Why No One Can Have it All
A few times this summer I have come to think about the challenging job of raising children and how parents share that work and balance it with the demands of paid work. As I noted in an earlier post, I attended a college reunion earlier this summer. Most of my classmates have grown children by this time. A couple of conversations turned to the complications of sharing child rearing. One woman professional remembered that her husband was totally unwilling to leave work when a child got sick at school or day care. This happened despite the fact that it appeared that his schedule was more flexible. (Of course, in the interests of full disclosure, I need to say that I have not talked to him about this.) Others had similar stories. I realized again how fortunate I was that my husband was a teacher who was willing to take over child care when he got home in the afternoon so that I could continue my practice which tended to run into the early evening a few days a week.
The issue came up again when The Atlantic magazine published an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, entitled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” She described her time working for the State Department under Hillary Clinton and commuting on weekends to her home in Princeton, NJ to be with her two teenage sons and her husband. Eventually she found that a job that made a 24/7 claim on her life was incompatible with being the kind of mother she wanted to be to her sons, especially one who was having a difficult time adjusting to high school. My response was something like, “Duh.”
If having it all means being able to compete in a job that has to come first in your life, then I don’t believe that women or men can have it all. They cannot compete successfully in such a job and have a rewarding family life. Life becomes one-dimensional, mostly about work. In our society it is still more acceptable for men to have such jobs and make such choices. It seems that Anne-Marie Slaughter came to a place that she was unhappy with this one-dimensional life. I have worked with many families in which fathers were unavailable because they had committed to such demanding work. The mothers and the children in these families suffered from the father’s relative absence. And I believe that he missed out as well. I do not mean to imply that these men were less concerned with family, though perhaps some were. They simply had bought into the assumption that work came first.
So far I have talked about two-parent families. Let me hasten to add that it is that much more complicated for single parents to achieve some balance. Some single parents have to work long hours because there is no other income to support the family. The single parents that I know who are doing well have good supports in family and friends who help them out when they cannot clone themselves.
Ultimately, I think that it is a problem in our society that the jobs that are seen to be most prestigious are incompatible with a good family life. Outside of those extreme demands parents have to make delicate deliberations all the time about sharing the work of parenting. With children who have special needs the demands are even greater. Will there be enough emphasis in the years to come on the need for the workplace to be family friendly? Will women (or men) who want the flexibility to be available for their children need to accept the “Mommy track?”
I would be very interested to hear how others have negotiated this path, especially in light of the needs of a child with special needs.
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Photo Credits: Greg Smith on Flickr