For thirty years, Sue Shellenbarger has been writing the Work and Family column for the Wall Street Journal and I have always enjoyed reading her words. This past week, she penned a farewell article summing up what she sees as advances for working parents as well as areas where she sees problems looming.
I found the piece depressing. Perhaps the sidebar to the article helps to explain why. It highlighted four questions asked of mothers and fathers in a recent poll. They were asked if:
Being a working parent:
- Makes it harder to advance in your job or career.
- Has created a need to reduce your work hours.
- Has made you feel you couldn’t give 100% at work.
- Has caused you to turn down a promotion.
In each of these four questions, the percentage of mothers answering in the positive is larger than that of the fathers. This seems to present an underlying problem for Ms.Shellenbarger, revealing that things haven’t advanced as much as she would like over the past thirty years.
I come from a different perspective. I wouldn’t see it as an advance for the answers to be more 50/50. I actually would have liked to see the questions phrased differently.
Being a working parent:
- Makes it harder to devote the time needed to be as good a parent as you would like to be.
- Has created a need to reduce your time with your children.
- Has made you feel you couldn’t give 100% at home.
- Has caused you to turn down participating in important events, like family meals, with your children.
I think the best world is one in which a man and a woman (married to each other) support themselves and their children financially, emotionally and spiritually. The most important thing isn’t being able to manage to have children without interfering with one’s paid work, but being able to juggle everything as a family. I see it as a step back to assume that the largest chunk of both parents’ time should go towards their careers and the role of government and business is to enable that to happen.
There are all sorts of reasons for mothers to work. Some women have a passion or talent that they want to express. Others are working because they need the money. That doesn’t mean that they hate their jobs or get no satisfaction from their work. It is important to make the best of our circumstances. Yet, I suspect that many working women would have a passion for building a home and raising a family was that to be socially acceptable, esteemed and economically feasible. They don’t need universal access to cheaper childcare or stronger maternity and paternity leave policies or women being given an advantage when looking for a job so that companies can boast (or meet requirements) for gender-equity. What would serve them (and most children) would be a return to a society that views a married couple having children as the preferred norm and enables that choice. If women do choose to work, rather than being forced to do so for economic reasons, perhaps they might willingly and thoughtfully turn down a promotion or reduce work hours rather than being compelled to do so by an unbending work environment. Returning to a society that values the work involved in creating a home and raising a family as well as participating in an active community and neighborhood life would meet their needs.
Yes, times have changed and you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Yet, I don’t see women, men or children being happier and healthier today. Instead, we see a rising rate of anxiety, depression and suicide. Is this related to our “improvements” in facilitating divorce, single motherhood and career-oriented women? Is suggesting that we can “have it all” leading to more satisfying lives or just to more unhappiness and resentment? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. I think the question is worth examining before we assume that continuing on that path is the only way to go.