Moms, It's Time to Erase the Mythical Dividing Line Between Work and Family

The other week my husband was offered a traveling assignment for work. His superior, a middle-aged man with older kids, thought he’d like to “get out of the house for a while” and away from “the baby.” When my husband replied that his co-worker, a young single guy, should take the assignment instead, his boss was baffled. “When my kids were that age I couldn’t wait to play hooky for a few days,” he replied. My husband’s desire to spend time with his son and wife wasn’t negatively received, it was just incredibly confusing.

We carry this myth with us that work and family are two separate entities that are forbidden from overlapping. The reality is that for the technology-equipped, always connected Millennial generation work and family are both organic elements of this thing we call life. For as invasive as technology can be, if we use it right we’re able to achieve a cohesiveness between work and family that most generations, certainly those functioning in the suburban mindset, have never known. For instance, growing up in the city my father was able to walk home from elementary school for lunch, a habit virtually unheard of in suburbia. Now, thanks to video calling, my husband in the city can have lunch with his son in the suburbs. Millennial parents know how to make it work. So why do we, mothers especially, continue to beat ourselves over the head with the myth that we can’t integrate work and family life?

For women, the struggle is promulgated by the tenets of contemporary feminism. Second-wave taught us that women had to achieve outside the realm of family in order to feel fulfilled. Today’s Women’s March feminists advance this notion with demands for universal daycare and preschool and federally-funded paid maternity leave, all policies based on the second-wave belief that for women to matter, they need to separate themselves from their children in order to devote their lives to work. In a powerful column at On Being, Courtney E. Martin asks:

Why are work and caretaking still so juxtaposed in American society? Why do we still expect one another to show up to work as if our bodies never fail or our hearts never break?

The answer is simple: Women have been acculturated to divorce themselves from their maternal caretaking instincts in order to receive societal validation. As a result, work and caretaking aren’t merely juxtaposed; they are seen as opposing forces of good and evil in an ongoing gender-based power struggle. The irony is this mythical power struggle was created by and is fueled by a small sliver of women who never had to choose between caretaking and work, either because their children were grown, they could afford nannies, or they chose not to have children altogether and looked down upon those who did. Forget intersectionality; today’s feminism is just as irrelevant to most white women as it is to every other demographic.

And thanks to technological innovation it’s also being proven irrelevant to society as a whole. Millennials, men and women, see equality in terms of time management, not gender. Second-wave feminism was an ideological product of the industrial age. In the post-industrial era, Millennial workers are reclaiming the clock and, it would seem, the cradle along with it. Feminism needs to get with the times.