realized how ridiculous that was. I don’t doubt that I am as ambitious as my male peers, but I will admit that I probably think about the balancing act that my life will be as a working parent way more than they do. As awesome as my mom was at balancing her career with motherhood, I know it was damn hard. I once heard my dad say that if she hadn’t gone back to work when she did a few months after I was born, she probably wouldn’t have gone back. I am not naive enough to think that it will be easy for me to leave my children with nannies or family when it is time to head back to the office, but I know that to be the mom that I personally want to be, it will be a necessary step to take.
I found Slaughter’s points about changing both the typical work schedule and the way that families are viewed in the career world very intriguing. Slaughter quotes Mary Matalin to make a good point: “Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.” I have never even considered that fact that the school day was created to fit in with the farming society. (And when I consider the school day changing to something that is compatible with the typical work week, my mind just spins.) Additionally, the family leave vs. parental leave idea is great. Not only is it important not to make mothers and fathers feel resented by their co-workers for taking time away from work to be with their children, it is important to generally instill in our society the importance of family and to eliminate any shame associated with needing to be with loved ones when necessary.
This flawed system is also unfair to men. As much as women hate to leave work to take care of their children, men usually just aren’t given that option. It shouldn’t be unusual or special for a man to want to spend time with his children or to help his spouse excel in her career. Corporate culture needs to change to allow young men to aspire to find this work-life balance that many young women are constantly trying to conceptualize. I have mentioned my mom quite a bit in this post, but it would be unforgivable not to mention my dad. He has always been just as present in our lives as our mom and I am lucky to be able to say that, at least from my perspective, my parents were pretty successful in the 50-50 parenting. I’m sure it was often either 60-40 or 25-75, but whatever the ratio was, I know that they were able to find a good system that I hope to be able to achieve when it is my turn.
As Slaughter suggests, we need more high-profile leaders to talk about their families and fight for a change in this culture that, while wonderful and progressive in a lot of ways, still discourages men and women from being openly committed to raising their children. If we want to save the future, we must be willing and able to invest in the well-being and success of the people who are raising our future CEOs, doctors, presidents, teachers, etc., because as Pope John Paul II once said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”