I Have to Come Back to This

“My strong feeling is that women have changed enormously to accommodate being mothers and working. But the world of work has not changed to accommodate the fact that now almost half the people in work are women and many, many hundreds of millions of them are mothers. … Why should I deliberately limit my family because work is too hard to combine with motherhood? How about work becoming slightly easier to combine with motherhood so that women can fulfill both the things they want to do? Which is to have wonderful children which are the great lights of most of our lives and to have a career….

“Don’t let work structures dictate the concerns of your heart.”

— Allison Pearson, author, I Don’t Know How She Does It and I Think I Love You

This is a quote I heard over the weekend on NPR’s Fresh Air. I immediately fell in love with this woman (hear the entire interview here). I have so many thoughts about it, I can’t even begin to sum them up. But I wanted to get this quote out there. What do you think?

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16 thoughts on “I Have to Come Back to This

  1. A thought’s been rolling around in my head for a while. Tell me what you think.

    The sexual revolution is only half over.Women are (mostly) accepted in the workplace and can be successful at almost any job a man can have. However, men are only barely accepted as primary caregivers; stay-at-home dads are looked at askance. Don’t believe me? Ask some SAHDs what it’s like to take kids to a playground, take pictures, and try to socialize with other parents. While certainly not a universal phenomenon, far too often men are treated in “assume he’s a perv first, accept later” manner.

    So, I propose that if women can be accepted by society as providers, men should be accepted as nurturers.

    • Ah, but that last statement is the crux. While women are accepted into the workplace, there are ongoing struggles: work/life balance, equal pay for equal work, and so on. While I completely agree about your point that SAHDs have a harder row to hoe as far as acceptance, in some ways it really is an apples/oranges comparison. women continue to jockey for better pay, better treatment, and the same pathway to the top — or, conversely, jockey for a work life that will allow for more flexibility to take care of the family, for example, flextime, telecommuting, part-time work with benefits. While SAHDs are fighting a different fight: the fight to be seen as competent caretakers, to be seen as nurturers. Payment and equal treatment under the law aren’t on the table for SAHDs.

  2. Its an interesting thought, but I dont know that I agree with it.

    In some industries yes, jobs and schedules can be modified to accommodate familial responsibilities and things of that ilk, and people take those jobs for that reason. So jobs exist that have that level of flexibility and if that is a priority to you then I would assume you would do what you needed to to make that happen.

    But if you choose, train into or just have a job that has requirements that do not allow for flexibility or where the expectations of the position are at a level that it could or does interfere with your familial obligations I dont think it is the job’s fault. The job is what the job is – your needs have changed, and to say that accommodations need to be made to allow you, the individual, to have your cake and eat it too is a self-centered line of thinking. If you want to be able to have both I feel it is your responsibility to find a way to make that happen – not the job’s responsibility to make it happen for you.

    I work in a field where a lot of women work simply because they can make great money and have ridiculously minimal and flexible schedules. They have made the choice to sacrifice a career and all the bennies of said career to have the ability to work 25-30 hours a week in 3 or 4 days and take home a nice chunk of change, usually in cash, every week. They decided what was important and made the decision – sacrificing is part of adulthood. If I were to get pregnant today I would have to quit the job I love ~ there is no way I could do what I do and balance that with a family without one or the other suffering and the job cant change because I got pregnant.

    But also as a professional with no children I kind of feel like there is an inherent unfairness to the line of thinking that because you have made the choice to have a family that your time is more valuable than mine. Yes, it is amazingly important that you take care of the family that you chose to have, but as your coworker why should I have to make accommodations & adjustments to your workload or responsibilities because of it? The standards and expectations of a position shouldn’t be adjusted based upon the personal lives of the people who fill it.

    I think its important for everyone to find a balance to their lives that works for them and their families, I just dont think its the employers responsibility to create that balance, its ours. Its also unfair to create, in essence, a separate code of conduct for parents in the workplace – if familial responsibilities mean you cannot meet the expectations of your position you shouldnt have that position.

    • I don’t think I am asking for special treatment, I am asking for more options. When I came back to the position I have now, I asked to come back part time. The company, after thinking about it, said no. I was recently given a very favorable review, and a title change (bumped up, in effect), but I get no incentive: no raise, no extra time off. I think that is blatantly unjust. It would be unjust if I had no family.

      I think the American workplace should adjust for its employees — again — not just for working women or working parents. But I think the push will come from parents because they may feel the need more intensely. The American corporation is locked into a 40-hours (or more) model, or having a low-wage job with no benefits, or (if you are a parent) staying home and hoping your spouse makes enough money and has benefits through his/her employer. I feel there are not enough options for EVERYone, let alone working parents.

      No where do I say my time (as a mother working outside the home) is more important than your time (as a child-free working woman) and I would never, ever make that argument. I’m sorry if it comes across that way.

    • And to that last point: “if familial responsibilties mean you cannot meet the expectation of your position, you shouldn’t have that position”, I’m actually having trouble on the other end. I am not meeting the needs of my family because of my position. I asked for options, and was denied, and I can’t quit for myriad reasons and just find another job. Believe me, I’m still looking and trying to create better options for myself — and by extension, maybe for you. 😉

  3. I wasnt speaking to “you ” the specific – that would be patently wrong in that I dont know the details of your specific situation, but to “you” in general as people in the workplace, so that wasnt a personal attack at all, sorry if it came across that way 🙂 I just enjoy this kind of debate – always interesting to see where others are coming form.

    I guess I just dont get the why. Why does the job that you (and again im speaking in generalities, not to you specifically) took knowing full well what it entailed have to change to adjust to your changing life just because you want it to? Would it be nice? Sure! But I dont see why that should be expected. In certain situations and certain career fields it can happen, but not everyone can have jobs like that. If you are able to work it out with your employer to be able to work from home or whatever it is that you need that is fantastic for you – it is the feeling that you are entitled to that level of flexibility because you have a family and you have to work that doesnt sit right with me.

    And no, you didnt say in your post or anywhere that I have ever read that your time is more important that mine – I was talking about in day-to-day life that is the general idea. “Oh you dont have kids you can work late” “oh you dont have kids you dont care if you have to cover a holiday” “Well its for my children so you HAVE to give me off”. It is a pervading attitude amongst a lot of parents, right or wrong, and one I take issue with mainly because having kids is a choice, not a law, and where I understand how important they are to you more often than not I dont really share that view. Everyone’s time is as important to them as mine is to me no matter if you fill it taking care of your family or playing video games.

    I work upwards of 50-60 hours a week. That is the choice I made when I took this job. I knew that. I dont like it all the time. Ok, most of the time, but its what I signed on for. It is terribly inconvenient and I have missed a lot of stuff because I chose to work instead of going to whatever. But bottom line I chose this job and all the crap that comes with it. But like I said – if I had a baby I wouldnt be able to do it – to expect the job to change to so I can have both the title I want and the family I want isnt a reasonable expectation, I would have to sacrifice one or the other, and the career would be it – I would have to find a way to do what I want while still taking care of my family.

    Again, not judging your situation, not my place, and I sincerely do hope that you are able to find that balance. But in all honestly if I wanted a job that made less demands on my time and life I would take a job that made less demands. As it stands Im trying to make some opportunities of my own to not so much lessen the demands but to more change them – but I know until that time the parameters of the job I was hired to do arent going to change and I am obligated to keep doing them as long as I collect the paycheck for doing it.

      • I think a lot about how I sound proposing these questions. “Oh, she’s a woman, she wants it all.” “Oh, she wants to be treated special because she’s a mom.” “If her children are so precious, why doesn’t she just stay at home?” — I understand that I, or mothers in general or parents, can take a lot of flack for wanting workplaces to be different. I’m cool with being “under fire” — not to imply that @mindymin was flaming me or anything.

        I still think it’s a valid conversation, and I’ll keep asking and looking and poking and maybe finding what I need. 🙂

    • Oh, no, I didn’t take it personally. I too find these conversations interesting, and want to know where people are coming from. I think it’s important to have the conversations.

      And, yes, you’re right about in the specific my choice to take my current job. Before I started here I was a SAHM and it wasn’t working either for me or my family. I wouldn’t have accepted this position for less money or for more hours, etc., etc., and my employer is under no obligations to change. But I like asking the questions — because if we don’t ask for what we want, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to hear “yes” instead of “no”.

  4. Its funny, I agree with both of you, and see both sides as a parent and as a (wife of) a business owner. I see a lot of ppl expect things when they become a parent- disability pay, paid FMLA, time to pump at all hours, taking off for every cough. But those are all benefits my job allows…to a point. Everyone gets them. You choose to use your time for your kids. You don’t get extra because you have kids. You need to pump every 2 hours? Expect to stay longer every day to make up for the time. Just like a smoker would, ya know?

    I was VERY lucky in that when I asked to go part time after kids they said okay. If they didnt? That’s their right, I certainly wouldn’t have blamed them and I would have moved on. And someone, with or without a family, would have quickly taken my place.

    • I agree with the point that the PTO time you have you use for your kids. Absolutely. I’m not asking for anything EXTRA. Just looking for options, maybe fewer hours (I would take the reduction in PTO or vacation accrual). Something flexible, like I said. It’s done, so I don’t know why I’ve been excepted. 😉

  5. Just an observation that working parents are not the only ones who might need flexibility to fulfill familial obligations. Parents, spouses–heck, even pets–may require extra care for whatever reason at some point during an employee’s working life. This issue doesn’t seem inherently “parents vs. non-parents” to me.

    • Exactly. Thank you, zig. That is exactly a point I am trying to make, especially in the next post, and the one that is going up tomorrow. I’m not crying about wanting extra special treatment because I have kids, wah, wah, wah. I’m asking about overall flexibility in the workplace and in society, for everyone. We should work to live not live to work.

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