Thursday, July 12, 2012

Noble or selfish?

Cupcake Mama linked to this interesting article, written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former director of policy planning at the State Department, on work-life balance in the Atlantic. The most fascinating part for me was how men and women view priorities.* It made so much sense and I’d never consciously realized it. In a(n overgeneralized) woman’s view many people can do their job, but they are the only mother their children have, making motherhood the more important duty no matter how high-powered their job. “To many men, however,” as she says “the choice to spend more time with their children, instead of working long hours on issues that affect many lives, seems selfish.”

She was focusing on careers in public service, but I think even if a man isn’t “working…on issues that affect many lives”, he often sees working hard and being a career role-model as the best thing he can do for his family – more important than spending time with them. This isn’t necessarily right or wrong (or exclusive to men), but I tend toward thinking being there for your children, often at the expense of work, makes more of an impact. (This is all assuming you have a choice, obviously, which I won't get into.)

What I’m interested in is: do you think men and women view the decision to dial back a career to spend more time with children differently (selfish vs. self-sacrificing)? Is this influence by what society expects of them? Does at least one parent have to be a provider-type role model, showing children what it takes to succeed?

*Obviously these generalizations don’t apply to EVERY man/woman.


  1. Yes, I absolutely think men and women view the decision differently (in general), and I think a lot of it has to do with society's expectations and traditional gender roles.

    It feels like everyone I know in Utah has children, but I have yet to meet a couple who has chosen for the father to stay home and the mother to advance her career. As for the moms who continue to work, well... I have a friend whose boss actually asked her to her face whether she wanted to be "a mother or a professional."

    It also seems to me that the fathers (at least here) change their social habits MUCH LESS than the mothers do. A lot of the guys I know seem to have no hangups about going out golfing or playing basketball or hockey or having LAN parties or whatever on the regular, but their wives have to plan ahead and make arrangements when they want time to themselves.

    I'm sure I'm not getting the whole picture, but from the outside looking in, it seems highly unequal.

  2. I loved that article - and the resulting hoopla - and it really made me think.

    I tend to think that there's a societal push toward men being the providers, and maybe that drive - to earn, whether it's respect or money or fame or power - is as powerful as the societal push for women to nurture. I don't know. It's a complicated subject, and as you note, it involves lots of generalizations. I wonder if there's family pressure at work, too?

    For instance, I think my dynamic with my husband is such that HE would be the better stay-at-home parent... but there's no way his parents would be okay with that.

  3. As T's career has advanced, he has always had the conversation with me first about whether or not to pursue that change. The advancements have always meant more work and intensely more travel. He is fortunate to work for a large enough company that values him enough to help him move onward/upward.

    I think his willingness to discuss the matter with me first shows his particular view and acknowledgement that this change in his career, this advancement, will most certainly mean period of less time with the kids. A change only made possible if my job remains the same and can support it.

    It's an interesting balance.

  4. The commenter above makes me think this may be regional, but I think it's becoming increasingly difficult to make parenting generalizations about the sexes. The current generation of parents with young children seems to skew toward prioritizing family over career, making financial sacrifices to spend more time with their kids. Obviously this isn't true across the board (and somebody has to earn money to support the family!). But look at the rising number of stay at home dads, moms who go back to work part time, companies offering parernity leave, dads expected to be in the delivery room (not so long ago they weren't even allowed). I think it's less about differences between the sexes and more about a culture that is shifting (albeit at a glacial pace) to think about the family as the center.