The debate about balancing career and family sparks up regularly. It’s good. Change takes time and repeated sparks.
In 1989, I was one of nine female graduate students to be awarded a Congressional Fellowship on Women & Public Policy. I had decided to apply for the Fellowship in my last year at the UCLA Film School, when it dawned on me that: 1) I had hoped American work-family policies to have improved by the time I was ready to think about parenthood; and 2) I had unfairly expected others to do the hard work of enacting the change.
Not coincidentally, my disappointment and dismay coincided with a life change. In the fall of 1988, I had turned 30, and the cinematography lessons I had learned in film school had not only influenced the way I looked at the world but had made me notice things about my personal life I hadn’t seen earlier. “Change the image size and change the angle” I had been instructed in camera class. By following these two key rules, film images could be seamlessly edited together. Applied to one’s life, one might notice startling things for the first time, for close-ups reveal details one might never have noticed, and changing the angle can include background elements that were outside the previously viewed frame.
Thus, I found that the marriage I had entered at age 22 was made up of shots that could not be edited together. What had slowly dawned on me was that if a child entered this scenario, I would be the “main” parent, responsible for almost all parenting while still bringing in a portion of the family income. After growing up in a single parent household where I watched my mother struggle with the burden of working and parenting, I had no interest in being a “main” parent. If I was going to be a mother, I knew I wanted to find a father who wanted to be a co-parent.
I ultimately found a relationship with someone who was seeking a co-parenting experience. Our daughter knows that she can depend on both of us for day-to-day parenting, i.e. for meal preparation, nursing her when she is sick, packing her lunch, helping her with homework, driving her to school and music lessons, among the myriad of parenting duties. I remember a female co-worker of William’s making the observation that he was the first man she had ever heard excuse himself from a meeting to pick up his child at school. Fortunately, this is becoming less unusual as more fathers both need and want to be more involved in parenting.
During my year on Capitol Hill, I worked in the office of Congresswoman Patricia Schroder, a vocal champion for family rights. At the time, I believed that just and fair policies, such as the Family & Medical Leave Act, could solve most problems. Twenty-three years later, from yet another vantage point, I see how important fathers will be in enacting healthy change and policy. As work-family issues are revisited, I can’t help notice that we continue to throw most of our expectations on half of the parent equation. We still speak about the challenges, complexities, and frustrations of nurturing both family and career as a mothers’ issue. We need more fathers to help shift expectations. The fathers who are doing laundry, grocery shopping, making lunches, cooking, etc. while also working know just as well as the mothers that it’s time to stop juggling and find a better sense of balance between home and work, for everyone’s sake.