“The most important career decision you make is whom you marry.” Discuss.
This gem of a quote, among many others, is found in the book Getting To 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober. The book not only argues that women can successfully work outside the home as wives and parents, but offers blueprints for making it happen, whether you’re still at the pre-marriage or pre-baby phase, negotiating a return to work, or right in the kids-and-job trenches.
I was jarred by a scene on Grey’s Anatomy a couple of weeks ago when Cristina shuts Meredith out of a surgery, and explains after that it’s because Meredith’s focus has changed as a mother. She’s no longer doing as much research or logging as many surgical hours, and therefore isn’t as qualified as she could be. (Cristina also points out that there are other mothers who make it work, but they handle parenthood differently.)
Judging by my own reaction to the show, obviously this is still a hot-button issue for many women. “Getting To 50/50” does not for a minute negate the valid choice made by women who leave the work force and stay at home, however it does question the definition of “wanting to” stay home, taking an.interesting look at whether “wanting to” really means that the woman truly didn’t wish to remain employed, or if the choice stemmed from the knowledge (stated or implied) that her partner and/or employer would not be able to help make it happen. While one could argue that the onus doesn’t need to be placed on the employer, it seems fair that if the father of your children is truly your “partner”, he does have an obligation here. (“Women Don’t Quit Because They Want To” is the title of an entire section)
The book also debunks many myths, widely believed by some parents, which put undue pressure and guilt on a woman to stay home when perhaps she would prefer to continue working, and readers can take away some good responses to use with their partner (or parent, or any judgmental person) who has concerns or spouts inaccurate research: “Actually, honey, studies have shown that children in daycare fare just as well in all areas as those who stay home with a parent,” might be good for starters.
Sheryl Sandberg wrote the forward to “Getting To 50/50”, which she says she “devoured”, as I did her book “Lean In” – in fact, I went on a blitz last year at school where I started several conversations and emails with my principal with the phrase “So, I’m leaning in right now….”
In terms of my personal experience, it’s a bit different here in Canada when we get 12 months of maternity/parental leave, so by the time I returned to work (there was never a question that I would) my girls were eating solid foods and sleeping through the night, which is such a luxury for working parents. I could really relate to this quote from “Getting To 50/50”: “’I wish you could show younger women just how good things look once you make it up the steep incline,’ a female entrepreneur told us. ‘When they’re halfway up the hill, all they see is a tough slog and they don’t realize how much easier it gets once you gain some altitude. The hill flattens out and you’ve got a great view.’” At 5 and 7 my girls are so independent (this year’s goal – achieved – was to get them packing their own lunches at night) – and while new time commitments (homework, extracurricular activities) arise as kids grow, they just don’t come with the same physical demands as being sleep-deprived, and the current challenges don’t have have the same impact on my work the next day.
“Getting To 50/50” shares tons of research, both hard data and anecdotal stories, and keeps the right balance of entertainment and education (it’s not light and fluffy, but it’s also not a textbook. Though it would be a great addition to many a syllabus). Over 1100 moms were interviewed, which means a range of perspectives are presented. Other tidbits of learning I gained from the book (or learned about myself while reading):
- Couples who split breadwinner/housework roles have a divorce rate 51% below the average
- “If you want your husband’s company in the odyssey of child rearing, you have to value his parenting views as much as your own.” This means that I have to accept that all of the play and silliness my husband engages in with our girls is just as important as the task-master parenting duties I take on. (We do cross into each other’s zones sometimes.) I also have to relax about things being done a certain way if I want my husband to feel fully comfortable with parenting duties…still a work in progress after almost 8 years.
- “Success Does Not Require 24/7”. Enough said? If not, there’s a whole chapter on it.
- Having it all might mean changing your definition of “all”. I love my family and my job(s), and to stay sane I have abandoned the notions of nightly homecooked meals and yearly homemade Halloween costumes. Though it took a while, I also got my husband onto the idea of “outsourcing”, which recently included hiring someone to look after some fall yardwork.
I’ve written before about my mom and how she inspires me to have it all. She took a few years off from teaching when we were young, and while my brother and I were kept completely oblivious to the fact that she was going stir-crazy at home (especially once we were both full-time in school), I will never forget the expression on her face, light in her eyes and tone of her voice when she went to the kitchen phone to take the superintendent’s call offering her a classroom again. “Are you serious?” was her excited reply, and whether I processed it or not then, I knew very well that my mother loved us AND loved her work, something that has certainly molded my whole idea of being a working parent. (Even in her retirement, she’s still tutoring and volunteering in schools.)
Some final introspection: while education is a very female-friendly field of work, I have to admit that I do feel like one of the reasons I haven’t pursued “advancement” in my career (by which I mean going into Vice Principal/Principalship) is because I don’t think I could take on that sort of change – or even complete the qualifications I would need to get first – and still keep my home running the way I want it to. Sure, the fact that my husband recently began a new role as Vice Principal has something to do with that, but I know I would have his support if I decided I wanted to head down that path. I also haven’t quite decided if it’s a job that I would want anyway, as I don’t think I would be able to make that jump and still keep up with my writing career, so I try to consider of all of the opportunities that come with my freelance/blogging work as “advancement”, and a supplement to my very rewarding role as a classroom teacher. This book got me thinking about what I really want when it comes to my career/family balance, and I’ve been reflecting more on the decisions I’ve made, and will have to make in the future.
“Getting To 50/50” is an absolutely fascinating read no matter your perspective, but I would recommend it especially if you are finding the 50/50 goal desirable but elusive and want to learn more.
If you’d like to win your own copy of “Getting To 50/50”, simply leave a comment below and make sure there’s a way for me to contact you if you are the winner! (Giveaway ends Thursday, November 28th at 11:59 pm.)