Monday, April 13, 2009

Work It Out

In my mid twenties, as the dawn of my "career"- whatever that was going to be- drew ever closer, I started to wonder how I was going to fit children in to my Grand Scheme of Things. Would it be better to wait until I had established a career? Get child-rearing out of the way sooner rather than later? Not have children at all? If I have children, should I go back to work right away? Take time off? How much time?

Wherever I turned, I got different answers to these questions, each with good reasoning behind them. I turned to older women, who had chosen one way or another, but felt just as unsure as ever. In fact, almost nobody seemed 100% satisfied or confident about the choices they had made. Some felt they had made mistakes, but others who made the same choices were happy, even when it meant big sacrifices. How to handle these choices clearly depends on the individual, her circumstances, her desires; there isn't any one way to do it.

Here's the thing, though: when it comes to the Work/Family decision, why do we have to make such a cut-and-dry choice between caring for our families the way we want to and having non "domestic" work that is also satisfying, financially and/or personally?

My observations so far suggest that historically, in the US, Work (read: paid) has been the man's job and Family (read: unpaid and therefore undervalued) has been the woman's job. The world of Work was structured in such a way to accommodate the schedules of people who do not have to do household chores or care for the children. Work happens in an office, or somewhere else outside of the home; it takes place during certain times of the day, and sometimes late into the night. More often than not, Work does not provide childcare facilities, or assistance with childcare costs. I wonder: if women had been at Work all along, would things be different? Would we have flexible work hours? Could we do more work from home? Would we have on-site childcare? (One could similarly ask, I suppose, what would Work or Family look like if men had been greater Family participants all along...)

Previous feminist and women's rights efforts opened the doors of Work to women, which is a tremendous achievement. Yet we have assumed that in order to be successful there, we must conform to the existing structure- a structure that is inherently incompatible with taking care of a family. Instead of changing the system, we have tried to morph to fit into the system. I suppose that this has been necessary and important to some degree, but is it still?

If you could change the way Work is done, to make Work more friendly to parents- not just mothers, because fathers are assuming greater care-taking roles themselves- what would you do? What would it look like? When do you want to start?