I am 60 years old and I have been employed since I was 14. In the 1970's, when I was coming of age, there was a lot of talk about women's rights (back then called "women's lib") about how women could have it all - a rewarding and lucrative career, a wonderful family, and an immaculate house. Women could have it ALL. I am very happy about how my life has turned out this far. That's not to say there were no problems or hard decisions, but I think some women expect too much from themselves and society. So do men. Here are the three myths about mixing careers and family:
1. Being a working parent is a women's issue - it takes two people to make a baby, not just a mother. Being a working parent is a human issue, not a women's issue. My husband and I have raised two children. We are both parents, and we have both made sacrifices in our lives for the sake of our children. When a child is sick, he or she needs a parent, not just a mother. In order for parents to successfully raise children in a two parent household, both parents need to chip in - with parenting, household chores, and day to day living. We still believe in this country that husbands and fathers need not take on the same responsibilities for home life as mothers and wives. That's balderdash. Of course, some mothers and fathers are single parents and don't have a partner to rely upon. We, as a society, need to support those parents who have total responsibility of child-rearing. People like me, whose own children are grown, should step in and help nurture and raise the children. I know it's corny, but, it does take a village.
2. You can have it all - No you can't! In life all of us must establish priorities. In our firm, among my partners, who all happen to be female, we have two priorities - family first, firm comes second. When my partner Marie and I were in law school she was single and I was married with a toddler. My husband worked evenings, so I was home evenings with our son. Marie went to law school gatherings, social occasions and parties. I did not. I awoke at 5:30 a.m. to study when the house was quiet. I also studied all day Sundays and my husband took care of our son. I didn't mind missing the parties at all. Having a family in law school grounded me. I knew that my family was more important than a Torts exam and I made choices. As a lawyer, when I get ready for trial, my husband took over my parenting and home responsibilities and I immersed my self in trial. I pay attention to nothing else but my client and the case while I trial, because I can't do a good job otherwise. That's when my husband has really stepped up to the plate. It worked for us. We all make choices. I know I am lucky to have a spouse who believes as I do about working parents. Single parents also need to prioritize and ask for help. There are no easy answers, no ways to avoid sacrifice.
3. To be successful, we all need to climb the corporate ladder - I have never desired to be a big wonkedy-wonk in a gigantic law firm, nor do I have any desire to be vice-president of Facebook, Apple or General Motors. In the thirty years I have practiced law, I have been self-employed for all but three of those years. Not having a boss is one of the greatest things about my job. Mind you, no one pays me overtime, sick leave or vacation pay. When we get money in the door, paying staff comes first, then other overhead, and the lawyers are paid dead last. And sometimes there can be a long stretch before money comes in the door. That is the nature of a contingent fee Plaintiffs' practice. But, I love representing my clients and I was always able to take my kids to work, not just in April, or take off work to spend time with My kids. Money and power are not as important to me as family and firm. Plus, as a self-professed misfit, I don't think I would fare well in a large corporate structure. There are simply too many people telling you what to do. And people in large organizations can be capricious, power hungry and overly ambitious. No thank you.
I am not saying my way is the right way for all working parents, but the balance my husband and I established worked well for us. You can't have it all. You need to decide what is really important to you, and go for it. And quit whining.