While both men and women face career choices at various times in their lives, I believe women, in particular, feel more pressure to put their families before their careers. Perhaps it’s society that makes us feel that way or maybe it’s maternal instinct. I still believe women can “have it all,” but it takes some thoughtful planning to get us to that life balance.
There was never any question in our house that I would go to college. My mother always told me, “College and career first,” followed by, “You don’t need a man to take care of you.”
I took my mother’s advice and largely steered clear of boys and concentrated on my studies. I went to college and earned a bachelor’s degree. Then I worked full-time for two years for a company in Pennsylvania before realizing that I needed a master’s degree if I wanted to get ahead in my chosen profession, librarianship.
Things really started rolling for me after that. I was promoted soon after starting graduate school. Upon graduation two years later, I had no trouble finding a job in Georgia where I wanted to be in order to be closer to my boyfriend. Life was good for the single career gal.
After six months at my new job, I got engaged. Then my former employer called. They wanted me back – and I didn’t even have to relocate! I could stay in Georgia and work from home, but I would be required to travel up to one to two weeks a month. The last part gave me pause.
While I was excited at the thought of traveling – and taking my soon-to-be hubby with me on occasion – I wondered about children. Though we didn’t see any in our immediate future, they were always on the horizon. I tried to picture myself leaving a baby behind while I traveled, and I just couldn’t do it.
Finding the Right Partner
Finding the right partner has always been important. But now, in addition to discussing faith, family planning, and finances, women need to be sure their potential mates understand their personal career goals as well. When my husband and I started our family, we ultimately decided it was better, economically, for him to be the one to stay at home. Not all men would be game for this type of arrangement; I just got lucky. It was a difficult adjustment for both of us initially. I felt some guilt for not being at home with the kids, while he got strange looks from people when he told them his occupation was “stay-at-home dad.” He was often left out when it came to play dates in the neighborhood, so he didn’t have a lot of opportunities to get out and socialize either.
After my husband and I decided our family was complete and both kids were in school, he went back to work full-time. But after two and a half years, we decided that we weren’t happy. Having two full-time salaries was nice, but we found it wasn’t worth the trade-off. We were up late doing homework with the kids, eating lots of fast food, had little quality time together, and the house was perpetually a wreck. My husband found his work life wasn’t as fulfilling as he remembered and our family was miserable, so he quit his job and came back home full-time. What a different five years makes! This time around, we’ve found our arrangement isn’t so unusual. After the economy took a turn for the worse, many men who were laid off became the primary caregivers while their wives went to work. It’s a brave new world!
While we opted to have one parent stay at home, many families are able to successfully juggle work and family. One thing I’ve noticed is that they are extremely organized and keep a tight schedule. Homework, dinner, and bedtimes are followed. In “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” her controversial cover article of the 2012 July/August issue of The Atlantic, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote, “The discipline, organization, and sheer endurance it takes to succeed at top levels with young children at home is easily comparable to running 20 to 40 miles a week.” Unfortunately, according to Slaughter, employers view childrearing and running marathons very differently. It is subtle, but too often employers make it more difficult for the primary caregiver to get ahead. The example Slaughter gives is an employer with two equally talented and productive employees. One trains for and runs marathons when she is not working; the other takes care of two children. What assumptions is the employer likely to make about the marathon runner versus the caregiver? That is why child rearing must be a shared responsibility. One parent cannot make 100% of the sacrifices and still get ahead at work.
Not Just A Women’s Issue
Seeking life balance shouldn’t be just a women’s issue. More and more men are asking themselves the same question: How much are they willing to sacrifice for their careers? In October of 2012, Forbes contributor Eric Jackson wrote in “The 25 Biggest Regrets in Life. What Are Yours?” that the number one regret was “Working so much at the expense of family and friends.”
The good news is that research on Generation Y confirms that more men are asking questions about how to integrate active parenting with their professional lives; as Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a changin.’” A new generation of young men, many of whom have been raised by working mothers, will be entering the work force. We need to make sure all of our children, both men and women, understand that “supporting the family” means more than earning money. And that is the secret to work-family balance.