A recent article in the Atlantic has sparked quite a bit of debate around the concept of women in the workplace and “having it all.” The author, Anne-Marie Slaughter, left a position of power in politics to spend more time with her family. Her article argues that women can’t have it all (defined as succeeding in both career and family) unless there is some significant change in the workplace. The article goes on to say that workplaces need an overhaul to recognize the needs of working mothers and accommodate often conflicting demands of motherhood and career.
As a mother of two small children, I can absolutely relate to the struggles she describes. Although my former job wasn’t as prestigious as hers (she worked in the State Department in the White House), I did leave a full-time job to work part-time from home so I could spend more time with my kids. When I tell people I work from home, they always comment on how wonderful it must be, and for the most part it is pretty nice. I get to enjoy time with my kids while also earning an income, and the flexibility of my job is a huge perk. It is, however, a struggle at times to maintain a healthy balance between work and home.
I commend Slaughter for being frank about her situation and the reactions to her decision. It’s sad to hear how people look down at her for the choice she made. At a recent networking event, I overheard a young professional women without kids comment on how stay-at-home moms don’t have goals. After getting over my initial offense, the comment made me realize how people really do view those who make a decision similar to myself and Slaughter. If you ask me, that’s the first thing that needs to change before the workplace can change. People need to stop viewing stay-at-home moms as people without any skills who lay on the couch eating potato chips and playing fun kids’ games. To put it frankly – there’s a reason daycare is so expensive – it’s hard to take care of kids!
I do agree with the points Slaughter makes about workplace attitudes and culture. I’m extremely fortunate to have a flexible workplace that is supportive of my family. This isn’t the case in all aspects of my industry, and in fact my colleague and mentor just left a high level position because of burnout. But, I’m lucky to have colleagues who understand my situation and are okay with the occasional “background” noise during our phone meetings. On the other hand, my company knows how committed I am to my job and that I will work until late hours at night to get the job done if needed. It truly is a give and take.
I also like what this follow-up blog says about changing our idea of motherhood and not being afraid to ask for help. Some people look at my situation and ask “how do you do it?” My response is usually “I don’t!” My husband is amazing, and I rely on his help every day. I’m doing fairly well in my career, personal and family life right now, but I’ve had to significantly cut back on my community involvement. My social life has also taken a huge hit, and then there’s of course the financial sacrifice.
The older I get and the more facets I have in my life, the more I realize I don’t really want “it all” – at least the way society defines it. What I’ve learned is that to be successful in some areas of life, you have to give up other areas. You just have to choose the ones that are most important to you. Are there times when I look at others who are succeeding in other areas more than me with a bit of envy? Absolutely! But, then I’m reminded of how happy I am with the choices I’ve made and wouldn’t have it any other way.