Secondly, it is insulting and ludicrous to suggest that fathers do not experience the same conflicted feelings as women about spending time away from their children. Yet we are constantly talking about the “work-life balance” that women need to strike — as though this is somehow not an issue for any men.
In a recent radio interview, Slaughter offered an explanation for this.
“As my friends say, they drop their kids off at day care and feel guilty for leaving them; their husband drops the kids off at day care and feels good that he dropped them off at day care because he was being an active parent,” she said. “In my experience, women feel much more strongly that they should be at home.”
And why do women feel this way? In large part, because society tells us to. Because we keep reading articles in magazines about “having it all” that remind us of the reality all working parents face: that you can’t be at little Timmy’s soccer game when you have a business meeting to run.
But you know what? Dad can’t be at little Timmy’s soccer game when he has a meeting, either. And I bet dads feel just as guilty and unhappy about missing the soccer game as their wives do.
In an era when dual incomes are increasingly a necessity, rather than a choice, it is ridiculous to keep pretending that “work-life balance” is a women’s problem. It’s not. It’s a societal problem. And until we can view it as such, we don’t stand a chance of addressing the symptoms of this problem.
If we can understand this, we might see that we’re living in a world where success at the top of most career ladders is only achieved by working the kinds of hours that were outlawed for most people decades ago. We would see that quality child care is hard to find, and expensive when you do find it. And we would see that we have created a culture that simultaneously shames women for not spending more time with their children, but penalizes them when they do (with lower wages and fewer advancement opportunities).
If we can stop talking about women “having it all,” and start talking about the much more complicated, messy and diverse set of issues that families face when making decisions about careers and child-rearing. Maybe then we’ll start to see our way toward solutions that could work for everyone — not just women.
EMILY F. POPEK is assitant editor of The Daily Star. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.