It took a while, but six decades after women started trading in bare feet for high heels, they’ve discovered something: Working and raising kids is hard. In fact, many days, it’s so hard, women choose not to do both at the same time, to the detriment of themselves and their kids.
A CNBC article published in May warned that “disconnecting [from work] to spend time with your kids could sabotage your career.” Published nearly at the same time, a piece from The Atlantic, by a mother and economist no less, suggested that if we all want to “normalize parenthood,” men and women should stop trying to hide it at work.
Which one is it? Are we as modern women working and parenting and telling our bosses we need to go home early to catch the 4:30 p.m. soccer game; or are we, as modern working women slashing any kid-related duties, so we don’t lose out on that promotion and raise? It can’t be both.
I think it should be the former, not just because I delight in exposing third-wave feminists, but because I think it’s better for the economy, kids, parents, and society.
The Feminist Revolution Sold Women a Lie
The first thing we need to do is point out the dichotomy at work here, because it’s integral to identify any changes women need to make in order to have children and thriving careers.
Modern feminism taught women in no uncertain terms: They didn’t need men or children to be happy. Period. If they wanted them, sure, that’s fine, but the rest of the female members of society should go find a successful career and thrive at the “9-to-5.” This is still a persistent myth, in fact. A piece that The Guardian published at the end of May touted with glee that a “happiness expert” has found “women are happier without children or a spouse.”
Not so fast.
Like most socio-economic topics these days, I can find several studies to contradict that one. The New York Times recently reported “religious, conservative wives” are the happiest people group in the United States. A Harvard study going back to 1938 (when Harvard was still all men) gradually included women and found close relationships were what impacted happiness the most, decade after decade:
“Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.”
Despite what the “happiness expert” says, Pew Research reported this year that more women, particularly highly educated women, had become mothers in 2016 than in 2006. Thus, the last decade has incited thousands of think pieces and studies about how women should balance work and parenting, even though feminists said having kids was so prosaic.
Women Are Trapped and Don’t Know How to Get Out
Since women are often, though not always, the primary caregivers, and since most workplaces, bosses, and colleagues in male-dominated industries often fail to understand this, women often either quit eventually or invest more time and funds in more child care.
Pew reported: “In 2016, moms spent around 25 hours a week on paid work, up from nine hours in 1965. At the same time, they spent 14 hours a week on child care, up from 10 hours a week in 1965.” Research also shows fewer mothers prefer full-time work, due to their hectic schedule and their innate desire to spend time with their kids.
There are ways to make parenting and work, work, we’ve just been so worried about shattering the glass ceiling we haven’t figured out how to provide day care, flexible hours, and a decent salary with benefits all at the same time. Now that women are there, we need to get specific, get focused, and get articulate about what this entails.
More to Work-Life Balance Than Paid Parental Leave
Usually, when we discuss work-life balance, paid parental leave is the first topic mentioned. I’m a huge proponent of the concept, particularly if it isn’t mandated.
However, paid parental leave addresses a brief time period in a child’s life: After the first few months, the child grows up and goes to kindergarten, joins a baseball time, needs braces, gets the flu, and participates in class plays, among a million other childhood experiences. Someone must be there for these events, and often it’s one or both parents who feel compelled to do these important things.
In the fantastic piece in The Atlantic addressing the practicalities and logistics of parenting and working, Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University, describes what it’s often like for parents (not just moms) who work but still need to leave early to pick up a vomiting child from school or attend a 3:30 p.m. ballet practice. She articulates that there’s almost a secrecy about having children in the work environment, perpetuated by—you guessed it—shame, often spearheaded by men.
Oster explained that while there aren’t that many studies out there on women and work, specifically this aspect of “secret parenting,” one such 2014 paper in Gender, Work & Organization based on interviews with 26 mothers of small children stated, “Hiding being a mother and engaging in strategies for secrecy were ubiquitous themes in our interviews. Many women who had gone back to work tried to conceal that they had small children or pretended that their children’s interests were of little importance to them.”
The more I thought about this, the more it made sense. I have a very flexible job now, but the one I had prior to this wouldn’t have allowed for being a very hands-on mom—period. In fact, when I first started writing regularly, I still felt flustered about being a mother. I rushed to interviews, desperate to hide my postpartum belly, put the kids (crying) down for naps only to rush to phone interview someone while barricading myself in the bathroom. A couple times, I’ve even brought small children to meetings or interviews when a sitter couldn’t make it and apologized every five minutes for appearing unprofessional. There’s at least one interview out there of a child interrupting me, I’m sure of it.
If I feel this way, and media is a flexible field to say the least, how much more must women in other industries feel this need to be secret? Fathers, too?
Opening Up at Work About Parenting Benefits Everyone
It’s almost as if the work-life balance phenomenon is experiencing its own watershed moment, because keeping parenting a secret at work simply isn’t working.
Oster explains the difficulty: “Hiding your kids at work is no easy task. Even if you skip baseball games and school plays and parent-teacher conferences, your kids will sometimes get sick. Child care will fall through on occasion. Some of the women in that paper I cited reported that they had feigned illness when their child got sick, because taking a sick day for themselves seemed acceptable, but taking one to nurse a child did not.”
Oster’s suggestion is simple, organic, and has little to do with policy. She simply suggests that parents at work talk about parenting while at work. This will normalize parenting to colleagues without kids, but more so, doing so will encourage other colleagues at work who are parents to also be vocal about this thing all parents do that takes up so much of the rest of their time, resources, and attention outside work.
I tell people, “I’m sorry, I don’t do meetings after 5 p.m. because of my children.” Or even, “Sorry, but today I’m leaving at 3:30 because I’ve been traveling a lot and I promised my kids I’d come home early to make cookies.” And I particularly try to say things like that around more junior colleagues, those who might wonder whether it’s okay for them to have these constraints. I have pictures of my kids up everywhere, and right now I’m looking at a child’s mitten, which has been sitting on my desk since sometime in December. One glance around my office, and you’d know I’m a parent.
Talking about parenting with other parents and nonparents at work might eventually break the stigma (and secrecy) of it. I’m not sure if it will be enough, so I still think straightforward conversations with employers are necessary.
Oster suggests more employers realize the hours of 5–8 p.m. are fraught with chaos, but an 8:15 conference call is far more doable. If your child has a 4:30 game every Thursday, perhaps tell your boss you’ll catch up on what you missed toward the close of business day by 8:30 that evening or by 6:30 the next morning. Of course, not all vocations and fields can endure this kind of flexibility, but in the internet and video-calling era, it’s hard to see how so many employers and employees wouldn’t benefit from these conversations about work and parenting.
Benefits of Working and Parenting Are Many
The benefits of lifting the veil on secret parenting and busting through the myths of the feminist manifesto on work are many—for parents, kids, and society.
As parenting becomes less stigmatized at work, parents will hopefully feel like they’re living a more one-piece life, where their work and kids can coexist somewhat peacefully.
While parenting is a difficult task, being able to attend daytime award ceremonies, or even nurse a sick child back to health, brings a certain joy, which may have a domino-like effect on the parent at work. Working for an employer who allows this might just make for a more grateful, hard-working employee. This, of course, reaps an economic benefit for society. If more parents enjoy more job stability and financial rewards, they might have more children—which is also beneficial for societal health.
Working and parenting can also be beneficial for kids. When my eldest son, an adorable redhead, was a toddler, he wore a shirt that matched his hair color with a sun printed on it. “The world revolves around me,” the shirt read. I used to laugh, because toddlers really do believe that. In fact, I’ve learned now after parenting for some 12 years (and now with four kids), many of them still believe that. However, when mom and dad work, the world cannot revolve around them. Yes, they can be loved, chauffeured, hugged, and cheered, but if parents are also working, this can foster a sense of independence, balance, strength, and empathy in children (particularly if the child still feels loved).
Modern feminism did women and would-be mothers no favors when it sold them a bill of lies about how to find happiness. However, the myths can be unraveled and there are new ways to still balance work and parenting—feminists need not apply.
Nicole Russell is a freelance writer and mother of four. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Politico, The Daily Beast, and The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter @russell_nm.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.