Oh, Anne-Marie Slaughter, come ON. First you write The Atlantic’s most widely read article ever (EVER – find it here), thoughtfully analyzing the policies and beliefs that make it so freaking hard to be a successful working mom. And now, this? A quick little note to say, “Oh, btw, 22-year-olds graduating in a tough economy, remember when I told you how brutal it is to aggressively pursue a career and be a fulfilled mom at the same time? Yeah, don’t let that stop you from actually trying to do that. Because having kids is super cool!” Sigh.
First off, I don’t think asking 22-year-olds about their plans for having children is reliable. When I was 22, I was an idiot. (Interesting sidenote: many days, I still am.) I did not have health insurance, could barely pay my rent, and had no idea what I was going to do with my extremely valuable English Lit degree. I don’t think I was abnormal (I mean, in ways other than I’ve already described to you). Someone asking my 22-year-old self about my plans for children probably would have been met with a giggle and a blank stare.
But let’s just suppose that the study she cites is accurate, and that college grads today are less likely to have kids than they were two decades ago. Isn’t that a logical outcome of an ongoing national discussion about how painfully hard it is to have kids and a career? Is a little footnote about the “sheer delight, pleasure, and wonder that child-rearing often affords” really going to sway these kids, who have been inundated with war stories about juggling it all? And haven’t we already gone over (and over, and over) how workplaces continue to demand more and more, often requiring parents in high-profile jobs to be available 24 hours a day, while federal policies supporting working parents have hardly changed? Reimbursing for breast pumps and requiring nursing rooms is great, but it’s only one step towards providing the real support working moms need to contribute both at home and at the office in meaningful ways.
Frankly, I hope these kids go on a total reproductive lockdown. Maybe that’s what it will take for lawmakers to pay attention and pursue policies to really help working parents (call me crazy, but I think the U.S. should offer a little more paid maternity leave than, oh, Pakistan). Declining birthrates always get attention. For example, Russia is apparently experiencing a declining birthrate, so what does the always forward-thinking Vladimir Putin do? No, he does not go horseback riding shirtless.
But he DOES hire Boyz II Men to perform a romantical Valentine’s Day show in Moscow to encourage Russians to reproduce. THAT is precisely the kind of meaningful action that I hope U.S. lawmakers can take in the face of a declining birthrate. If a little Motownphilly doesn’t fix all of our problems, then frankly, we are doomed.
I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” article while I sat at my desk at my last job. After years of
non-stop complaining to my husband internal debate, I had finally made up my mind that I was going to take some time off, and her article gave a voice to so many of the stresses and pressures I had been feeling. Most of my working mom lawyer friends felt the same – like her article hit every point we had griped about over the years.
Now that I’m on the other side of the story (as a mom taking an “investment interval” away from work), the article feels different. It seems clear to me now, in a way that it didn’t when I read the article in the thick of being a working mom, that it’s a matter of choices, and that there is a power that comes with having choices – and in dealing with the consequences of making them. To have a high profile, prestigious, demanding career requires huge investments of time. You have to be available more than your co-workers, you have to work harder than them, you have to contribute in unique ways, and be confident about your role in a way that only total immersion in your career can provide. And to be the mom who goes to every school function, and changes every diaper, and cooks every meal also requires a significant investment of time, too. Doing both at the same time would require 80 hours in a day, and probably some sort of crystal meth habit to have the energy to keep up.
But doing one or the other are not our only options anymore. So, once again, I agree with Hillary Clinton. In the fall she gave an interview and said, “…God, I can’t stand whining. I can’t stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they are not happy with the choices they made. You live in a time when there are endless choices….” And then she said something about working on yourself or learning a sport if you’re not happy. I don’t know where the hell the learning a sport thing came from, because taking up volleyball was not going to get me over my working mother angst, but I love her point. Make your choice and own it. If it’s not working for you and/or your family, make a different choice, and own that one, too. And own all the consequences, and hardships, and sacrifices, and if you think it’s unfair, speak up and do something about it. As I tell my kids multiple freaking times a day, we all have choices and our job is to make good ones.
And I think that is probably true whether you’re deciding to aggressively pursue a career and have kids, or to give your brother a wedgie, or to ride a horse without your shirt on.