Recently, a blog post entitled "Having it All Kinda Sucks" hit a nerve with a lot of women. It was heartfelt and real -- and gave a glimpse at issues we have as a country. Below, Avra Siegel, the Director of Policy at Care.com weighs in on the notion of women "Having it All." What are your thoughts?
For many women, “Having It All Kinda Sucks” is the kind of blog post that hits close to home.
For me, it hits close to work, too. And I’m not alone.
For the large segment of my social circle that consists of professional women in our early 30s, marrying and looking at the next phase of our lives, this blog post is a frank – and frankly – uncomfortable look at our future. Peeing our sweats at the mailbox isn’t the kind of detail you include in a five-year plan.
So now as my husband and I prepare for a family, I am going to be one of the women I’ve been fighting for my whole career. One of the 50 percent of adults caring for someone else. And one of the more than 60 percent of families with children in which all parents work.
Even though our household would be considered upper class by most income measures, the high cost of child care and where we live means we couldn’t afford to be a single-income household, even if we wanted to. And there are millions of low-income women who have even less of a choice than I do. (Btw: opting in and opting out is such a misnomer – you’re oftentimes either forced in or forced out!)
So just like Westervelt, I strive to be in a situation in which some might call “having it all.” And what is the problem with having it all? It’s a problem with how we look at having it all. It assumes it’s all your problem (even though you happen to be reproducing the human race, which is kind of important).
The problem with situations like the one Westervelt describes is that too many women don’t have paid maternity leave. A quarter of women return to work within the first two weeks have having a baby, because that’s what they have to do to keep their family afloat. This isn’t having it all – this is having to do it all. This is not just her problem. It’s America’s problem.
Forty percent of mothers are primary breadwinners. Most of these mothers are defining “all” as being equally present at work as they are in their child’s lives. Which, let’s face it, often limits their career potential. Why? Because our workplaces are not finding ways for the caregiver-employees to meet their responsibilities at home and at work. We are way out of the Leave-it-to-Beaver-era, yet workplaces assume June Cleaver is at home while Dad makes the bucks.
But this June Cleaver peed herself and popped a stitch while trying to do too much “having it all.” And this isn’t healthy for anyone involved. Her baby, her husband, her physical and mental health. And her company.
Companies actually need women to work. In fact, we are nearly 50% of the workforce. Plus, we are currently more educated than men – graduating from college and grad programs at higher rates. Over the past 40 years, we’ve added $2 trillion dollars to the GDP. And research clearly shows that workplace flexibility and family benefits lead to lower turnover and absenteeism rates – and higher worker productivity. We know that companies identified as great places to work – the ones who often make these types of investments in employees – regularly perform better and generate better stock returns than competitors. It’s no surprise that five of the top eight companies in Glassdoor’s 2016 “Employees Choice Awards” work with Care.com to provide family care benefits for their employees.
So not finding ways to accommodate for the needs and realities of working moms – and dads – and not allowing them to reach their desired potential as parents, in the end, not only hurts the parent – but also hurts the company’s bottom line and the American economy. That $2 trillion can be connected directly to women’s increased workforce participation since the 1970s. What happens if those women drop out of the workforce?
Think about the end of your life for a second. Bear with me, I do this all the time. On my death bed, what is it that I want to make sure I’m remembered for? For me, it’s how I made the people I love most, feel. Did they feel loved? Did they feel cared for? Will I live on in their joyful memories of us together?
But I also want to make sure that I can impact the greater world community through my daily work and career. The irony of my daily work is that I’ve dedicated my whole career to helping American families be the best they can at work and at home.
Is this too much to ask? It shouldn’t be.
I’m here to tell you that when you feel like you fall flat on your face, when you can’t do it “all” – it is NOT just your problem. This is society’s problem because society needs you, women. And it is not doing enough to let you know it.
Not when we’re the only developed nation without paid maternity leave laws. Not when we lack family leave laws that allow dads to care for their children and workers to care for their elderly parents (aging Baby Boomers is the next biggest looming crisis). Not when there aren’t adequate discrimination protections for women who just happen to be the sex that physically delivers a child. Not when 40% of workers don’t have access to a single paid sick day and are constantly having to choose between caring for a sick child and losing their job. Not when child care is the largest annual household expense, averaging $18,000 a year for families in the United States, and we don’t have an arsenal of well-trained, well-paid caregivers to deliver quality care. And not when women lose pay just for being mothers (#equalpay).
It’s also imperative that companies step up and care for all of their employees.
So what can you do about it? Vote for the elected official who cares about these issues . Speak up, talk to your employer. Speak up for the women (and men) who are truly at risk of losing their job if they do. Put your foot down when you’re being pushed to the limit and missing important things at home. Every time you speak up, it gives confidence and credence to other employees who need the same system of support.
Know your worth, because they need you, I promise.