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Jun 5 2013

Don’t We All Need Better Work-Life Balance, Regardless of Our Genitalia?

By at 2:40 pm

working dad coming home to daughterI recently read an article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek entitled, “Alpha Dads: Men Get Serious About Work-Life Balance.” Don’t be fooled, though–these are not dads who fight for work-life balance for all. Rather, they’re serious about work-life balance…for dads. Deloitte Dads, one such organization, is a group to help fathers with time management and family issues in the name of spending more time with their kids. Dads, they contend, are an unacknowledged victim of all the talk about mothers’ work-life balancing act.

“Men have to feel valued and wanted for the balance of their skills,” as Warren Farrell, author of The Myth of Male Power and Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap–and What Women Can Do About It puts it. “People don’t invite the man who raised his children really well back to the 50th high school reunion to talk about it.”

Um, not to be a naysayer, but isn’t that true for ALL of us, both men and women? Don’t we all want to be valued for our skills, regardless of our genitalia? Personally, I opted to give up a law career and to tone down my journalism career in order to work from home with my soon-to-be-five children, and as a result, my speaking engagement calendar is almost empty. Okay, fine, it’s empty–but sometimes I give speeches in the shower, in between renditions of “Gloria” and “Flashdance.”

My point is that the American workplace does not place as high a value on personal and family life as it does on work achievements and financial gain–and that’s true whether you are a man or a woman. Why is it deemed more “important” for me to tell random people at a reunion, “I’m New York bureau chief of The Jerusalem Post” (my old job) or “I’m an attorney at Prestigious New York Law Firm” (my old old job) than it is for me to say “I freelance and write for home while raising four, almost five, children”?

But the problem with “men getting serious about spending time with their kids” is that it frames the issue of childcare and child raising as an us-versus-them proposition–and one that focuses on parenting rather than family life generally–rather than something we should all pursue together, regardless of gender. Wouldn’t the latter be more productive?

I’d love for dads to become more involved with parenting. I personally appreciate the benefit of “dad-involvement,” in that the person I married is at a point in his career where his schedule is more flexible and allows for more self-created family time. But I worry that organizations like Deloitte Dads reaffirm, rather than break down, current parental perceptions along gender lines within the context of larger institutions.

What if big corporations gave parents the option of familial leave? Maternity leave specifically could be directed toward medical recovery from the birth itself, but parental leave could be allocated at the parents’ discretion. This wouldn’t “assign” the job of caring for the baby to the mother, but rather would allow parents to decide what works best for their family. Similarly, this kind of leave could be used to care for a sick relative.

Similarly, it’s entirely possible that two partners working part-time could accomplish much more–financially and personally–than one parent working full time and the other staying home. While it’s naïve to think that there aren’t certain careers that demand a more grueling full-time presence, there are many others that don’t, or that can be modified to accommodate family rights.

I wish I could see the conversation recalibrate itself to include balance for all people–not just dads, but all parents, and not just parents, but all people. Everyone has personal lives, and surely our workplaces will be more effective and efficient places if we find new ways to include, rather than ignore, that element of ourselves.

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