Emma is my niece. She is a wonderful, loving, brilliant, inspirational woman. She is really interested in hearing responses from women of all generations, please read the post and comment here or at HUFF POST. Thank you!

 

Originally at HUFF POST WOMEN 08/15/2012 4:04 pm, by Emma Sokoloff-Rubin    Emma Sokoloff-Rubin    

I don’t know firsthand what it’s like to balance work and family — I graduated from college last year — but I bet there’s no hard-and-fast, works-every-time rule. There’s no one article that will tell us exactly how to fill the many roles we envision for ourselves. There are stories and insights that guide our decisions. We glean them from articles and lectures and observations, and, as with the insights and stories that shape many decisions we face, we hear them from people we already know and trust. The conversation sparked by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” struck a chord with many of us in our early twenties who hope to have a family and a career someday. My friends and I are still talking about the article. The public conversation it sparked may be quieting, but we’re not ready to let this topic go. By asking the people we know best how this balance has played out for them, we can widen the conversation and keep it going strong.

Kids still seem far off to me, though I know I want a family. Work feels immediate, exciting and I change my mind almost daily about what work I want to do long-term. After graduating from college last year, I moved to south Texas and ran an outreach program for a legal aid center along the border, and now I’m in Argentina on a year-long research fellowship. I don’t know what’s up next. Examples to which I might turn for the decisions I face now, the fairer workplace policies for which I could fight and the balance I’ll work to strike someday catch my attention. Slaughter’s article told one important story. I wanted to hear more, and I wanted to hear from the women whose efforts to balance the careers and families they love I’ve observed my whole life.

I started with my mom. She knew from before she can remember that she wanted to have a career and have kids. Managing both, she has found, isn’t something you learn to do once. It’s something you figure out as you go. “This balancing act is at the center of our lives,” she said. My mom works full-time as a child psychiatrist in Amherst, Massachusetts, and my dad commutes to teach at Boston University, an hour and a half away. They said it’s harder than they expected to divide household responsibilities equally. I thought back to the countless nights I’ve watched them plan the next day and realized that in those moments, I was watching them try. I was watching them figure out together how to coordinate their work schedules with carpools for three daughters, babysitters, clarinet lessons, family dinners and house cleaning in a way that didn’t leave one person always in charge.

I grew up with parents who were equally likely to make dinner or pick me up at school. Showing me that such a relationship is possible and being honest that it hasn’t been straightforward or comfortable each step of the way are two of their greatest gifts to me.

My writing professor from Yale and her husband, also a writer, take turns writing books and working jobs with salaries and benefits that support the family. Together, she said, they’ve raised two children and written six books. She can’t write and teach and cook and spend time with her kids as much as she’d like to all in one day. But over days, weeks and in some cases years, the different pieces have fallen into place. “We have progressed sort of in parallel,” she said, shifting responsibilities so that as a couple they are the writers and parents they want to be.

My mom’s childhood friend said that even with a partner who “values your family the way you do, and values your career the way he values his career,” there are moments when dedication and almost boundless energy aren’t enough. There will be many days you leave work earlier than you’d like. At some point you will miss a school event. This balance won’t be one you figure out in advance; it’s something you’ll tweak day after day after year. With varied examples and turns of phrase, everyone I talked to said that being both the parent and writer or doctor or professor or whatever you want to be is exhilarating and unquestionably worth it and still difficult and messy.

A couple I’ve known since I was born said that when they were my age, they thought everything needed to be symmetrical in their marriage to be equal — jobs of equal prestige, equal contributions of time at home. In the end, his work allowed for more time at home than hers, and that helped them build the family and community life they wanted. They’ve come to see the options for ambitious couples in a more open-ended way and don’t think two high powered careers should be the goal for every family.

I asked my mom what she would want her younger self to know. Her response came as a hope for my sisters and me: that we will notice all the things we are pulling off, and not just the places we’re coming up short. Keep dreaming as big as you do now, I heard her saying, and don’t work any less hard, but know in those moments you feel pulled in many directions that you aren’t necessarily doing something wrong.

So maybe the goal isn’t flawlessness. Maybe the goal is giving it your all. When I was in high school, Mom worked until nine or ten on Mondays, and I often sat with her while she ate dinner. I learned about her profession, but more than that, in these in-between moments I got a sense of how she approached her work and what it meant to her. When my boyfriend and I interviewed his mom together, she described a smiling, briefcase-carrying woman he had drawn on a welcome-home sign when he was 6-years-old. She had been away on several business trips that month. “I was feeling conflicted and guilty about my absence,” she said, “although very stimulated and happy as a journalist.” Seeing the picture her son drew of his working mom, she remembers realizing that “kids really care if their mom is excited and happy about what she’s doing,” and that her work contributes to her family beyond the income it provides.

I don’t know what stories I’ll be telling in thirty years. The stories I heard from family and friends will stick with me because I already know the cast of characters, and because the experiences and reflections people described don’t add up to a single answer or plan. Everyone I called had a lot to say, but no one tried to tell me what to do or pretended to know what the path forward will look like for women my age.

We face a world of enduring gender inequalities, but we have so many more professional women as role models than our mothers had. Some of them we hear from in articles or interviews on TV. Others we can just call. We’ve seen up close the way they handle this balancing act. We’ve seen them make mistakes. Whether or not they are the models we most want to follow, their perspectives will hit particularly close to home.

I called the people closest to me and heard one set of voices. There are so many more, and I’m curious to hear them. As we create pictures for ourselves of how the generations above us have built their lives, our pictures should include the women — and men — whose daily lives we’ve long observed, but who maybe we’ve never asked how they manage the many roles they play. It’s on us to start asking. We have the most at stake in the debate over having it all and what that even means. We have so many decisions still to make.

COMMENTS on HUFF POST
03:18 PM on 08/17/2012

Emma,

Lovely article. Social media brings many of us closer to the real-world of people we may have never known. Within that world, I have met people like your wonderful uncle, Ted Rubin. He inspires people to balance their lives. Hopefully, other dads will emulate him. Life is about learning to give and love. Not terribly complicated but for some terribly difficult to do.

Cheryl
@ckburgess

10:04 AM on 08/17/2012

Emma, I learned about your article from your uncle Ted who I follow on twitter. Social media is the best, isn’t it? My first thought after this article was, how refreshing. How refreshing in the sense that it is hopeful, as it should be. I believe you have had the fortune of learning and seeing women doing their own balancing act, with a great start, your mother. I think the balancing act is very personal, because only you can find out what your passions are, only you can find who you will share these passions with, who will be your partner; and when the time comes, your children will start to tell you who they are. Always, always be hopeful, on you, on the opportunities that knock on your door, and even on the challenges that will help you define you. Life is an everyday creation. And amazing women have worked hard for the privileges we know have. From education, to voting, to many freedoms. Let’s say cheers to them for opening the doors, work hard to open our own, and trust our instinct to know which are the opportunities worth taking. Enjoy Argentina and let’s meet one day. (By the way, I am a mompreneur a good word to start our conversation, tweeter: d_arredondo)

08:40 AM on 08/17/2012

I’m only 31years old, but I’m very aware that I am “old fashioned..” I started work at age 15, through college, and began working as a professional RN at only age 19. I was taught that I must be able to ‘take care of myself’ and not rely anyone. Taught to me by my happily married, homemaker mom. I loved my childhood-my Mother was there to cook 3 healthy, homemade meals, and teach us from morning until night. And then-I became a mother.It was not planned, but I could ‘do both’.. Then, as life WILL do, I became very sick with an immunological disease & I became a ‘single mom’. My life is the epitome of a ‘balancing act’ of work & being a mother (forget about time for me). This has robbed me of the many special times I’ve lost with my daughter ‘working’, her childhood flying by in a daze for me-trying to struggle to make it through the days sick & crying over bills. I believe life was BETTER with Mother’s at home, raising the children & taking care of the family. People were closer; actually having conversations in person. The ‘stay at home’ woman works very hard, no pay, no recognition;but their importance is invaluable. I may not have put it quite how I wanted, but I feel it should be out there somewhere..hopefully someone else agrees.

04:13 PM on 08/16/2012

Interesting article. I grew up in a traditional home, where Dad was home for dinner..pizza Friday nights, babysitter Sat nights when my parents went out and deli after golf on Sunday. As we grew, Mom went back to work (for Dad, but work just the same) and was always around to drive us, pick us up etc.
I tried to stay home when my (now 20 year old) daughter was born. For two years i searched for things to do daily that would keep her entertained and keep me sane. I was BETTER when i was working. I DID HAVE IT ALL. But what is ALL for one person, is different for the next. My husband works ’till 8 most evenings, so we made family dinner nights…every Monday, Friday and Sunday. It was our time to catch up, for him to be involvediin our daughters life. HE took Fridays (his day off) to spend time with her…special time. I was a happier Mommy working, a better wife (because I was happy) and I HAD IT ALL. Its a balance act…for all families…and there is no ONE right way. FInd what works for you!

02:47 PM on 08/16/2012

Agree – wonderful article – we need to be careful about how we define having it all – because life does throw curves at us – and the pressure can be overwhelming – having it all can be experiencing the different phases of our lives to the fullest – I find it interesting that we are still discussing women having it all – the pressure of balancing children and career is not just for women – rather we should be discussing how men and women strive to have it all – that is what the families who found harmony in balancing the dance of work -children- and marriage achieved

12:29 PM on 08/16/2012

“We have so many decisions still to make.” Agreed. For that reason, expecting perfection in all things is certainly flawed, so I also agree that “maybe the goal isn’t flawlessness.” (And where anything is flawed, well, just blame me.)

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RebeccaEParsons

Talk Show Host, Foodie, DIYer, Idea Curator, Creat
11:36 AM on 08/16/2012

Thought provoking! In my early life the search for ‘perfection’ seemed to slow me down and, oftentimes, prevented me from finding the longed for balance in my life. As I grew into myself as a woman, a mother and an entrepreneur, I learned to embrace the learning curve or life lessons so graciously bestowed by the universe. Life is not about waiting for it to be right or to get it right. It is about all the little things and all the big things and all the in-between things that make a life your life. Balance comes with acceptance.

11:16 AM on 08/16/2012

I’m 41, and although I entered a somewhat different economy and environment than you are when I graduated from college; my goals were very similar to yours. There is no right answer; it comes with knowing yourself. For me; I was best off having a great career and earning an advanced degree before I was married and had kids. Some people are much more graceful with the work/parenting balance than I am, but it took time to figure that out. Now I stay home with my kids, and as they get older and can shift my focus away from them for longer periods I work from home in social media which is a new option that wasn’t available to previous generations. This is a wonderful article and I wish you the best!

11:11 AM on 08/16/2012

I am the youngest of 3 (26, 29 & 33 are our ages) and we grew up and are still growing up with a mother who is a physician and a father who is a lawyer. my mom had my brother while she was in medical school, my sister during her residency and myself while she was in her fellowship. My mom worked and still works 7 days a week (she is off call every 6th weekend) rounding at the hospital, examining patients in her office and responding to her answering service after she finally gets into bed at night. She and my father made sure that both of them were home every night to have dinner with their 3 children – family dinners are where I not only learned my manners, but they are where I learned that I can accomplish anything I put my mind and heart to – whether that be working at an investment bank and raising a loving family in the future or starting my own business, etc. My mother instilled love, passion and commitment in me and my siblings and proved that if you put your mind, heart and passion towards something, women (as well as men, children, aliens, animals, etc), you can do ANYTHING. My mom is still the person I call whenever I stub my toe or whenever I need to make a life-changing decision. Thanks for a GREAT article that will get people thinking. I can’t wait to show it to

10:57 AM on 08/16/2012

Excellent article! My congratulations! It’s funny to read and to realize that my girlfriend thinks just like you! 😉

09:01 AM on 08/16/2012

I have come to believe that as women we can have it all, but we don’t have to have it all at the same time. Success is going to mean different things to each woman individually. My personal experience with a full time working mother (my father’s health was not good and then he passed away when I was 13) left me knowing that I wanted to be a stay at home mom if I could when I had kids, and building a family was my ultimate goal, perhaps because with a mother as a role model with a PhD & career I knew I could have that if I aspired to it, but secure, cohesive family seemed less of a sure thing. That said, before I met my husband I had a fulfilling career in film production, got my Masters degree and managed to travel to over 50 countries around the world so that when I did get married and have kids I was very ready to settle down. I look at my 30s as my child-bearing years, and now that all 4 are school aged I am ready to start the next stage and get back to my career. I feel fortunate that I was able to stay home with my kids when I wanted to, I know not everyone has that choice, the great thing is that women can create their own formula and definition of success if you know what is important to you.

08:50 AM on 08/16/2012

I found a lot of truth to this post…I am now a grandmother and worked part-time when my children were young. It was always a balancing act because I was also part of the sandwich generation and was taking care of my mother and her elderly brother. This scenario is not an uncommon one today. I had some help but the ultimate hum of the house was up to me to control as my husband is a physician and his job always took priority over mine. This was okay with me…underneath it all I knew I had it all but somedays it just did not feel that way. I was always late picking up my kids and attending events but I usually made it there. Nursing is not a job that you can just leave and close the door to your office.
I would say to young moms, never give up your dreams but when all is said and sort of done you will not want to be remembered as a workaholic by your kids, you will want them to remember that even though you worked you were there for them, in person, on Skype or by phone.
Everyone is different and these stories that you uncover will certainly reveal that. Moms mostly rock!

12:45 PM on 08/16/2012

they sure do!!

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