By Emily Mathis
Fast Tube by Casper
When I signed my mom and I up to attend the Starr Community Conversations’ event, Work and Life: An Intergenerational Conversation, I didn’t think much about the fact that by having her attend with me, I was starting my own intergenerational conversation.
My mom and I started out the evening thinking that it would just be an interesting panel and some good topics; work/life balance was something that interested both of us. However, as the talk progressed, I realized that in addition to just wanting to enjoy the night with my mom, I had hoped that listening to these talks would help my mom find her own work/life balance, something I had seen her strive for my whole life.
One of the more poignant moments of the night for me, was when one of the audience members talked about how she felt a certain stigma for choosing to stay home. She commented how she thought feminism should be about choice but instead she felt that some women and men made her feel like she was contributing to preventing feminist progress by choosing to stay home. I have to say that while I was listening to her, I agreed with her thoughts about how feminism should be about choice. Her comments also made met think about how my mom had chosen to both stay at home with my brother and me and to work in the corporate world at different times in her life and I had hoped that she never had to feel any stigma about her choices.
The woman’s comment, and my own experience with my mother’s struggles to find a balance between work and home, got me to thinking about how not only was that lady right, that there is still stigma surrounding a woman choosing to quit her job to stay home with her family. But the panelists were also right: that we need to change how we think about work and that we should be more creative with it to allow for more flexibility.
To say that the stigma surrounding women choosing to stay home is widespread and that everyone thinks less of a woman who does that would be over-generalizing, but I do think that there is a lack of respect for women who do that. I know some feminists who believe it is counterproductive to the progression of women to choose to go back into the home. But shouldn’t feminism mean choice? My mom chose at different times in my childhood to stay home with us and to work, and I have to say, neither one made her any less amazing. I respect her for how far she was able to get in the corporate world and I respect her for choosing to stay at home.
I think that the conversation about women choosing to stay home ultimately leads to what the panelists referred to as “thinking creatively” about work. As a country we do need to change how we think about work/life balance and get creative about how we approach work so that women and men are able to enjoy flexibility that will allow them to succeed professionally but also personally. Maybe we do need to look at how other countries are trying to allow for more balance — Sweden comes to mind.
Attending the Starr event with my mom allowed me to see things that maybe I wouldn’t have picked up on otherwise, like how work/life balance means different things for everyone. My biggest struggle with work/life balance right now is finding enough time for school, work, and the rest of my life, but my mom has really been faced with hard choices about how she and my dad would be able to enjoy our family and to earn a living as well as enjoy their careers. Our perspectives are very different, but that is what makes an intergenerational conversation valuable: you are able to see issues in a different light than your own and if you are really lucky, you get a greater appreciation for someone else’s struggles.