I was reading a Wall Street Journal blog, aptly called The Juggle, which is centered around topics pertaining to modern parenthood. A recent post asked readers to share stories about their parenting role models, which got me to thinking about the working parents (and more specifically, working women) I had met in the course of my career.
Two female co-workers of mine both had their first babies right around the same time. They were roughly the same age and held roughly the same level of responsibility in their respective departments. One woman chose not to return to work after her maternity leave and became a stay-at-home mother (one of the most noble reasons to leave our company according to the male CEO, when asked about the high level of employee turnover).
The second woman returned to work after a few months with an abbreviated schedule (3 days in office, 2 days at home). Her husband worked from home and provided childcare during the day while she was at work. I once observed this co-worker storing bottles of breast milk in the fridge. I was curious as to how she managed to pump milk while at the office since we were working in very cramped quarters with barely enough space to hold a meeting let alone find a quiet place to yourself, so I asked her about it. Turns out she was shutting herself in a utility closet in the hallway and sitting on storage box for support. A few months later, she was promoted to a managerial position and reverted back to coming in full time to the office.
Another friend of mine chose to leave her job and work as a freelancer while caring for her infant, which coincided with a move to a rural area to be closer to her husband’s job. After her freelancing business failed to get off the ground, she eventually took part-time work at a major corporation 50 miles and a ferry ride away from home. Each Sunday she would make the 2-hour trip, spending half the week at her parents home where they watched her child during the day and drove back each Thursday night to spend the weekend with her husband while still putting in a full day of work on Fridays.
What I realized, was that none of these women’s experiences were ones I would want to emulate. What I’ve seen is that unless you are willing to endure serious sacrifice in both your personal and professional life, an equal balance between career and motherhood is rarely possible.
In my opinion, there are several reasons for this, all illustrated in the above stories:
- The standard employment model is structured around the single income family
- There is a negative stigma attached to stay-at-home parents
- For-profit child care is expensive and quality care is hard to find
- There has been a de-centralizing of extended families, with relatives living hundreds of miles apart
- The art of parenting has shifted from the primary and secondary caregiver model, to a more shared or “co-parenting” one
Not yet having had children of my own, I do not know what solution to this inequity I would propose. Women in my family have always relied on help from grandparents or other relatives. But what if the grandparents live far away or have no desire to raise any more children?
Perhaps the answer is better access to quality and affordable child care. But who should provide that? Employers? Government?
Maybe the answer is to restructure employment models to allow for more flexible schedules, part time work and job sharing. But is this in the best interest of employers? Is it even feasible considering the nature of certain work or current benefit models that rely on full-time employment?
I would be interested in hearing how other parents have survived “the juggle” and possible solutions for better integrating parenthood and careers.