'Unfinished Business': When Working Families Can't Do It All | KERA News

'Unfinished Business': When Working Families Can't Do It All

Sep 27, 2015
Originally published on September 30, 2015 11:20 am

It's a phrase you hear everywhere now: work-life balance. How can women and men navigate the demands of a career and a family?

In 2010, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg started telling working moms to "lean in."

The conversation about work-life balance took on new heat when foreign policy expert Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an article for The Atlantic about her own trade-offs. And women from all corners of industry have weighed in since.

Slaughter's viral article chronicled her own choice to leave a high-powered job in Washington and go home to New Jersey and take care of her family. She digs deeper into the familiar struggle in her new book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family.

This week on For the Record: One marriage, two careers, two kids and trade-offs.

Building A Family

Slaughter and her husband, Andy Moravcsik met in graduate school at Harvard in the late '80s, and started building a life together. They figured they would both pursue their careers, split the family responsibilities in half and it would all work out.

Going in with blind optimism, they each worked their way up the ladder in academia. Moravcsik became a professor of political science at Princeton University and Slaughter was the first female dean of Princeton's School of International Affairs.

And then, Slaughter got the call.

The Dream Job

"In December 2008, Hillary Clinton was about to become secretary of state, [she] asked me if I would be her director of policy planning, and this was a lifelong dream for me," Slaughter says. "And if I was going to do it, I had to do it then."

Slaughter says that her husband "had always known that this was something I wanted to do ... he knew that when that chance came, if that chance came, I would want to take it."

Moravcsik says he was excited for her, but doesn't deny the stress he felt. He would take care of the kids, while she would have to move to Washington, D.C., to live in an apartment there during the week and come home to her family on weekends.

"It's really a great, great job. It was wonderful," Slaughter says.

Meanwhile, Moravcsik says he was always thinking double.

"I would get up in the morning, get the kids out. Usually a fight in the morning about it. And then do my work day until about 3 o'clock," he says. "What do I need to be doing at work? What do I need to be doing at home?"

The Tradeoffs

But it was also hard on Slaughter, especially the weekend transitions.

"That first night's always a little rocky," she says. "I would occasionally feel a bit like an outsider. And then, just by the time we sort of felt like we we're a family again, I'd have to leave."

While her husband developed a really close relationship with the boys, it was tough not being the lead parent for Slaughter. When their son was struggling in school, got suspended and began disconnecting from the family, it fell to Moravscik to bridge the gap.

"I took him to a Shakespeare play and he said to me, 'How many plays did Shakespeare write?' I said, 'I don't know.' And he looked it up, it was 37. And he said to me, 'Why don't we go see them all?' And so, over the next year and half or so, we went and saw all 37 Shakespeare plays," Moravcsik says.

That brought them closer together but it still wasn't enough. Moravcsik says he got to a breaking point. After a lot of discussion, Slaughter decided it was time to step back from her career and go home.

"That was hard," she says. "I really did feel like I'm just not even sure who this woman is who's making this decision. I never would have predicted I was making this decision. But it is clear to me this is the right decision."

Slaughter admits, however, that she was lucky to have as many choices as she did. For women at the bottom of the economic ladder, the stakes are higher.

"The millions of women for whom not accommodating care, not making room for care, means that if you child is sick for a day or two you could lose your job," she says. "Or if there's a snow day and the school's closed but your job stays open, you could lose your job."

Men Vs. Women: Stigmatizing Caregivers

Slaughter says the solution is going to come on several fronts. Government, she says, needs to push better family leave policies and businesses should recognize that flexibility makes for happier, more productive employees.

Finally, she says, men need to speak up.

"They are expected to be the breadwinners. They do not have the choice of saying, 'Look, I would like to be the anchor of my family,' " she says. "Men who do it face all sorts of discrimination and really, mockery."

When Slaughter decided to pull back from her work and spend more time with her family she found herself being judged, sometimes by other women.

"It was a kind of well, 'Maybe she's not as much of a player as I thought,' " Slaughter says.

But that's when she realized, she's also been guilty of judging other women.

"I'd been one of the women who had always stayed in who had big jobs, who was a role model, and I also knew I was making the right choice," she says. "I thought 'Wait a minute, this is not my problem, this is society's problem. And we've got to change it.' "

Slaughter is back at Princeton and she's the president of The New America Foundation, a D.C.-based think tank. Moravcsik is still teaching at Princeton; their oldest son is now at college and the younger is a 16-year-old high school student.

Soon to be empty nesters, Moravcsik has some unfinished business of his own.

"It's certainly time for me to double down on my career," he says. "I feel like those couple of books that I didn't write during the period when I was lead parent are still there to be written."


We know this is something a lot of you are thinking about, so we put out a call on Twitter, asking for you to describe the kind of trade-offs you've had to make.

Here are just a few of the responses we got:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin, and this is For The Record.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: It's a phrase you hear everywhere now - work-life balance. How can women and men navigate the demands of a career and a family? In 2010, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg started telling working moms to lean in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHERYL SANDBERG: Don't leave before you leave. Stay and keep your foot on the gas pedal until the very day you need to leave to take a break for a child.

MARTIN: The conversation about work-life balance took on new heat when a foreign policy expert named Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an article for The Atlantic about her own trade-offs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: One article by a former State Department official has the country talking.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Piece entitled "Why Women..."

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: "Why Women Still Can't Have It All."

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Why can't women have it all?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: It's written by Anne-Marie Slaughter.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: Anne-Marie Slaughter.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Please welcome Anne-Marie Slaughter.

MARTIN: Women from all corners of industry have weighed in since. Here's Indra Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsi.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

INDRA NOOYI: We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I'm not sure they will say that I've been a good mom. I'm not sure.

MARTIN: It all started with that viral article Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote chronicling her own choice to leave a high-powered job in Washington and go home to New Jersey and take care of her family. She's now written a new book. It's called "Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family." For The Record today, one marriage, two careers, two kids, and the trade-offs that had to come.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I'm Anne-Marie Slaughter. I am a foreign policy expert and a former professor. And I am the proud mother of two sons and the happy wife of Andrew Moravcsik.

ANDREW MORAVCSIK: My name is Andy Moravcsik. I teach political science at Princeton University.

SLAUGHTER: We met in graduate school at Harvard in the late 1980s.

MORAVCSIK: I saw her across the room at a seminar. The seminar was very boring, and I don't remember a word of it, but I do remember seeing her. We had conversations about our career ambitions because we were young people and, like most people, we figured we would split that 50-50. Both of us would pursue our careers, and we kind of figured we would split the family part 50-50, too, and it would all work out.

SLAUGHTER: There was just kind of a blind optimism to it.

MORAVCSIK: That's right.

MARTIN: They started building a life together, and, eventually, they each worked their way up the ladder in academia. Andy became a professor of political science at Princeton University and Anne-Marie became the first female dean of Princeton's School of International Affairs. And then she got the call.

SLAUGHTER: In December 2008, Hillary Clinton was about to become secretary of state - asked me if I would be her director of policy planning. And this was a lifelong dream for me. And if I was going to do it, I had to do it then.

MARTIN: Did your husband know that this was in the offing?

SLAUGHTER: I think Andy had always known that this was something I wanted to do and he, I think in a way, did dread it because he - he knew that when that chance came - if that chance came - I would want to take it.

MORAVCSIK: I was excited about it.

MARTIN: Was it stressful when you realized, OK, you know, this is going to be - now it's on me?

MORAVCSIK: Yeah, it's stressful. It's stressful on any couple.

MARTIN: Stressful because Andy would have to take care of the kids. Anne-Marie would move to Washington, D.C., living there in an apartment during the week and coming home to her family only on weekends.

Tell me about the work.

SLAUGHTER: Oh, (laughter) the work is - you work on whatever the secretary wants you to work on - on issues in countries all over the world from the U.S., China...

MORAVCSIK: So I would get up in the morning, get the kids out - usually a fight in the morning about it...

SLAUGHTER: ...On development...

MORAVCSIK: ...And then do my workday until about 3 o'clock.

SLAUGHTER: ...Middle East issues, Europe issues...

MORAVCSIK: You're always thinking double. What do I need to be doing at work? What do I need be doing at home?

SLAUGHTER: It's really a great, great job.

MARTIN: It was what you wanted it to be.

SLAUGHTER: It was wonderful.

MARTIN: But it was also really hard, especially coming home every Friday.

SLAUGHTER: That first night's always a little rocky. (Laughter) The first night, you know, there would be these three guys and they'd have settled into their happy routine all week. And they'd be joking and doing things that I would occasionally feel a bit like an outsider. And then by the - just by the time we sort of felt like we're a family again, I'd have to leave.

MARTIN: You write in the book about how your husband developed a really close relationship with the boys and he did become what he has called the lead parent. Did you ever feel miffed that you weren't that person?

SLAUGHTER: Oh, that's a complicated one. I mean, look, I was doing something that I truly wanted to do so - and I - Andy was anchoring the homefront in a way that made that possible. I wouldn't say I ever felt resentful. I did periodically feel shut out and, you know, a little frustrated. And as my older son became more of a teenager, he really just shut me out completely, and that was frustrating.

MARTIN: Their son was struggling in school. He got suspended and he was disconnecting from the family. It fell to Andy to bridge the gap.

MORAVCSIK: I took him to a Shakespeare play. And he said to me, how many plays did Shakespeare write? I said, I don't know. And he looked it up. It was 37. And he said to me, why don't we go see them all?

MARTIN: (Laughter).

MORAVCSIK: And so over the next year-and-a-half or so, we went and saw all 37 Shakespeare plays.

MARTIN: That brought them closer together, but it still wasn't enough.

MORAVCSIK: And I found that I just couldn't handle it.

MARTIN: After a lot of discussion, Anne-Marie decided it was time to step back, return to academia and her family.

SLAUGHTER: That was hard 'cause I really did feel like I'm just not even sure who this woman is who's (laughter) making this decision. I never would've predicted I would make this decision. But it is clear to me this is the right decision.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: This is the story that's at the heart of Slaughter's new book, "Unfinished Business."

SLAUGHTER: For vast numbers of women who are in careers, who then are caregivers, the workplace doesn't allow them to also be caregivers. And we used to have a world in which women did all the care at home and men did all the work in the office, and that worked. So now (laughter) you've got women being breadwinners and caregivers and, increasingly, men taking on caregiving responsibilities. And the workplace just isn't making any allowance for that.

MARTIN: Still, Anne-Marie Slaughter admits she was lucky to have as many choices as she did. But for women at the bottom of the economic ladder, the stakes are higher.

SLAUGHTER: You see the millions of women for whom not accommodating care, not making room for care, means that if your child is sick for a day or two, you can lose your job. Or, you know, if there's a snow day and the schools close but your job stays open, you can - you lose your job.

MARTIN: Slaughter says the solution is going to come from several places. Government, she says, needs to push better family leave policies and businesses should recognize that flexibility makes for happier, more productive employees. And finally, she says men need to speak up.

SLAUGHTER: They are expected to be the breadwinners. They do not have the choice of saying, look, I would actually like to be the anchor of my family. That is something that the men who do it face all sorts of discrimination and really mockery when they try to do it.

MARTIN: When Anne-Marie decided to pull back from her work and spend more time with her family, she found herself being judged, sometimes by other women.

SLAUGHTER: It was a kind of, well, maybe she's not as much of a player as I thought.

MARTIN: How did that sit with you? I imagine that was hard.

SLAUGHTER: It was hard. But what it mostly made me realize was, oh, you know, I've done this to other women because, you know, I'd been one of the women who had always stayed in, you know, who had big jobs, who was a role model. And that was the moment where I thought, wait just a minute, because I knew that I'm still the same person. And I also knew I was making the right choice. And I thought, wait a minute, this is not my problem. This is (laughter) society's problem. And we've got to change it.

MARTIN: Anne-Marie Slaughter is back in Princeton, and she's the president of a D.C.-based think tank called The New America Foundation. Her husband, Andy Moravcsik, is still teaching at Princeton. Their oldest son is now at college, and the younger is a 16-year-old high school student.

So kids are going to be out of the house soon-ish. Then you're going to be empty-nesters. Is that a moment to redefine the marriage again, to recalibrate? Maybe it's time for someone to double down on their career or both of you.

MORAVCSIK: It's certainly time for me to double down on my career, I can tell you - I mean, it's - there was a period when I worked extremely intensively. There was a period when I rebalanced my life a little bit more in the direction of childrearing, and now I'm starting to move back in the direction of focusing more on my career. And I feel like those couple of books that I didn't write during the period when I was lead parent are still there to be written.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Andy Moravcsik is a professor of political science at Princeton and his wife, Anne-Marie Slaughter, her new book is called "Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family." We know this is something a lot of you are thinking about, so we put out a call on Twitter asking you to describe the kinds of trade-offs that you've had to make. And we ask you to do it in just six words, a kind of work-life balance haiku. We got all kinds of responses - thank you for that. Here are just a few of them. We heard from Paolo Pasicolan. He tweeted this, "More bedtime stories, fewer billable hours." Lisa Maruca tweeted "My personal needs always came last." Debbie Dunlevy (ph) says "No time to call my mom." Kate Bowen, "Always screwing everything up a little." A listener with the Twitter handle @prinsing (ph) says "I can't buy that time back." Michael Bulett (ph), "Missing out is hard to do." And a listener with the Twitter handle @ltotheo (ph) tweeted the following six words about managing a career and a family life, "Accept that neither need be perfect." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.