The Kids Are More Than All Right When Mom Goes to Work
The Atlantic’s recent article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” has unsurprisingly generated quite a commotion. Critics and supporters have all given their two cents on Anne-Marie Slaughter’s look at work/family balance for women today – including us. One often-voiced concern over working parents (well, mostly working moms) is the impact of their careers on their children.
As a daughter of a woman who juggled work and family, I am wary of arguments that push moms out of the workplace for fear of raising maladjusted children. Yes, my mother went back to work two weeks after I was born. Yes, she went on long business trips when I was pre-school age, leaving my brother and me to pizza and movie nights with our dad. Yes, I took public buses home in middle school since there was no one to drive me. And yes, these experiences made me the young woman I am today.
It’s not despite her career that I ended up with good grades, a close mother-daughter relationship and high career ambitions, it’s because of it.
|Unwrapping my "Miss Executive" kit|
As a tot, I knew both my parents worked. At two I would clomp around the house in my mom’s heels, dragging her purse and announce that I was going to work. At three I got a “Miss Executive” kit for Christmas, complete with briefcase, note pad, pens, and calendar. I would pack my briefcase for pre-school and spend free time studiously scrawling out loops on the notepad, doing my “work.”
In middle school I learned how to get myself around on buses so I could still do clubs and sports. On days school was canceled, I brought coloring to my mom’s office and helpfully changed her work screensaver to Jack and Rose on the bow of Titanic.
I always knew my mother was the family primary breadwinner, and the idea that women would limit their careers because of gender roles never occurred to me. Everything wasn’t perfect; there were stressful commutes and child care fallouts, but my mom made her own decisions about work/family balance regardless of stereotypes and assumptions.
There are many problems in our society that make parenting and working a real challenge. Choices about career and family should be exactly that – choices, not pressures or limitations.
For my parents, and all families, work-life balance would be drastically different if there were more supportive policies like paid family leave and flexible work schedules. The message we should be sending to young women is to put their muscle behind these policies, not to get out of the game entirely. How can women rise to be the leaders Ms. Slaughter claims to desire if we are told again and again that we will be unhappy pursuing careers while having families?
Having two working parents, as most families do these days, was not a detriment to my development. As a child I was proud that my mother worked and my ambition in school and in life is a credit to her achievements. I learned that it isn’t really about “having it all”. It’s about “making it work,” and that careers and families are possible and rewarding together.
I am so proud of my parents and so glad that at three I dreamed of going to work carrying a briefcase like my mom, or being a paleontologist. Both seemed like good ideas. Seeing my mom work meant that my dreams were not limited by stereotypes about gender roles. Thanks to my mom, I am confident that one day I too can make it work.
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