There was a crucial moment when I was newly pregnant where I had to make a choice whether to take a (better-paid) job that would have me still in clubs, reviewing rock shows three or four nights a week for an alt-weekly while gestating, or peel off to the more family-friendly track of writing about culture with virtually no after-hours commitments, but far fewer advancement/earning options. The choice was obvious at the time, but perhaps what's more interesting is that my husband wanted the exact same kind of more flexible job option for himself to be home with our daughter, only for him, it was much more difficult to find. In other words, we were both fucked, because work sucks.
If you're not sick yet of the whole lean in, lean out or shut up and go fuck yourself debate, lean forward just a minute longer to think about a few more aspects of it.
In a NYT op-ed piece "He Hasn't Had it All Either," Michael Winerip lays out his own experience trying to be a professionally driven man and a present, involved, engaged father:
I have had a lot. I feel lucky to have had a successful career as a journalist and author while being the primary caregiver of our four children for a decade.
But I definitely did not have it all.
What he had was a kind of imperfectly happy middle ground given the demands of workplaces and families, carved out with a careful balancing act of leaning in, then leaning out and a lot of negotiating in between. This is, perhaps, the best we can hope for. But what his essay so wonderfully illustrates is what it looks like when a man and woman truly equally commit to the shared sacrifice of equal parenting. And that it's not just women who are forced to make difficult choices about their careers and lives to be truly present for their children. Men want this too, now more than ever, and find themselves with just as difficult choices, sometimes in even less forgiving environments. For anyone who feels the pull of both career satisfaction and meaningful family life, the choices or lack of good ones for men and women can sometimes be similarly punitive.
Some of the choices he made include:
Declining offers to join the editorial ranks
Working from home
Trading stay-at-home duties with his wife
Taking selective reporting positions and busting ass at them
Working hours in the morning before his children awoke and again later after they slept
Over the course of Winerip's essay, he muses on the nature of this high-wire act:
Foreign correspondents can't cover a war and travel less. A reporter's interview is going to be better if it's done in person instead of teleconferencing. News is as likely to break out on Saturday morning as Wednesday at noon when the kids are in school.
The workplace, I believe, can be made more parent-friendly, but it's not going to be all that friendly, which is why they call it work.
The core problem isn't the workplace, it's work.
Anyone who has had a job that moves by these rhythms — and it's far more jobs than just reporting that do so; try working in the financial industry — has likely seen what it takes to advance or even stick around. To be promoted at a job you have to work like you have no other life. Sure, you can work hard and play hard, but it had better always be clear which of those pastimes has got your number.
In every position I've held, and I'm speaking from extensive corporate jobs over the last 10 to 15 years, the people who were promoted, unless it was pure nepotism or an exceptional triumph of mediocrity — men and women alike — were the people who worked their asses off. They were the people who came in early, worked late, worked every time they were asked, and often above and beyond their job description. They are the people who never question a task because it didn't fit the job description. They are the people who worked like they literally had nothing better to do, and they were visible, engaged, and incredibly positive about their eagerness to take on more.
It is, make no mistake, a workplace environment designed by and for men, free from the inconveniences of dealing with children from 8:30 to 5 p.m. Though that's no longer the demographic of workers, women and men have still had to imitate this devotion to get ahead.
One funny, if cynical, take on this whole lean-in discussion was Amanda Marcotte's suggestion that if you really want to lean in, marry a woman.
Men have long understood how this works. If you marry a woman, you can work those long hours that it takes to get ahead without worrying too much about if the house will get clean or the kids will get cared for. She may have a job and be able to get all that stuff done, but if she finds that it's too hard, don't worry, "opting out" is always on the table.
Men have long understood how this works, but I would like to hear more about the ones who are committed to dismantling it. We know they exist, like in this essay from lawyer John McCormick, who put in the time to make partner at a law firm, only to see all that change the moment his sons were born.
And our attitudes are indeed changing. In some law firms and companies I know, it was once considered a badge of honor to miss a child's birthday or Christmas. Some partners even boasted of the number of divorces or broken relationships they'd taken for the team. This is no longer the case. Many of my male friends, tired of working long hours and missing soccer games and birthdays, don't want to be known as just the breadwinner. They want to be more involved in their children's daily lives.
But there's a price. Though men don't face the same workplace challenges and barriers as women, many feel just as much work-life anxiety. I'm a case in point. As a lawyer who's worked in New York City and Washington, D.C., the work-life calculus turns constantly in my head.
McCormick and Winerip's essays throw down the gauntlet in my view, proving that when a man is interested in juggling, he can find a way to get a little bit of the best of both worlds, and by doing so, his wife can too. That's win-win for everyone.
We need to hear more from men about the ways in which the motivations are sometimes as complicated, even though different, for them as they are for us to balance work and family life, and what the costs are when men opt out a little. When they self-eliminate, too, and are willing to continue to do so in greater numbers until the workplace is as parent-friendly as it can be, in the face of criticism or scorn, fearing lost wages, or slowly "dwindling marketability" as McCormick puts it. It takes hearing these stories to see that the shift is real. This, of course, will not solve everything, but it's a critical part of the path toward equality.
Some 25% of the women in a study by Kathleen Gerson quoted in this Atlantic piece about women who opt out of the rat race claimed they felt were the only parent available for the job, meaning the dads were unwilling or unavailable to step back or share more of the work.
This is depressing, but I was relieved it was only 25%. But what of the families where the dads are willing and available, but perhaps the need for money, food, tuition, mortgages, health insurance, far outweighs the ideals? What is the nature of the choices they've felt forced to make?
In the long list of grievances I could cite about what it's like to democratically split caregiving and working, I can tell you that in our family, our beefs about work/life balance are identical, including the fact that we both lament how hard it is to find a job that will pay you decently without constantly vibing you for having to leave to get your kid. Both of our job options feel so limited by this, but, of course, his "lesser option" is still likely to pay a bit more than mine. That has made it easier to pay some bills, but it has not made it easier on him to be a committed father.
And as Winerip points out, there is a burden to being the one weighted with scoring that bigger paycheck.
Not said is that those very same social pressures weigh on men to be the primary bread winners, a burden of similar scope.
Having been both — the primary bread winner and the secondary earner anchoring the household — I'm here to tell you the latter (more home and less work) is often more fun.
It is, but then you feel guilty for not being able to wrangle as good a paycheck. What we want is for both earners to have good salaries and a chance to be present. It's true, men will still be paid more to lean in, even when that staying in has one foot out the door. But the more men who choose to juggle and make that known, the more the pressure on the workplace to shift to modern lives as they actually function, and not some idea in which men with children must sign their working lives away in exchange for that extra bit of money, particularly when many of them no longer want to.
Still, you need every dollar you can get to raise a family these days, which is why so many couples subconsciously or otherwise defer to the earning potential of the man in these situations, and how can you blame them?
I know we did. My husband eventually, after exhaustive searching, found the one job in his field quite by accident that offered good pay, room for advancement, and a generous flexibility with paid leave. He can work long hours, but he has control over which hours those are. Unlike every other job he has ever held, it is not built on 150% male compliance and workhorse dazzle. We take turns managing our daughter on sick days, we take turns dropping her off and picking her up, we take turns covering her days at home on holidays and school closings, daycare vacations, and the requisite weeks off around Christmas and New Years that must be accommodated. It is exhausting, but we are together for nearly every single dinner, and every single weekend, a huge priority for us.
Interestingly, his bosses are all women, women who have advanced in the company over decades of hard work, the kind of singular hard work, they joke, that dominated their lives. And yet, unlike many men he interviewed with, these women were not dissuaded in the least by the yearlong gap on his resume when he stayed home with our daughter full-time, while I worked a grueling corporate job — rather, they were impressed. None of them has children.