I’m almost done reading Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter. She’s given me a lot to chew on in these pages, about the true nature of equality between men and women and what is required from all of us for the next great cultural wave of change to occur.
Chapter five, entitled Is Managing Money Really Harder than Managing Kids? was particularly moving for me to read. I was trying to wind down before going to sleep, but so many light bulbs were going on in my brain that I was afraid to keep reading in case I stayed awake half the night considering her ideas on how we need to place a higher value on caregiving in our society.
Slaughter writes, “The broader understanding of caregiving also includes teaching, discipline (holding the line even in the face of tears, threats, and curses), coaching, encouraging, problem solving, character building, and role modeling. Often caregiving is about reliability: simply being there when being there is important to your child, your parent, or your spouse. And it’s about support: focusing on someone else’s needs and figuring out how to meet them, whether finding a lost sock, book, or cell phone or offering a genuinely attentive ear.”
Allowing these words to sink into my brain was like applying Polysporin to an infected wound that has been festering for the last twelve years. I despise this endless need for permission to validate the specific choices I have made, along with Jason, about what’s best for our family, but clearly I still have work to do in this area.
I planned to return to work after Ava was born, for I am a feminist, dammit, and ambitious to boot. I was not going to stay home and waste my decent brain on nursery rhymes and homemade play-doh. If this sounds judgmental, that’s because it is. One of Slaughter’s recurring themes in her book is that we must all face up to our cultural stereotypes, gender biases, and faulty perceptions. I certainly possess my share.
But once Ava was born, I didn’t want to leave her to go back to my office, so Jason and I made a series of sacrifices so I could stay home. I started a successful home business selling rubber-stamping products so I could help close the gap between what Jason earned and what we needed to live on.
Fast-forward twelve years. Many things have changed but one thing hasn’t: I’m still the one at home, managing the myriad of day-to-day arrangements and catastrophes. I’m the one caregiving. How could I ever hope that anyone else will value this role unless I model what that looks like for myself?
Jason has an excellent job and he is terrific at it, but a huge part of why he is so successful is the contribution I make at home. I am here, day in and day out, working my writing and speaking around the kids’ schedules so that when Jason needs to travel for his career, he has the flexibility to do so. The competition of the workforce only succeeds if someone is taking care of the details at home.
I realized while reading Unfinished Business that I must continue to define my own contributions as valuable. I have to reframe them, and so does anyone who has built a life on those skills that Slaughter lists in the earlier quote: teaching, discipline, coaching, encouraging, problem solving, character building, role modeling, reliability and support. These things matter. Just because they don’t usually have a dollar value attached doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be sorely missed if they were gone.
This is unfinished business for me in my own personal value system. I’m grateful to Anne-Marie Slaughter for continuing this important cultural conversation with her new book.