"The law does not mandate work-life balance," nor does it "require companies to ignore and stop valuing ultimate dedication, however unhealthy that may be for family life," said Judge Preska last summer regarding the Bloomberg discrimination case against pregnant and working mothers.
"There's no such thing as work-life balance," Mr. Welch told the Society for Human Resource Management's Conference a few years ago. "There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences."
While each statement is harsh, unforgiving, blunt and brutal, are they inherently wrong? In the world of Type-A, educated, successful, intelligent women, particularly here in Washington, D.C, in this eternal quest for "balance" and "juggling" -- I believe we have perpetuated a cultural expectation that just isn't realistic.
Believing that work-life balance is possible promotes one thing: self-flagellation. For example, in the most current research I could find on how mothers rate themselves Pew Research announced some results back in 2008 that really disturbed me. Here's the Cliff-notes version: When asked to self-score themselves as parents, on a scale of 1-10, a mere 28 percent of full-time working moms gave themselves a score of 9 or 10. 41 percent of part-time working moms gave themselves a 9 or 10 and 43 percent of at-home moms gave themselves a 9 or 10.
On the path to raising good, decent, law-abiding and respectful children, why do we perpetuate this expectation of parenting perfection instead of accepting good enough -- and being proud of what we do accomplish? The low rankings the mothers assigned themselves in the Pew research shows that we focus on all the areas that we fell short in the day instead of what we did right. Instead of counting the hours you spent away from a child, how about all the stories you read for the 150th time, the lunches you lovingly packed, the eighth load of laundry you folded, the sweet frozen Trader Joes dinner you heated up? Why isn't that good enough?
Believing in work-life balance also feeds the unrealistic expectations of new mothers. Welch is exactly right -- there are choices and those choices have consequences. It seems to me that a more constructive way to view the reality of working and raising children is this: taking a wide-angle lens view of your whole life and realizing work and family life ebb and flow over time. Own your choice, accept that on some days it might not be great for your kids, it might be hard on your family but you might enjoy your career. And in other weeks, your career might be compromised but your children's needs aren't.
Earlier this fall, I was lucky enough to interview NBC4 Morning Anchor Eun Yang. If she can wake at 2:30 AM five days a week for a demanding job and raise three kids, then surely she must have an opinion on work-life balance, I reasoned. And she did. Her words echoed those of Welch's, in my opinion. She quite bluntly said: "I think there is no such thing as balance. We make sacrifices, we might miss some of our kids' milestones, and it hurts, but if you have a career, you are going to feel pushed and pulled apart in two different directions. Sometimes it feels like you just can't give 100 percent to either side."
What I think is missing from the discussion of work-life balance is the role of technology in parenthood. While Judge Preska offered the opinion of the law on work-life balance and the reality that companies reward "ultimate dedication," what her argument is missing is the role of technology.
There is no road map for the impact of technology on modern parenting. There isn't yet decade-long research on quality time with kids when we are constantly interrupted by our smart phones. But technology is bleeding into every aspect of our lives, impacting when and where we work, and rendering traditional office spaces obsolete for so many workers. So exactly how is the modern day company rewarding "ultimate dedication" -- is it largely based on face-time?
Today's reality is such that whether or not the experts agree it's good for our kids to see us on our phones and Blackberries, working parents are on these devices because they want to be home and employers expect greater accessibility with more advanced technology. It's part of the new ebb and flow of work-life choices.
Technology is also transforming the lives of at-home moms into digital moms. So many of today's digital at-home moms are forming one of 10.1 million women-owned businesses. Unfortunately I think it's going to take until the current generation of toddlers enters the work force before American corporate culture appreciates and respects that working outside the office authentically means working -- because today's toddler is watching his parent, especially his mother, do it at home.
I say enough of the work-life "balance" debate. Own your choice, be proud of your decision and be realistic about its consequences on your career or your family. Ms. Yang nailed it when she said, "I believe that we working moms can do this. That we are strong, capable, smart and we can raise successful children and have successful careers. Yes it is challenging but like everything else we do, we use our resources and our wits to make it work."
Just don't ask me how to find any free time.