International Women’s Day is a day where we celebrate and reflect the contributions women have made globally since time immemorial. It is also an opportunity to acknowledge where improvements need to be made. In North America women are moving towards equal opportunities in regards to employment and careers, however, it seems to come with another new barrier – career and caregiving are in opposition of each other. Women are advancing in their career but worry it may negatively affect their families or vice versa. They are feeling that they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
I attended a screening of the documentary ‘The Motherload’ at our local library earlier this week. The documentary accurately describes the dilemma working mothers are caught up in. They wonder if they should put their careers aside until their children are older or continue to juggle balancing their professional and family life. No matter what decision is made both requires a great sacrifice. This documentary was not about a feminist revolution and championing women’s rights but about valuing family and caregiving as much as moving up the corporate ladder. Raising a family is a full-time time job in itself and certainly one with no predictability or structured hours. Chaos can break out at any time at work and home and sometimes both at the same time. This leaves the mother in an agonizing position, deciding which requires her there the most. She feels guilt no matter which situation she chooses. As one of the working mothers say in the documentary, “When I am at work, I think about the kids and when I am with the kids I think about work.” It is very difficult for working mothers to have her full and sole attention in the boardroom and playroom. Her mind is torn between two places feeling she is failing in area or another.
The idea that women can have it all cannot come to fruition until our work environments and culture changes. Balancing motherhood and a high-powered position is impossible in our competitive, work-obsessed society. Some very powerful women have stepped down to be with their families. Some people may see this as noble and some people may see this as a cop-out or “she just couldn’t take it”. Women are judged by these decisions. Ann-Marie Slaughter, who become the first women director of policy planning at the State Department and obtained her foreign-policy dream job, left to be with her family living in another state. She commuted back forth only coming home on weekends. One of her teenage sons was struggling with adolescent issues and drifting from her and her husband. Her job did now allow the time her son needed from her and she left. She not only walked away from her dream high-powered position, but left other women who looked up to her questioning their own lives. Ann-Marie’s speech on TEDtalk challenges traditional thinking of men’s and women’s roles: “Breadwinning and caregiving are equally necessary for human survival.” She doesn’t want people to categorize breadwinning and caregiving as men and women’s work but they can be interchangeable or equally shared. She believes in order for families to be healthy and happy that the government needs to invest in them by changing work and social policies. Raising children and providing for a family shouldn’t put women in a dilemma of picking one or the other.
I can relate to this topic as I am a professional working-mother with two boys. I was also a single mother for a few years when they were young. Single mothers have no choice as they are both breadwinner and caregiver. I think back to the times where I had to do what I had to do and the thought of not being there for my children would keep me awake at night, flooded with overwhelming guilt and anxiety. I was more fortunate than many other single mothers as I had supportive supervisors along the way. Today my boys are close to leaving the nest therefore I can focus more of my time and energy on my personal hopes and dreams. They are well-adjusted, responsible and goal-orientated young men who understand that there are no solid lines of what women and men are supposed to do. They have observed that everything works more smoothly when parents work together and share responsibilities. My husband has attributed to that valuable lesson.
In celebration of International Women’s Day I want to acknowledge all the mothers out there who are doing the best they can with what they have and understand that not being able to ‘have-it-all’ is not because of them but from the lagging social changes and work environments that won’t allow it. My hope is one day our society and culture will recognize that investing in families will create a better life for everyone.