It is a bit disconcerting how often the New York Times Magazine has written stories about women, careers, and family lately. I guess it's good.. sort of.. that issues related to women, careers, and family are still considered newsworthy, and in a more nuanced way than the endless should-women-work debate.
The cover article in the magazine this past week was about "Childless Europe": why some European countries -- and in particular those in which it is traditional for women to stay home and take care of the kids -- have extremely low birth rates, in contrast to countries in which it is more common for women to work. Apparently some people think this is surprising, but it makes sense to me, although of course in the latter case, there must be some system of support for childcare etc., either from the community/government or the family/spouse.
The cover article two weeks ago was about "Equally Shared Parenting" (subtitle: Will Dad Ever Do His Share?). Apparently we equal-sharing couples are rare beasts.
My husband refused to read the article because he thought the topic was too stupid to waste time reading (and he had a lot of laundry to do), but I read it (while he cooked dinner). In fact, I couldn't really relate to any of the specific examples in the article. For example, it never occurred to me that I might want or need the instructions of a lifestyle coach to figure out how to share parenting equally.
I did find it interesting, however, that the couples profiled have had a much more difficult time balancing two careers + family than we have had. This most likely relates to the facts that:
(1) my husband and I are both academics with flexible schedules
I have written before about how, despite the time commitment and pressures of an academic job, the flexibility of academia helps me balance career and family. For example, in summer weeks when my daughter is not at a camp, my husband and I do a home-office relay in which we each stay at home for half of the day and work at the office for half of the day. I am not working significantly less than usual, and I have the freedom to adjust my day so that I can spend time with my daughter and still be accessible (in person or by email) to my students and colleagues. And weeks when she is at camp, either day camp or sleep-away camp, I have even more time to work than during the academic year.
(2) n = 1 (child)
I recently asked a friend, who gave up her career when the first of her 3 kids was born, what she's doing this summer. The answer: driving Hannah to tennis camp, driving Olivia to theater camp, driving Austin to soccer camp, doing errands and housework, picking up Hannah from tennis camp, picking up Olivia from theater camp, picking up Austin from soccer camp, cooking dinner, collapsing. Even though her kids are all school-aged, how would she manage summers if she went back to work? Of course, it would be easier to pay for all these camps if she worked, but then she'd have to pay someone to drive her kids to and from the camps (and she might still have to do a lot of the errands and housework..). I have the greatest respect for the work she does as a mom. There are FSPs with 3+ kids, but I couldn't do it.
(3) my one child has been remarkably healthy and happy
This relates to several factors: (1) luck, (2) the fact that we live in a somewhat untidy house with several cats has likely boosted her immune system; and (3) genetics: we have a generally very healthy family. In fact, between kindergarten and high school graduation, I did not miss a single day of school when in the US, and only missed school when we were living abroad and I contracted malaria and spent a few days unconscious and/or hallucinating.
(4) my husband and I have always shared housework etc., so it's not something we have had to negotiate or schedule in any intricate way, even without the help of a lifestyle coach. It's the way we have always lived together, even before our daughter was born.
(5) we live near campus and work in the same place
Life would certainly be more difficult with a long and/or complex commute
Luck has definitely been an important part of creating a good work/home life, and the rest has evolved with time.
I am sure there are other factors, but the ones I've listed are probably the key ones. Now if only I could teach (convince) my cats to mow the lawn and do the laundry, life would be even better and the New York Times Magazine could write an article that even my husband would read (while ironing); e.g., Cross-Species Housework: Are Cats Finally Doing Their Share?.
6 years ago