According to a survey from MORE, a shift in consciousness is upon us. More women are now looking for flexibility in their work lives, and are willing to sacrifice more in order to take care of their home lives. Perhaps this is a sign that women no longer feel as if they have to “do it all” — the career, the husband, the kids — and are willing to make some tough choices that result in sacrifices in one area of their lives. On the other hand, maybe this is a sign of gender roles at home regressing to previous norms where women were expected to be the caregivers and men were expected to bring home the bacon.
Perhaps more and more women are trying to find work that allows them some flexibility rather than jobs that will turn into high-powered careers because they don’t have a choice. Someone has to raise the kids, and in this economy, affordable daycare and paid, comprehensive maternity leaves are difficult to find. My husband and I have often talked about what we will do if and when we have kids, because daycare will easily eat up an entire paycheck, especially if we have to put an infant in daycare (which often costs more than, say, putting a toddler in daycare) because we cannot afford for me to stay home for an extended period of time.
Many women are caught in this same catch-22; they will be stretched financially to put their children in daycare, but they cannot afford not to. Furthermore, with so many women facing unpaid or too-short maternity leaves, the decision of whether or not to have a child becomes one of finances rather than family. Left in that situation, it’s no wonder women want more flexibility in their jobs; if they have to work because they can’t afford not to, they want to be home as much as they can.
The rhetoric surrounding motherhood doesn’t help us make decisions about motherhood, either. We all know by now that ”being a mom is the most important job in the world,” as the discourse between the Romneys and Hilary Rosen a few weeks back has told us. Rarely does anyone argue this; children are, quite literally, the future of our world, and raising them is vitally important to families, society and our planet as a whole.
We’re also surrounded by working mothers with high-powered careers who, like Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, make sure they leave work at 5:30 every day or who, like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, were able to stay home until their kids were older and then launch their careers later in life. The rhetoric that being a mom is the most important thing you can do coupled with images of successful, working moms in the media make it difficult for women to make the choice between career and family. They don’t want to seem like they are ignoring their children, nor do they feel able to give up their careers.
Regardless of why women feel this way, admitting that you can’t do it all is a healthy one, according to Barbara and Shannon Kelley. In their book, “Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for the Perfect Career and Find a Job (and Life) That Works for You,” the mother-daughter team interviewed many women about their lives and careers and found that women are often buried under emotional and social pressure to do everything, and burdened with guilt and regret if they cannot. They argue that we need to get rid of these feelings of guilt and have realistic expectations for ourselves and each other.
Realistic expectations for ourselves and privileging motherhood are two steps on the path toward healthy work and home lives for women. As a society, however, we have a long way to go. Offering affordable child care and comprehensive, paid maternity leaves are essential steps toward making a true work-life balance possible, but, unfortunately, we have a long way to go before these become standard in our society.
Photo Credit: CJAG93