February 22nd, 2016

planet

Careers, motherhood, and the debate about how busy we are

Melinda Gates tweeted in support of this washington post article: Six myths about women in the workplace that you probably fell for and here's the bit that got everybody all up in arms:

MYTH 3: Okay, you have kids. Now you’re stressed and overwhelmed.


People were all up in arms about the stressfulness being called a "myth". Oh so it's all in our heads? So we don't have to fight for change and support for working parents?

This is at the root of the Lean In debate too, something I've blogged about before, so I had to (eventually, two weeks later, you know how it is) address it. And I think I'm realizing that it's complicated because there aren't just two sides to the debate. There's more.

Side A: Women just can't have it all! This career and motherhood stuff is too overwhelming. Plan a laid-back career writing poems on the beach if you want kids, otherwise trust me you are going to be miserable. Just read this personal story from a CEO who was just so tired of making $500,000 a year and you'll see.

Let's call that "the Anne-Marie Slaughter" side.

Side B: the "feminists take down capitalism from the inside" side. America is being way too mean to families. Why can't writing poems on the beach pay a living wage?

Honestly friends, I do hear you about the meanness. This lack of paid maternity leave is a total bitch. But I stop agreeing when you say I'm doing the wrong thing trying to get by in the world as it exists, by working within the system a little bit. It's practical to consider the system. This is a big feminist debate too... do we tell women to be engineers, or do we ask why engineers get paid so much more than teachers? Both! We should do both.

Side C, the Sheryl Sandberg Lean In side that I actually really identify with: Lots of women are having the things that they find are important, can we relax about the debate, and stop scaring the shit out of college women before they've even applied for jobs?

There's actually a movie called "I don't know how she does it" with Sarah Jessica Parker playing the ultimate working mom. She works and works and works. She stays up all night baking pies for a bake sale. But her life is bad. She misses her son's first haircut. Tragic.

I watched this movie and thought, "was I supposed to care about haircuts?"

Because I don't. I have opted out of that level of caring. So when the world says, "You're going to struggle so much as a working mother because you'll miss haircuts!" I raise one eyebrow and say, "The baby will grow more hair."

We didn't realize we were supposed to bring valentine's to our daughters church group for 18-month-olds. I felt bad for two seconds, then my husband said, "She's not even TWO yet. She has no idea it's Wednesday, let alone a holiday worth looking forward to, her memory last ten minutes. Why are we caring about buying a thing to end up in everybody's recycle bin?"

Men don't care. Why should we?

I read articles about the culture of busy. When people ask what you're up to, you're supposed to say "busy". I've heard it. Hear it. Busy equals important. If you say, "I'm doing what I feel like doing" people

Sheryl Sandberg said she gets home at 5:30 for dinner every night. I thought crap... if a CFO can do it, so can I. Work smart. Tell the team your intentions.

I live in the midwest. It's not as high-pressure. Real estate isn't as expensive. We are not house poor.

I work in engineering. It's not as competitive.

I stopped shaving my legs in 2009.

My husband stays home with the kids. The single income is tough. We don't have college funds set up. My kids will probably have to go to cheap state schools, I will never have a "my kid goes to Harvard" sticker on my Lexus. Well for that matter, nor will I ever have a Lexus.

These are things that worked out for me. I admit there's some luck involved. But to some extent these are also choices that I/we have made.

So I'm saying, what's wrong with telling young women that there are choices you can make along the way and priorities you can pick and you should do things you love and it might work out?

I feel like that's a more empowering message than the fearful "don't try to have it all!" message that these movies and articles have, about how bad everything is.

I've had some luck but it's not all luck. It's deciding that Valentine's parties are materialistic bullcrap. Tada, we're free!

A few years ago, a young woman at facebook began asking me lots of questions about how I balance work and family. I inquired if she and her partner were considering having a child. She replied that she did not have a husband, then added with a little laugh, “Actually, I don’t even have a boyfriend.”
- Lean In

We've got to keep fighting on that paid maternity leave issue because it's obviously hurting everyone. We've got to give everyone the right to call out jerk bosses who want their employees wo live at work for 60 hours a week without overtime. I am all for that stuff.

But to deny that there are ANY jobs that a mother can do in 40 hours a week, and that to even dream of it is "trying to have it all" - that's what I'm against.

And I don't think it's a total betrayal to ask women to take a step back and simplify their own lives - can we agree to stop hand-writing thank you notes for our kids birthday party guests that were present for the verbal 'thank you'? Maybe you don't have to sort your child's lego by color? If driving your kid to three after-school activities per night is stressing you out, why are you doing it?

That's all I'll bring up. If we have time for a debate.