I had the absolute pleasure of sharing the stage recently with NYU professor and feminist sociologist Kathleen Gerson. Ann has written poignantly about her great book, The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation is Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America. I wanted to revisit it because there is just too much interesting stuff not to…
The big takeaway is that, as Gerson writes, “The tensions between changing lives and resistant institutions have created dilemmas for everyone.” As a generation that watched our parents struggle to find work/life balance in a world that doesn’t support it, we want more, but are pretty sober about the realities we face in trying to pursue it.
Further, the mainstream media’s constant pitting of “working moms” and “stay-at-home moms” proves, once again, irrelevant. It’s more helpful, Gerson argues, to see ourselves as having “family pathways,” by which things are constantly shifting and changing with regard to who is working, who is care giving, and what money is being made and spent.
Speaking of change, another massively promising argument that Gerson makes is that flexibility is THE key to a happier work/home life. She writes, “Gender flexibility in earning and caring provided the most effective way for families to transcend the economic challenges and marital conundrums that imperiled their children’s well-being.” Amen.
There were a couple of stats in Gerson’s book that really took the wind out of me. First, “while a majority of children from intact homes think this was best, two out of five feel their parents might have been better splitting up!” And second, “While almost eight out of ten of those with a work-committed mother see this as the best option, those whose mothers did not work in a committed way are more divided in their outlooks, with close to half wishing their mothers had pursued a different path.”
Fascinating, huh? To me, both of these stats are even more reinforcement that women need to find partners that are comfortable with flexible gender roles and only stay with those partners as long as it serves everybody, and that we should all feel entitled to pursue work, regardless of whether we have children or not. It’s happiness, not our perfect homemaking or nuclear families, that kids remember.