There’s a good talk on TedX by Nigel Marsh about work life balance where he said, “Work life balance is too important to be left in the hands of your employer.”
He went on to discuss that we should take control in designing our life; otherwise, someone else will do it for us. And we cannot expect corporations or even the government to design a quality life for us. Companies are hard wired to extract everything from its employees as much as they can get away with. And these are not just the bad companies but all corporations, even the greatest employers in the world.
If you’re very happy with your firm, your boss and your co-workers, you might think that Nigel is exaggerating. However, the very definition of corporation seems to be consistent with Nigel’s point. A corporation is an entity created under laws of a state as separate from its owners and employees. For the usual corporations, the main objective is profit and its employees are treated as resources. A good corporation will also care for the welfare of its employees (usually its most valuable assets). However, we should not be fooled into thinking that a corporation knows all the needs and what’s best for each of its employees. There’s no way it can address all these different needs and keep everything in line with its profit objectives in order to maximize shareholder value. Our welfare is our own lookout and it’s up to us to set the boundaries.
Another important point that Nigel discussed is the reality that certain jobs and career are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged on a day-to-day basis with a young family.
In an article by Anna-Marie Slaughter entitled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, the same sentiment was discussed. And this became a controversial article because Slaughter was a known champion of breaking the glass ceiling for women. She said, “I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life, and be thin and beautiful to boot.”
She hit the wall when one evening while sipping champagne with President Obama, the First Lady and other important dignitaries during an official function, she could not stop thinking about her 14-year-old son. He had just started eighth grade but was already resuming what had become his pattern of skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him, including his own mother.
In an interview I had in a show about women empowerment, I was asked the question, “Does a mother have to give up her career for the sake of her children like what you did?” My answer was not a categorical yes or no since I know some career women with great kids. But based on my personal experience, it was a resounding YES. I knew that I needed to put in huge chunks of time to be the best in both my work and my motherhood. I told my boss then that I didn’t want to be a mediocre mom nor a mediocre investment banker. I knew that something’s gotta give and it was not going to be my sons.
Judy Antonio, one of the mothers I interviewed for my book Raising Pinoy Boys is more straightforward in her belief about the importance of full-time motherhood. She said, “Time is the first requirement to parenting. It’s almost illogical to have a successful career and a successful parenting at the same time.” When I asked her about successful career women with successful children she said, “Maybe successful in some aspects but might not be developed in other aspects to their full potential. There is just so much potential in a child that it’s almost impossible to see all of it if you are not guiding him full time, unless there’s chamba.”
And since generally, it’s the mother who is more “equipped” to care for the child especially during the early years, the burden of work life balance is almost always heavier on the mother. Personally, I cannot espouse full time homemaking for everyone because it could well be the most challenging job in the world. But I do recommend it especially during the critical growing up years of your children. The decision entails a reflective journey each mother has to go through. It’s a decision that once made should be owned and be happy about. Remember, a grumpy and sad full time homemaker may be worse than a happy (even if harassed and guilty) working mom!
If there’s anything I really learned from my own journey of giving up my career, maybe I can enumerate them as follows:
- The decision to give up your career should be yours, not imposed by your husband or your mother-in-law or anyone else.
- No matter how well the husband can afford to provide for the family, the job of the wife should never be belittled. Most of the time, it’s not just about the money.
- Acknowledge that whatever decision you take, you willfully choose it. Never say, “I don’t have a choice.” Say, “I think this is the best choice at the moment.” Fortunately for me, I realized that I was not just doing it for my kids but also for myself. I knew I wanted to savor their childhood so I didn’t really perceive it as a totally selfless sacrifice. I loved being around my bouncing baby boys!
- When you choose to stay in your demanding career, don’t say you’re just doing it for your kids’ sake. Chances are you’re doing it for yourself. Although for some families the earnings of both parents might be a matter of survival, this is not true for a lot of middle class families. Remember that your children do not decide the standard of living that your family should have. You do. So do the math and be honest about your decision. As mentioned by Nigel in his talk, “Thousands of people are living lives of screaming desperation where they work long hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”
- Whatever you decide on, strengthen yourself to make the most of your decision. If you decide to be a stay-at-home mom, don’t forget your own growth. If you opt to continue with your career, carve out time, request for some flexi-hours if possible. Chances are, if you’re valuable to the company, they will allow it. Given our existing communication technology, working from home is a good middle ground.
- My answer to the question “Can women still have it all?” is YES we can! But maybe not all at the same time. This should motivate us to reflect the true meaning of success and to realize that there are different seasons or stages in our chosen life; therefore, there are different measures of success in these different stages.
Again, always remember work life balance is too important a decision to leave to the hands of your employer, your spouse or even society. And this goes for everyone – mother, father, single. It’s your life you’re trying to balance and ONLY YOU would know what makes it a happy balanced one.