Several positive trends were presented as tragedy last week in a New York Times story about work and family.
The Times noted that employers pay premium wages to highly educated workers—both men and women—that are willing to work extra-long hours—more than 50 per week. And because fewer moms than dads choose to work those long hours, highly educated women with kids end up with lower wages and unused career potential.
“The fundamental problem all along is that someone has to take care of the children,” states a UCLA economist, Till von Wachter, in a quote that sums up the minor key tone of the entire article. “These women have made all these skills and investments and are not fully reaping those returns.”
This startling quote shows vividly the ultimate, often-unstated goals of today’s western societies—equality, wealth and the self-actualization of adults. And children get in the way of all three.
Children are, at least for a time, an inherently unequal fact of life for men and women. They are, at least for a time, a money pit. And they require sacrifice rather than Maslowian self-actualization.
The good news is, increasing numbers of American moms and dads are prioritizing their kids as they make career choices— as the Times article documents with compelling evidence from contemporary academic research. Researchers have focused on college-educated women because they’re as well or better prepared than men to reach the highest level of career achievement but do so less frequently than men.
Consider these stats from the article:
- Only 20 percent of fathers work 50 hours a week or more, and just 6 percent of mothers do.
- Today, a smaller share of college-educated women in their early 40s are working than a decade ago as more left jobs in their 30s to raise kids.
- Among women in their early 40s with doctorates or professional degrees, 80 percent are mothers, up from 65 percent two decades ago.
- Working mothers today spend as much time with their children as stay-at-home mothers did in the 1970s (mainly by doing less housework and multi-tasking).
- The number of hours that college-educated parents spend with their children has doubled since the early 1980s—increasing among both fathers and mothers. They spend more of that time interacting with them, playing and teaching.
Do these facts paint a picture of perfection? No. It remains true that the best thing for children is to have a close relationship, especially with their mother, especially for the first three years of life, as psychoanalyst Erica Komisar has shown. And, when a couple can afford it financially, that’s usually best accomplished by moms staying home with infants.
It also remains true that many fathers—including myself—are prone to work more hours and be less available for their wives and kids than they should.
But I find it encouraging that more people—even those with the highest levels of education and best career prospects—are choosing to make sacrifices in their careers to be with their kids.
That’s as it should be. The very first time God told men and women to work—in the Garden of Eden—it was in a conversation about having children. “And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Gen. 1:28)
“Be fruitful and multiply” is about having children. “Subdue” and “have dominion” are about work—closer to the narrow, 9-to-5 sense in which we typically think. God created the two to go together—toward a common purpose of filling the earth with God-glorifying people.
Our habit of separating these two tasks—considering money-earning as true “work” and raising children as not work—is wrong. Also wrong is our common assumption that women do child rearing and men do subduing/dominion work. In Gen. 1:28, God gives both jobs to both of “them.” In fact, we should think about both jobs in Gen. 1:28 as work that both moms and dads are supposed to do.
Which, oddly enough, is what the Times article recommends, too.
“But the ultimate solution, researchers say, is not to make it possible for mothers to work crazy hours, too. It’s to reorganize work so that nobody has to,” writes Claire Cain Miller states this in her conclusion. “The most effective way to do that,” she adds, “is for employers to give workers more predictable hours and flexibility on where and when work gets done.”
If both moms and dads consistently tell employers they see their professional work and parenting work as inextricably intertwined, the more employers will offer flexibility. More flexible hours. Technology tools that allow work to occur from any location. Easy-to-use leave policies.
Employers and bosses will do so because they will want to recruit and retain valuable workers. And, if they’re thinking long-term, they’ll recognize that workers with healthy relationships at home can be more focused in the office.
It’s amazing how God’s word provides a pattern for our good—which we ignore to our own hurt. Right before giving God’s commands about work, Gen. 1:28 says this: “And God blessed them.” When parents work, together, at raising kids and earning money, they are truly blessed.