Work-life Extravaganza!

by Chrysula on September 25, 2009 in asking,parenting,reforming,telling,women,work life balance

Wow.  Quite the week for work-life balance discussion.  And quite the week for women’s issues.  It seemed the debate lifted a notch with some serious new data telling the story of the health of the American workforce from Ellen Galinsky at the Families and Work Institute and more data coming out of Harvard via the Wall Street Journal to demonstrate that working less can really help you do more – true productivity.  On the downside, still more data via leadership guru Marcus Buckingham at the Huffington Post told us women were getting sadder perhaps because of too many choices?  Then the New York Times really stuck it to us with Maureen Dowd’s compounding piece.  Oh and there was last weekend’s article on SAHM having to go back to work after years out because husbands are losing their jobs – and most of them are having a very tough time of it.

The “are you a feminist if you opt out of the work force to raise your kids?” argument reared it’s head again and then Eli Lily was spotlighted as a top 100 best companies for working mothers whilst in the same breath canceling one of their prime flex benefits.  And it would seem drilling down that some of the companies listed offer policies without cultural support which means no one really uses the flex arrangements (although I remain thrilled that there are at least 100 big companies trying).  I’ve worked for one of them (Ernst & Young but a long time ago) – they are trying. However the list needs to come with a warning label – a company can have all the policies “on the books” it wants. But if top down messaging, by word and action doesn’t reinforce, then on the line employees don’t get real access.

In the meantime I’ve been stretching my own work-life balance pretty thin with sick children and a couple of great business opportunities that have me mothering and working at all hours – demanding, all coming at once of course, but super exciting for me (and I wouldn’t really have it any other way).  Which is why this post is a few days later than I intended.  Got to take care of business!

There is some great analysis out there on each of these developments – read these fabulous commentators I’ve been getting connected with in the past few weeks.   Leanne Chase of Career Life Connection, Cali Yost at Fast Company, Morra Aarons-Mele at the Huffington Post and Families and Work Institute and Lauren Young at Business Week.  If you have time follow the comment threads on any of the links I’ve provided – there are a whole lot of people with things to say on all of these stories.  I won’t replicate here except to say that I find the conversation compelling, exciting and disheartening all at the same time. 

One blog that I typically enjoy shocked me with “as important as childcare and homemaking roles might be, they are not likely to dramatically improve the collective.” You’re kidding, right? If raising grounded, secure, nurtured children isn’t dramatically improving the collective, I have no idea what is.

I struggled with the furor around the NYT piece on women re-entering the workforce because of the narrow stereotype of these women trying to on-ramp, as pampered and privileged (indeed, some of them may have been). In all the discussions of how women who stay home are failing society, it is rare that the financial scrimping, cost-cutting and even debt that goes with a one-income situation is ever discussed. The “stuff” is sacrificed precisely so the family AND by definition the collective can benefit overall.

Having said that, I do feel it’s imperative that professional mothers (a term I came across yesterday on a Dare to Dream blog on one woman’s decision to stay home in her fabulous essay on the “Economics of Motherhood”) keep their skills in play and their finances progressing, with social media and face to face networking, part-time work, a small business, further study, consulting or whatever that looks like.

On a related note, I fundamentally have to disagree with the premise that feminism is not about having choices. Being constantly reminded that I am not a feminist because I am wasting all that incredible education and 18 yrs of corporate life is getting a tad dull. The fact that my children and therefore generations will benefit from the full impact of those experiences (assuming I am proficient, but that’s a whole other post) would appear to have no value because it cannot be easily monetized.

There are huge battles to be fought; agreed. But until the debate can embrace, acknowledge and value professional mothers, we cannot proceed beyond the ridiculous “mommy wars”.

Finally, I invite all of you, of all genders, all marital and child status to take ownership of whatever flexible work practices exist (or don’t) in your organization and fight to have them apply to everyone.  Non-parents, we don’t want special treatment, we don’t want to single you out as the one without kids who can do the longer hours, the endless business trips.  What we do want is for your to join us in getting your voice heard about what work-life balance means to you and have your flex needs met too.

It’s not just parents who have other demands in their lives. I challenge and invite you to join in this debate as a player instead of feeling negative towards your parent co-workers.  I for one would welcome the contribution. This is universal people. I repeat, this is not just a Mommy issue.

Let’s talk.

{ 10 comments }

shannon September 25, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Fantastic post! I think that all the choices women now have are a blessing and a curse – but just because that may be the case doesn't mean we would trade them. I look at this unhappiness business more as a collective case of growing pains – and I also think that, by framing this issue in terms of happiness, we make what is really societal (lack of support for working moms, etc.) personal, thereby keeping it light and avoiding the real work that has to be done. I wrote about this on my blog this week: http://undecidedthebook.wordpress.com/2009/09/21/womens-declining-happiness-the-paradox-that-isnt/.

Chrysula Winegar September 26, 2009 at 10:10 am

Shannon. Than you so much for your thoughtful comment. Yes – your essay – how could I have forgotten to add it to this discussion. I am so glad you gave the link here. I feel there is a huge transition in play about roles and women capturing a richer vision for themselves across all socio-economic boundaries.

Melissa S September 26, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Chrysula: Thank you for this article. So many links I have to pursue. The Maureen Dowd column ("Blue is the New Black") did have a lot of truth to it, many that we don't want to admit. The saddest truth is that because such value is placed on paid work, the work women (mostly) do as moms is perceived as not working, and not useful of our brains. Being undervalued, and dismissed, leads to women, especially stay-at-home moms, to being unhappy and questioning of motherhood. Somehow, we're all expected to have children (American family values and all), but caring for children is supposed to be what we do on the side–separate from the 40+ hours we should be working at a paid job. Running a household with multiple residents is a huge managerial and logistics job, but it's not recognized as such. All the skills we have and use as stay-at-home moms can't be stated as such on a resume. You are also so right about the family-friendly "paper policies" many companies have that don't trickle down the line to the masses. I was friendly with a work-family VP at one of New York's biggest banks. She had a great family flexible career, but she didn't recognize that one reason she did was because she was the human resources division's work-family manager. She could talk to the media about how great her schedule was, and tout the company policies, but putting those policies in place was up to each division manager. She used to tell me to get in to work early so I could leave by 4 p.m., as if a corporate job was about punching a clock or working a shift on an assemblyline. Meetings at my office often started at 5 p.m. It made no difference if I'd arrived at 7 or 8 a.m. Anyway, at so many levels, people need to get a clue.

Robin Dickinson September 27, 2009 at 3:59 am

Hi Chrysula,

You write so well, I find myself getting drawn in to want to say something.

Two things come to my mind:

a) Your point about words being backed up by actions. Bang on. I totally agree.

b) I know this isn't the focus of this post, but I want to say that the bias against 'stay at home' parents, often includes the selfless saints who work their guts out offering 24/7/365 care for disadvantaged children from a broad spectrum of circumstances.

For us as a society to devalue the role of 'professional parents' in-lieu of a stereotypical 'back to work' norm aka 'real job' is ignorant and a serious backward step.

It reminds me of the way elderly people are often 'laundered' out of the way rather than included as 'wise elders' vital to our collective richness.

Just wanted to participate.

Best,

Robin

Chrysula Winegar September 27, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Melissa S. You are so right. How do we value child rearing? It's more than daycare, more than household management, more than taxi driving.

I think the choices making us unhappy argument is interesting. Most happiness research tells us that somewhere in Kansas (I am pulling that out of the air) people measure as happier. In fact one study a couple of years ago had somewhere on the Upper East Side as the unhappiest zip code in America. And the correlations were all linked to choices. Maybe happiness is the wrong standard? Fulfillment, richness (not monetary) striving, quality of life? Thanks for contributing.

Chrysula Winegar September 27, 2009 at 2:32 pm

This via email from Debie A: "I've just been online reading your blog, which I throughly enjoy by the way, and was also shocked to read the comment one blogger made “as important as childcare and homemaking roles might be, they are not likely to dramatically improve the collective.” As a teacher, spending around 32.5 hours a week, 39 weeks a year in the company of children I observe the results of both effective and inadequate child rearing on the individual and the collective.

I have two children in my current class, from very different social and economic backgrounds, who are sad, disruptive and challenging in their behaviour, I feel as a result of poor parenting. They are in desperate need of attention, which they will seek negatively if they have too. This in turn does have an impact on the micro-collective within our classroom, but also I fear on the larger collective of society as they grow older. Conversely, those children who are from nurturing, loving home environments are able to take turns in play and learning situations, listen to others, show kindness, make friends and learn!

They have their challenges too; many are from refugee families whose parents are struggling economically in a foreign country, but they are raising wonderfully secure, well-grounded and loved children."

Debie A. Thank you so much for this classroom perspective, particularly your awareness of at risk families who are creating amazing results despite the odds. You should check out a blog from Lisa Gates over at http://www.cravingbalance.com – she has some fascinating thoughts on educating dreams and passion back into our kids – slightly off topic, but something I think you'll enjoy.

Chrysula Winegar September 27, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Robin, I am so glad you raised the topic of our elders. Elder care is the next big burning issue of work-life balance needs in the modern economy. Because in the developed world we are delaying children until we are older, the parenting our parents stage can often coincide with children at home.

Not everything can be outsourced. And nor should we want it to be. It's the hardest work in the world, but it is indeed "vital to our collective richness" as you so eloquently write. I've nursed a dying family member. I have a special needs nephew who is 23 yrs old who has required full-time care his entire life and whose life is in play right this very minute. This is a very real issue for me.

We have to find ways as a society to honor this extraordinarily loving work that goes on. I am grateful you took the time to write this. Thank you so much.

Lisa Gates September 28, 2009 at 11:09 am

Holy Batwoman, this is a great post and a great discussion. Considering Deb A.'s email comment, teachers have special access to the effects of overwork on our children because, like she said, it shows up in their behavior everyday.

This gave rise to a thought, a potential grassroots conversation. I asked myself,"If I really wanted to generate awareness and movement (change) with this issue, what could be done at a parent/teacher level?" I then imagined going to a PTA meeting, connecting with a teacher or two and posing the idea of a symposium or workshop on the subject of overwork's impact on our children (and teachers).

What if we could, right here on Chrysula's blog, create the framework for having this dialog in our communities?

A panel consisting of teachers, parents, CEOs, an HR specialist, a feminist activist, a judge perhaps?

Where would we hold it? Who would attend? Of course the issue is broader than just solving the overwork equation, but it's a starting point.

Just creating more work for the already overworked… :)

Who

leanneclc - Leanne Chase September 30, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Chrysula –

Thank you for putting into words so many of the ideas and thoughts we are all having. Whether you work or don't, whether you feel you are a feminist or not we're all struggling with so many of the issues in work/life news last week.

It's really nice to know others are as well.

Rachel October 16, 2009 at 4:32 pm

So many of these ideas resonate with me. I am now off to read many of the links you included in your article. Thank you for such a well-written piece.

Rachel

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