Another wave of work life balance articles?
Blog :Life and Times in Bangalore
Date: 6/22/2012 4:20:59 AM
It has been clear that women can’t have it all for some time. This week, literally within a span of a few hours, I got to read these two articles. One is the cover story by Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic, a woman high up in the Obama administration – Hillary Clinton was her boss. The other is by another working mom, Ann Brenoff at the Huffington Post.
Both talk of the jugglery it takes and yet, it seems like both women clearly wish they had managed more time with their families. Mind you, both of these people have much more flexible jobs than the ‘average’ office worker, whatever that category ends up being – there is no 40 hour work day anywhere these days for a majority.
One is a professor, a full time job in which she was Dean for a bit of her school (Ivy league and all that), she commuted through the week to be in DC, supportive husband who completely handled home base and yet…
After two years, though, she left. She went back home where she rejoined the Princeton faculty as a full-time professor, rather than literally helping to run the world. And the “permission” to do so came from the one place she’d least expected it: Secretary Clinton.
“She knew I was having a hard time with the juggle,” Slaughter said, remembering how her 14-year-old son reacted to his mother’s weekly commute by acting out in school and failing classes. “She said to me, ‘I just don’t know how you do it.’ I looked at her and said, ‘You’re Hillary Clinton!’ But she reminded me that she had never tried to do what I was doing — she had been in the White House for eight years, in one place, before Chelsea went to college.
The Slaughter article also talks about how a system needs to change to ensure that there’s space for families to function. This is as much for parents gender insensitively as for women. However, even with completely supportive husbands, this highly successful woman didn’t feel like it was a choice to not be home with her kids. Note that her definition of ‘home’ included a full time job at Princeton – she didn’t want to pay the personal cost it took to get ‘there’. After getting there!
I think it is high time people got out of mindsets that cleave a person’s life into two – personal and employee. One clearly influences the other and can’t be separated out – yeah, regardless of what we might think, we’re not train compartments to safely store work in one bogey and life (allowed by work) in the other.
Concepts like ‘face time’, being in the office longer than the boss, goofing off during the day and working later at night to make up…these are choices that are personal to some people’s work styles and issues that can be mitigated by technology. If I am hired for my ability to work through problems, then where I am when I am working through those problems shouldn’t matter. Yes, personal meetings will not become redundant. But one does not need to meet and hold someone’s hand every day!
This is obviously not an issue specific only to women or even parents. It is clear that our cultures have changed to value material wealth over most else. And women mostly pay that prize. Stay home and be poorer when you’re older (marriages aren’t what they used to be in pre-divorce days either!) or cut off an essential part of you and your need to be with your kids in order to work.
Anne Brenoff talks of feeling like suburban dads in older generations
Maybe this is how suburban dads felt in the 1950s and 1960s: They left for work in the early morning on the commuter train and came home long after the kids were fed and put to bed. They were the breadwinners and there was little time for anything else. Relationships with their kids were built on weekends and they frequently didn’t even know the names of their children’s teachers.
Maybe they got used to it. It’s clear to me I haven’t.
It is clear that everyone has paid this price. I don’t mean to say parents need to both sit home and coo over every garbled sound that comes out of their child’s mouth. Let us acknowledge though that dads have lost out, ready to spend time at a time when their children aren’t, in parenting relationships whose foundations are not as solid as they might have been.
Something to think about for every profession. One of the commenters at one of the articles is a teacher. She rues her not being there for her kids when she is there for everyone else’s. I shall be working around that paradigm next year and shall have to set a clear policy for myself. That I won’t be around most Saturdays for the children’s events this year (they mostly happen on Saturdays!) is already eating me up and I haven’t started the course yet.
There is simply no substitute to physical presence when it comes to children. The adults in the workplace are another question altogether.
Have a good weekend!