Diaries of a working mom chapter 11: Can we have it all?

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I read the Atlantic article, “Women Can’t Have it All” a month ago and have been talking about it with moms, colleagues and family since. I have so many thoughts on it, I had to let it swirl a bit before I could write on it.  Now I’m ready to jump into the discussion.

The author, Anne-Marie Slaughter, is a professor and dean at Princeton.  She recently spent two years at her dream job, working as the director of policy planning for Hillary Clinton, while raising two teenagers.  During this time, she changed her tune that “women can have it all”.  She realized that many of the pieces of advice she and others had preached over the years (“It is possible if you marry the right person”, “It is possible if you sequence it right”, “It is possible if you are committed enough”) were bunk.

Beyond that, I’m hesitant to summarize the article, because it has a lot to offer.  If you care about this subject, it is worth spending the time to settle in on the couch and read it.  It is well-written and thought-provoking, with a great analysis of the problems and the solutions.

The article really got me thinking; it validated a lot of what I believe and also changed my perspectives in some other areas.  Here are my biggest takeaways:

  1. Autonomy around when and where work is done is possibly the most important aspect of a job for a working mom.  Slaughter talks a lot about the need for flexibility for working moms, especially as kids get older.  I totally agree with this.  My autonomy and flexibility is what makes everything work, and I know that will only get more important as Gus gets older and needs me more.  I love Slaughter’s idea about only holding in-person meetings during school hours.  I love the implications, too, that companies would have to reduce in-person meeting time and give people time to work!  Moms are so dedicated and so productive when they have the ability to work when they need to work (i.e. after bedtime or early in the morning).
  2. Our kids may need us the most when they are teenagers.  Slaughter has teenagers and talks throughout the article about how important it is to be around as a parent during these years.  Some people think the biggest career “interruption” is right after the birth of a woman’s kids and it eases off after that, but it may be that it grows until and throughout the teenage years.  I’m personally limited in my experience here, but I could absolutely see that it is easier to lean on others for support of the children in the early years and that substituting for one or both parents is extremely difficult later on.  Right now, it is relatively easy to let others help with my toddler’s diaper changes, feeding and even developmental activities, but I would not want to turn over my parenting to others if my teenager were grappling with difficult decisions or struggling in school.
  3. The next generation won’t make the same sacrifices their predecessors have, so companies must change.  The twenty-somethings of today will not make the sacrifices for their “dream job” that their parents or grandparents did.  More power to them: they won’t be laying on their death bed with as many regrets.  While the young women of today greatly appreciate the work that was done by women before them, they will not go after the high profile jobs unless companies or organizations change.  CEOs, take note: you will have to change your organizational constructs to attract women to the leadership ranks.  The talent is there, the benefits of having more women in leadership ranks are known, and the motivation is there IF it occurs as an opportunity to these young women.  So, we need to create the opportunity!
  4. It really is about everyone having it all, not just working moms.  As my husband stated as we discussed the article, there’s an implied starting assumption when we say “women can’t have it all” that men can have it all or people without kids can have it all.  Men work long hours to climb the ranks, often with wives at home to take care of the children and the household.  Yes, they have successful careers and yes, their kids are taken care of, but do they “have it all”?  As fathers, they are missing out on the joys of fatherhood and many of the chances to support their kids in learning about the world.  Even people without kids yearn for time or flexibility to do things important to them.  Few people say at the ends of their lives that they wished they’d worked more… and the twenty somethings seem to have figured it out earlier.

I promised myself I’d keep this short, so those are my biggest takeaways.  Would love to hear yours!

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