Being a contemporary woman means we should have choices about how to create and utilize our own work-life balance. Many women choose to focus their efforts on their careers or other equally important and respectable pursuits, postponing or abstaining from childrearing. Through contraceptive use or opting for adoption, many women are afforded an opportunity to truly plan when they’ll have their families (if they choose to have them, which 20% don’t). However, the waiting game can be especially problematic for women in fields that are notoriously difficult for break into (such as adjunct professors courting tenure track positions) and/or for women facing fertility issues.
When working women do have children, they’re expected to lean in, functioning as ambitious leaders in the workplace while also juggling super-mom responsibilities at home. Some studies have shown that some of the “leaning in” advice is flawed, and as Amy Westervelt notes in her essay, “Having It All Kinda Sucks,” we need to have an honest conversation about these expectations. She states:
Stop telling women they can have everything without sacrificing anything. Here’s the truth: You want to have a career and kids? You totally can, but both will suffer. You will never feel like you are devoting enough time to either. You will never feel like you are good enough at either. You will never get time off (at least for the first several years). You will always be choosing between things that need your attention, and you will almost never choose yourself. You will be judged for nearly every move you make and you will never measure up to anyone else’s expectations.
This idea of a woman realistically “having it all“–maintaining a stable career and a fulfilling family life–with or without the assistance of a helpful spouse seems to be part of the American Dream, but increasingly, it appears to be unrealistic. Even in the most feminist of two-parent households, many men still tend to do less housework than women, and this causes many women to fall behind in their careers. For some women, rather than try to delegate tasks with their husbands or partners achieve this failing work-life balance, they opt to stay home with their children full time. And while most men and women want egalitarian relationships where they can share home and work responsibilities with their partners, we seem to be missing the infrastructure to support these approaches to parenting and career-planning. Until workplaces around the US follow international recommendations for parental leave such as these, how might we work toward more realistic expectations for achieving work-life balance?