The musical “Hamilton” reaches its emotional crescendo when Hamilton howls that he’s “not going to throw away (his) shot” to play a role in the birth of our new country, or become the person he chooses to be.
That’s what I want for my daughters: an open shot at all the opportunities the world has to offer. That means an equal opportunity to have a life-time career, to find a partner or stay single, to raise children or choose not to, to start a business, to create a strong family of any configuration, to be president of the United States, to fix the leak as opposed to do the laundry.
The options I want and the options I see for my daughters are similar in their early adult years. (They’re 22 and 25.) My generation and socio-economic cohort has raised daughters to be strong women who, in most cases, want good careers, want to find a partner and want to have a family. They start adulthood just like their male counterparts — with the same education, jobs and quality of life.
But when I imagine them as parents, the picture gets fuzzier. How will they juggle career and kids? With pay gaps and work policies still tilted towards men, I see many of them looking at the same choices that all but the most determined rebels in my generation had: juggle full-time work with the majority of child-rearing tasks, create a part-time option in order to make the juggling task more manageable and inevitably incur the career penalty, or step away from the work world altogether for a few years, or 20 or forever.
What I want for my daughters are the kind of options they would have if we had more institutional and cultural support for men and women to contribute equally to child-rearing, for high quality child care across the income spectrum, and for increased flexibility of working hours to accommodate care giving.
But we are making little if any progress on child care, and the progress towards flexibility and equal child-rearing opportunities is happening sporadically and only in the most progressive companies.
So what can young adults do? Parents-to-be can negotiate explicitly about their priorities and roles as parents. Rather than fall into “the unintended slide into traditional roles” (from “Overwhelmed” by Brigid Schulte, a marvelous book packed with statistics and stories about balancing work and parenting), women and men can have honest discussions that uncover what they each want and are willing to accept about career, spending time with children, earning potential and income expectations, who does what kind of housework and who handles the never-ending logistics of parenting.
After the negotiation comes living the commitments. Finding jobs and careers that provide the flexibility each person wants is the first challenge, and it may require hard decisions about career or income potential. Then there’s holding to the home commitments each person makes, which can be difficult when work is busy or you find that you’re covering more of the school days off than you agreed to or it turns out that you really hate helping with the homework.
Or — and this one’s insidious for women — you find that your partner isn’t meeting your standards for planning the birthday party or getting the kids ready for school every day. To really make the balance work the way both partners want, they need to revisit their agreement and expectations at least annually.
My sincere hope is that our daughters and sons will consider all of their options as they balance career and parenting. I wish them success (and am here to help) as they purposefully design the roles they want to play if and when they decide it’s time to parent.
Mercer Island resident Carrie George is a leadership coach and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through www.carriegleadership.com.