Author Erica Jong said “show me a women who doesn’t feel guilty and I’ll show you a man”. I would bet that every mom who reads this quote nods in affirmation of this sentiment. Whether you’re a mom working full time, part time, or a stay-at-home-mom, one common thing you likely feel is guilt for not being able to do it all as well as you would like. Balancing family and work is a constant challenge to say the least. We make our choices as best we can, then often feel guilt for anything that slips through the cracks. But is this a mom issue or a parent issue in our current culture?
I read an article recently at tulsaworld.com (link below) titled: Men Increasingly Putting Family before Jobs. The article highlights a father of 2 young children who was laid off from his job and began questioning his desire to go back to work full-time. The man in the article said “It's strange, that we work all the time when we're young and our children are young, all for the hope that someday we can retire, when maybe we're not as healthy as we used to be and our children are all grown up and gone. I want some of that free time now." He goes on to say how "Men are looking for flexible hours, even if it might mean accepting less money, because they want to spend time with their kids." This sounds much like the choices that women have long been struggling with; to put careers on hold (or to "mommy track") to care for young children.
The idea that work-life balance is increasingly important to both men and women is encouraging. We can only hope that work-life balance is a generational rather than a gender issue as it has long been presented in the media and in the workforce. The numbers seem to suggest this change is happening. In the 1970’s about 27% of women worked part-time with only 8% of men doing so. Today, the numbers haven’t changed much for women with around 26% of women still working part-time. The number for men working part-time however has increased signicicantly with about 13% of men now working part-time. What doesn’t seem to have changed however is what our cultural expectations for men and women are. While GenX and GenY dads may feel guilty for not spending as much time with their children, it is quite unlikely that this is due to social expectations that they do so. You don’t often hear men’s choice to work full time being discussed as a choice between a pile of paychecks and being a father. Conversely, this is exactly the way it is often positioned for working mothers. Author and blogger Danielle Crittenden once stated in her controversial article The Cost of Delaying Marriage (Boundless.org, August 25, 2005) “We want the noise and embrace of family around us; we want, at the end of our lives, to look back and see that what we have done amounts to more than a pile of pay stubs, that we have loved and been loved, and brought into this word life that will outlast us”.
Isn’t that what we all want? Fulfilling and meaningful work should be seen as more than a “pile of paystubs” for women, just as it is for men. Likewise, work-life balance should be a cultural issue, not a gender or working mom issue. If culturally we can start to see fulfilling work and a happy family not as mutually exclusive for women (or for men), perhaps we can start to chip away at the status quo.
When our attitudes change, our behavior can change, then…just maybe…we can all feel more balance, peace, and a little less guilt.