Parents Perspective

5 Ways To Change The Way You Talk About Work and Family

In her new book, Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter says that that in order for moms and dads to be equally valued, we first need to talk the talk.

Father in suit walking kids to school Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
On the evening before her new book, Unfinished Business, was released recently, I had the opportunity to hear Anne-Marie Slaughter speak about how to reunite the women's movement so that both men and women would thrive. She was compelling in person, but so was her book, which I've now finished.

In case you've never heard of her, Slaughter created a firestorm in 2009 when she wrote an article in The Atlantic called "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," after she gave up her dream job as the first female director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department so that she could (really!) spend more time with her family. Her view now is that having so-called "balance" in your life is a luxury, but equality between men and women should be a necessity.

"I am increasingly convinced that advancing women means breaking free of a new set of stereotypes and assumptions, not only for women, but also for men," she writes. "I want a society that opens the possibility for every one of us to have a fulfilling career, or simply a good job with good wages if that's what we choose, along with a personal life that allows for the deep satisfaction of loving and caring for others."

Although there are now more stay-at-home dads, we don't value that choice as much as we should, she says.  We should raise boys "to believe they can be anything they want to be, from full-time father to elementary school teacher to investment banker, on an equally valued continuum. To make providing for a family about time as much as money. To make caregiving cool. To make being a family man just as masculine as being a he-man."

Our society needs to build "an infrastructure of care," including high-quality and affordable child care and eldercare; an investment in early education that's comparable to our investment in elementary and secondary education; paid family and medical leave for men and women; a right to request part-time or flexible work; job protection for pregnant women, and financial and social support for single parents.

It's a long road, but Slaughter says that one thing we can all do now is change the way we talk, and use a new vocabulary of real equality:

  1. Instead of talking about "juggling" or  "balance" talk about striving toward a good "work/life fit."
  2. Instead of saying "stay-at-home mom" or "stay-at-home dad," use the phrase "lead parent."
  3. When you talk about men who are in the workforce and have children, try describing them as "working fathers" or "working parents."  
  4. When you meet someone, try not to ask, "What do you do?" within the first five minutes. Ask him what he's interested in and what his hobbies are. The next time someone tells you how many hours she worked last week or only talks about work at a party, ask her what interesting books she's read lately or if she's seen any good movies.  
  5. If you are talking to a young man who expects to have a family, try asking him, "How are you planning to fit your career together with your family?"

It's time to stop fighting the Mommy Wars, and value all of our choices.

Diane Debrovner is the deputy editor of Parents and the mother of two girls. Follow her on Twitter: @ddebrovner.

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