Mommy, do you think I would make a good architect?”
My 11-year-old daughter posed this question as I was speeding down a country road, late to an event at the church my husband pastors. It’d been a busy day, as they all seem to be, and instead of feeling a burst of pride I felt a sense of sadness. Channeling my own inner work-life balance conflict, I imagined my brown-eyed girl growing up to become one more cog in the wheels of an unforgiving marketplace.
I knew her well enough to know she’d be the type to “lean in.” She’d work hard, get exceptional grades, and be accepted into a good college. Once she graduated, she’d enter a master’s program and eventually be recruited by a top firm, and then she’d spend the next decade putting in long hours to secure her place in an increasingly competitive field. All during the same years her body would be telling her to settle down, get married, and have children.
The irony of my sadness isn’t lost on me. After my daughter was born, I devoted myself exclusively to homemaking and providing care for her and her two younger brothers. But six years in I realized that my children needed more from me than caregiving—they needed a role model for fully-formed womanhood. Through a process of prayer and introspection, I realized that for me this meant pursuing work as a freelance writer. As I worked part-time from home, I could adjust my schedule to fit my family’s needs, and I quickly found writing to be tremendously satisfying.
But then something unexpected happened: My career picked up steam. Today, five years after those first hesitant steps back into the marketplace, I travel as a women’s event speaker, co-host a weekly podcast, and currently I’m working on my second book. I continue to work from home and still consider myself first and foremost a caregiver, but if I’m honest, my attempts to “do it all” often feel like “doing nothing well.”
In her recent book Unfinished Business, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the CEO of the New America think tank and a former Princeton dean, tackles the questions of how work and family intersect. The book is the result of her 2012 Atlantic cover article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”—an article that I printed out (all 41 pages), highlighted, and randomly quoted to friends, family, and strangers.
The impetus for both her article and book was Slaughter’s own struggle to reconcile the competing human desires of care and competition. As she writes, “Competition produces money. But care produces people.” Slaughter’s own resolution came in 2011 when she intentionally scaled back her work for the sake of her family, despite a promising foreign policy career under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.