Laura at 11D points to a slate article about the “mommy-track,” which suggests that it’s not as stigmatized as it once was and that, in fact, it’s not always just moms or even just parents that seek flexible work. The discussion at Laura’s centers around how much of choice the mommy track really is and about the financial stability of the family and the non-working parent. I titled this work “vs.” family because I think that’s really what happens most of the time. They’re in competition with each other for time and attention. And work almost always wins, for a lot of reasons. We need money to live off of. In this economic climate, many people fear that taking time for family is a red flag that will get them fired. And work, not family, is generally what’s valued by society. So we’re drawn to more time into work for its financial and cultural rewards and out of fear of losing financial stability.
But the family needs time, too. And it needs time in lots of different ways. I laughed at one commenter who mentioned a woman taking off during the early years of her children’s lives and finding herself with not much to do once they’re in school, especially middle and high school. Every new mom I talk to, I tell to work through those early years when there are more public services for kids–good daycare, afterschool programs, even care for the times when school randomly closes for in-service days. In middle school all that ends, and the bigger fears begin: drugs, sex, the kinds of things that aren’t just worrisome but could literally ruin a kid’s life. Someone needs to be there to not only make sure kids avoid those things, but to help them navigate the broader social sphere of middle and high school, sometimes to just be a positive force in their lives. I don’t think I’m being a helicopter parent here, just acknowledging that kids need guidance during these years and sometimes the best guidance comes from a parent.
And then there’s the other things that can happen. A parent or other family member can get ill or die. Family members might need other kinds of help–financial or emotional support, for example. It’s just a good thing to be able to be there for a family member in need without having to worry about your job being taken away. In my own case, I’m the only child of divorced, aging parents. And though I think it will be many years before I’m having to worry seriously about their health, anything could happen.
Mr. Geeky wants me to return to work within the next year or so to shore up our financial situation for the kids’ college education. And I do want to work, but I need work to be flexible and it makes it hard to consider certain types of jobs. Geeky Girl hits middle school next year and we’re headed into some major parts of high school life–driving and dating are soon to be a regular part of our lives. We both need to be able to juggle the needs of our family and our work lives. Mr. Geeky tries, but he has, as one commenter called it, a job that is a calling. Literally, the work almost never ends for him. Before I quit, I was on a similar track, but it was impossible for both of us to have our heads that much in our work and have our kids not suffering. Maybe certain families can make that work, but we couldn’t.
There are certain careers I’d pursue–teaching in either high school or college, continuing technology consulting work, writing–that I think would be fun and interesting careers and could potentially offer me the flexibility I need, without, in most cases, my needing to even ask for it. When I return, I plan to get more serious about generating an income. But I need to find a way to do it without pitting work against family.