If you've been living under a rock for the past week, here's the Atlantic article by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Everyone I know has emailed this to me, and I have emailed this to everyone I know if I didn't get it from them first. Clearly it resonates with all of us.
I just finished the article yesterday, reading a page here and there while the kids played. I haven't read a lot of the commentary out there yet, so I'm sure that many of my thoughts about the article have already been said. But here's one: I was so glad that she responded to Sheryl Sandberg's talk about "leaning back."
Sandberg sort of skirted the issue by saying that women who don't already have kids are "leaning back" from their careers and turning down opportunities. And I think seizing the day and taking on opportunities is great career advice. The thing is, after hearing her talk, my reaction was to shrug and say, "I guess I can't have a high-powered career like her, because I do lean back. I don't seize every professional opportunity. And I still sometimes feel like I don't have enough energy for my family, so I will continue to lean back and watch my childless colleagues pass me by because this is what I feel like I need to do. Maybe when I'm fifty and the kids are out of the house I'll seize those professional opportunities again, and maybe then it will be too late and I'll never ascend to the career heights of some of my peers, but I can't worry about that now because I have two little boys at home who need me."
It was such a relief to hear a well-respected woman in an established career acknowledge the reality that if both of you have some ambition and want to devote time and energy to your careers, you need to balance that with your family life and sometimes your family life should win. That when you're faced with a professional opportunity that conflicts with your family life, you should weigh your options and that when your kids still live at home, it may often make sense to turn down or scale down that professional opportunity. And that we should all, men and women, reimagine our careers as a series of positions and responsibilities that we fit in with the rest of our lives, rather than as a steady upward trajectory where we fail if we stop going up. I think the massive response to her article is all of us going, "Finally, someone is telling the truth!" Not the truth that, duh, it's hard to juggle work and kids, but the truth that right now there are two alternatives. You can have career success and power at the expense of your family, or we need to make changes so that career success and power can be compatible with family obligations.
Update: Here's an excerpt from LL's comment (read in full). Amen, sister!
Working parents in general can't have it all. . . . I think it's limiting to always
frame it as a "women's issue" and it ignores a whole lot of men who also
make the choice of family over career. . . . I think all of her points apply to working parents generally and
should be framed as such. Until my husband's employer sees his role of
father as as important as they see (or at least pretend to see) their
female workers' role as mother, it is never going to be as balanced or
easy at it should be for me, the working wife of the working man, to
make the choices I might want to make.