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Balance careers & motherhood? You’re missing something.

August 1, 2012

As you may have noticed – or perhaps didn’t notice at all – I spent pretty much all of last week offline. I was in another state, as part of a science-y retreat/orientation thing-y (details are not important, mmkay?) and as one of the themes was increasing/supporting women in science, I was among a bunch of very very interesting and ridiculously smart women. While we spent most of our time talking about, you guessed it, Science and pretty much generally being Great Big Nerds, there was this one theme that came out. One that isn’t, especially given some recent articles, new.

How do women balance careers and motherhood?

Is it possible? Can it be done? Any advice? What are the hidden consequences? What are the not-so-hidden consequences?

These are legit questions, and Really Important Things for up-n-coming women to be talking about. Even me – sure I don’t want kids, but I think it’s important to understand what other women are dealing with, and to think about other perspectives. Or maybe just find something interesting to blog about. Etc.

So, yeah, these conversations were totes fine with me. Way to go, thinking ahead n’ all. But one thing bothered me, time and again.

What about the partners of these women?

None of these women discussed their future choices as if they were part of a partnership – but all discussed the importance of being married, or were already married (and all were straight-identified, so to a man). It was consistently framed as decisions a woman had to make on her own. As in, by herself. As in, alone. As in, not as part of a discussion with her partner (despite the fact, last I checked, he had something to do with those kids in the first place…).

All involved, but did not outwardly discuss, the underlying assumption that her husband would not have to make such choices, or even wondered about children versus career. He was not a part of this conversation, these decisions. His path was already clear. There was no “we” in the dialogue.

I’m not ok with this.

If the next generation of women are still thinking that they are the only ones making decisions between careers and parenting (and there are some goddamn fucking decisions that must be made, especially in the society we live in – but that’s a whole ‘nother post), if they are unable to see their male partners as part of this – how are we ever able to truly find equality? Both in terms of what women are able to do, and what men are included in? How are we able to move beyond women as mothers, and men as bread-winners?

Men must be part of this conversation. If we are to ever reach equality, if we are to ever leave the gender binary behind, we must be able to talk about parenting as if it is the job of parents not just of mothers. We must be able to start talking about choices that must be made by all partners involved in child-rearing, not just the one identified as “mom“.

And, ya know, I bet if we checked, it just might be something men are actually interested in too – if we only asked.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 1, 2012 11:46 am

    Good post Nikki! Once again you have hit the nail on the head and simultaneously opened a can of worms.

    If these women are indeed post of a partnership in child rearing the mans side must also be openly discussed.

    It may be that many husbands would gladly play the roll of stay at home Dad. But you never know till you ask!

    • August 6, 2012 11:10 am

      Ha! Nails on head + can o’ worms = yep! that’s me!

      I think more husbands need to be asked! Period!

      • August 6, 2012 9:11 pm

        I agree, with all your worms and nails. It’s all about communication after-all. Isn’t it??

  2. August 1, 2012 3:13 pm

    Funny you say that — my husband has told me many times that he wouldn’t mind if I were the total breadwinner and he the stay-at-home dad!! Currently we both work full time but I wouldn’t mind that a bit!

    • August 6, 2012 11:11 am

      See? And I bet there are a lot of men that have never thought about it, because it was never discussed with them. We spend so much time talking about how our partnerships work, how is it we miss that on children? It’s kinda crazy!

  3. ruthless permalink
    August 2, 2012 12:54 am

    this isn’t really an advanced problem, if you want a stay at home dad, marry a dude who is willing to be that for you, thats what dudes do when they want a parter to be a stay at home mom. Other wise both work and figure it out, I don’t understand why something so highly relative and particular to personal tastes has to be “talked about” in public context.

    Just go find somebody who is willing to be on the same page as you, end of story.

    • August 6, 2012 11:16 am

      I wholeheartedly agree that this should just be personal preference + agreements/negotiations/compromises within relationships that are each to their own and not in public discourse…. in an ideal world.

      I don’t think we’re there yet, and talking publicly helps to open these things up. I don’t think enough people think about children as something for a partnership to discuss, they just make age-old assumptions. We also definitely stigmatize women who work and men who stay home – talking about things helps to break those things down.

      • ruthless permalink
        August 18, 2012 12:54 am

        hm, I see that position, I guess im just on the side of “nobody is making you follow the standard “man work, woman do baby things” script, if you choose to follow it, thats your problem”

        course as a dude who’s been single his whole life, this is one of those things I can afford not to care about.

  4. August 2, 2012 9:50 am

    I agree that both parents have equal responsibilites of juggling the work-child balance. I also believe that the state/work must enable this as an option for parents as well.

    I just met up with a good friend that now has moved back to Sweden. She is pregnant and she told us that by law the Dad has to take at least 3 months “paternity leave” and then the Mum has about 14 month as well (I think it was 14 months anyway)… but each couple can divide it more equally if they want; ex each take 9 month for example to stay at home with the child. If they split the parental leave in the middle the government rewards that with an extra parental leave payment.

    Finally I also think it is important that women also “let go” and let the Dads take the responsibility and let them be stay/at/home Dads or the ones responsible to pick up the kids from the creche etc. Dividing things between them equally. Infortunatelly i have also seen plenty of women who complain about that they have to do it all but at the same time they would not let the guys do anything stating that they would just mess it up…

    • August 6, 2012 11:20 am


      This would be the other half of the story – we NEED a government and society that supports these kind of decisions AND supports parents in general! I love the way some countries in northern Europe do it, they really set an excellent example.

      I could also NOT AGREE MORE with you last statement. I have seen women do that, too. Absolutely. I’ve also seen parents who were together at home with baby when she was born (she on maternity leave, he was laid off) doing things more equally. Now that he has a job, she’s pulling the “you’re doing x y z wrong” thing (maybe not always that blatant, but still). The equality is gone.

  5. August 16, 2012 9:31 pm

    I agree, I think many women and men still see women as the primary caregivers. Women somehow feel *more* responsible for their children than men. Not sure if this is instinct or being raised with certain societal expectations (or perhaps a bit of both), but if we keep assuming it’s our responsibility, men aren’t going to step up. Why should they take on that burden when the woman is so willing to do so?


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