Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Man Up to Move Up

I'm within a few weeks of my one year performance review. I'm looking forward to it. I enjoy meetings with my supervisor and if we're still charting the same course that we set out in the 6 month "going off probation" meeting, I'm confident that the conversation will go beyond simply how I've done in the last 6 months to starting to chart out more of a career trajectory. As much as I love my position now, I do want to move up and I do want to do it as fast as I can.

At the same time, Scott and I are having very similar "yearly performance reviews" for how things are trucking along at home. Getting this job a year ago finally allowed us enough solid ground to start building a good foundation for what we want out of life. My attitude is much the same for my personal life as my work life: I want to be moving as fast as I can.

While some of those aspirations fall hand in hand -- better paying jobs mean better personal financial situations, ideal for buying a home, traveling, what have you, some fall in stark opposition. Moving up the corporate ladder while simultaneously starting a family (which isn't in our immediate plans, for what it's worth)? Those plans feel mutually exclusive.

Maclean's controversial cover seems to be sparking a lot of angst. I won't say I agree with its message, but I certainly understand where it is coming from. Yes, the upper echelons of corporations are filled with men, but men have never (or rarely) been forced to contend with the idea that having children may compromise their careers, or that careers may compromise the raising of their children. I don't for a minute believe that the glass ceiling is held completely in place by the societal belief men are better then women. I won't even argue it's held in place by the idea that men THINK better than women. There are so many factors that go into that glass ceiling that dismantling it is going to be a slow process, one which I do believe great strides have been made. However, I do believe that some onus should be rightfully put on women: we have the right to decide to sacrifice career for children or children for career.

The cover story itself offers little in the way of meaningful suggestions, beyond the colloquial "Man up." It pokes holes in Sheryl Sandberg's hypothesis of how to have it all, essentially equating her version of "Man up" to be: "Have lots of money, and sacrifice your children" (I may be a bit reductive, but bear with me). Other suggestions were along the lines of: "have your husband sacrifice his career," which at least revealed to me the crux of the issue.

Maybe dichotomy at the heart of the glass ceiling isn't "male vs. female" but "career vs. children." Simply shifting child rearing responsibilities onto the other partner fails to solve the problem. We saw a movement to delay childbearing until careers were established, which seems only to be followed by a movement requiring increased education which delayed the establishment of careers. The strategy of "delay, delay, delay" on both the career and the childbearing fronts will eventually meet an impasse, until biology kicks in and we realize we've spent so much time educating ourselves into careers, and building that upward momentum that by the time we feel cemented enough in our employment to take the time to have children, we have missed our childbearing prime.

But outside of the glass ceiling, the male vs. female dichotomy persists. I don't even have children yet, and already I have been informed that my decision to not put my career on hold for 5-7 years will make me a bad mother. Who is to say their father wouldn't be an equally viable caregiver*?

I've spent hours reading articles (journalistic and scholarly) on the benefits of being a working mother. I know it encourages independence, provides strong role models, allows children to see their parents as equals, provides financial stability. I know it's beneficial to the mother herself, providing self-confidence, self-sufficiency, and more tangible representations of self-worth. Valid arguments that don't even begin to light on factors like the difficulty of finding a job after taking a number of years hiatus, which, in an industry such as IT, could even result in starting back at square one requiring re-education before stepping back into the career you spent so much "cementing" before having children.

But my number one reason for wanting to continue to work as we raise our children is to help bring awareness to the fact that the conflict between having children and having a career isn't strictly a gender issue. And with awareness, hopefully, will come change, and my kids won't find themselves paralyzed by guilt on their couch one Saturday morning at nearly 30 years of age trying to decide between career and children.

*While Scott would not only be as equally viable a caregiver for our children, he likely would be a better caregiver given our personalities. Even with that caveat, I'm still viewed as a bad mother abandoning her not-even-born children. All that being said, Scott is not intending on placing his career on hold for 5-7 years, either. We don't live an extravagant life, and while we do make fairly decent money, we are well aware that in this economic environment, we would be entirely unable to subsist off of one wage and offer our children even the slightest glimpse of the life we were privileged to as children (with mothers who stayed home to look after us).


  1. Great post, Cara. Although Christian and I aren't planning on having kids for at least another 5 years, we've already been thinking about how that might work (or maybe it's just me :p). My brothers and I were really lucky growing up because my grandparents lived so close--they basically helped raise us. My mom was also really lucky to have a flexible job that allowed her to be a hands-on mom but to also have a career. I can only hope to find that kind of balance once I'm ready for kids.

  2. Coming from a below poverty level family, I know I don't want to rely on gov't stuff to raise my kids like my mom did with me. She was a stay-at-home mom, but my dad was working in the dot com industry. The DH and I have simply come to the realization that with little parental support (something in older days that younger couples could often rely on, less so in modern days), no career even started, it's unlikely we'll even have children. I'll admit, I do feel jealousies with all the newly pregnant or new moms in the blog world, but when really looking at my own life, kids just aren't even a consideration for me.

    Since I'm still in school, I feel like I'm in this waiting period. It's gotten so annoying, I'm considering job-hunting this summer and depending on what I find, I may be delaying more education for awhile.

    I think ultimately we all have to take a stab at life in different ways. Some people can afford to be stay-at-home moms, some realize they can work from home, or that kids aren't the right choice. I really hope that society in general continues the shift into more flexible choices, and less rigid 'perfection' families. I guess I also keep hoping for my neighborhood to pull up out of the recession, or hoping to get the balls to move elsewhere.

  3. Great analysis. I think there's a lot to think about in terms of the glass ceiling and whether women really can have it all. I fall a bit outside the norm since Chris and I chose not to have kids, so of course both of us would continue to work.


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