Wednesday, April 1

Is It Wrong To Ask About Women About Work/Family Balance?

When I did my very first blog interview with Canada AM's Marci Ien five years ago, I asked the "work/life balance" question, to which she gave this brilliant reply:

"My family, my friends and my job make me happy, and I want all of it. I'm not going to be as hard on myself as I have been in the past; I don't believe in balance. Everyone always asks me about this, and I really don't. I'm not perfect, maybe I'll get two out of five things right one day, because we can't do it all. It's not fair. I'm allergic to balance!"

I don't think I asked it again, in the same way, after that. However, that doesn't mean I think it's a bad question.


A few months ago, Jennifer Garner gave a speech at the ELLE Women of the Year event where she shared that she and husband Ben Affleck had recently both spent a day doing press junkets. While she was asked about balancing work and family by every single reporter, all day long, Ben was not asked once. Instead, he was asked about the breasts of one of his costars.


Okay.


The thing is, when I (and I believe the majority of female interviewers) ask this question, it is not a judgment, and not meant to be negative. For me, it's "You're like me, with kids and employment - do you have the same struggles? Can we bond over this? Do you have any tips that might help me? Can your perspective help me do better in some way?" I always ask about their work, but while my readers may not identify with the specific project we're discussing, they will almost always be able to connect to the "mom" side of the woman. Whether we're humble bloggers or A-list journalists, we want to please our readers and ask the questions they want answered. Which perhaps says something about those who posed the breasts question to Ben Affleck.- and what they think of their readers.


It's kind of like the go-to "Who are you wearing?" question asked of women ad nauseam throughout the awards season. Reporters assume viewers want to know. (Quite frankly, while I love checking out the fashion, I truly do not care "who" they are wearing, but I get that it's an art form and an industry, and the question must be asked.) 




Photo Getty Images


When I ask women how they juggle work and family...
 


What I don't mean: You shouldn't be trying to have both.

What I do mean: I'm trying to have both, and so are many of my readers.

What I don't mean: You're getting it wrong.

What I do mean: Are we getting it wrong?

What I don't mean: You should be worrying about this more than your partner.

What I do mean: We may be worrying about this more than our partners.

What I don't mean: You should feel guilty.

What I do mean: Do you feel guilty? Sometimes we do. Or we don't...but then think we're supposed to.

However, I know that the question can sometimes hurt. Cityline host Tracy Moore posted on social media a few months ago that an older woman (not a journalist) approached her at an after-hours event and lamented something to the effect of "It seems like you're always working - when do you ever see your children?" Ouch.


While Jennifer Garner asserted that she thinks it's time to change the conversation, she didn't say that we can't ask women about their families. Perhaps what would be the most refreshing change is if we also asked men about theirs.


P.S. I'm hoping to interview Jennifer in the future, and I promise not to ask that question. Or anything about any of her costars' breasts.




2 comments:

Sally said...

Oooh this gets my blood pumping. Because I feel tremendous guilt working full time with little ones. I feel that my children do MUCH better with school/life when one parent is home. We had the good fortune of my husband job-sharing last summer and it was such a huge success- our family life-work balance was wonderful. I am really hoping to have him home part time again this summer. We have had many times through our parenthood that either of us has been home part time or full time with our children. While Mother does certain things differently, the benefit of Father being home is equally as good for the family and all that balance stuff.
I love your "what I don't mean," "what I do mean." I never mean to criticize mothers when I ask how they do it all- it is meant as a compliment, and a lament a bit toward myself (and that guilt/fatigue part of things) because sometimes I don't feel like I do it very well at all.
We need to consider that someone looking in sees our lives much differently than we do. Apparently career women look like they have it all under control- ha! If they only knew the truth!
And its not like I (we) try to hide it- I openly admit you can't come visit my house because I'm regularly too bagged to keep up with laundry, housework etc. But I do kiss my kids every night, they know they are loved. I try to do my best at work (even if I don't always clock in on time). And making time for my marriage in the midst of all this chaos (thankfully) has always taken precedent. I think having an equal partner is key. Equal partner means different things in each relationship, but as long as we feel supportive of one another, and are helping the other with things, I think we are in a good space.
I have been thinking, however of starting a campaign for the four day work week (aka 3 day weekend). Who in the world came up with this 2 day weekend anyway? I am guessing not a mother who worked full time!

Tawny said...

I totally agree. As a reader, I do want to read about how moms are coping and figuring out family and work. I relate to that much more than whatever character they may be playing or who they are wearing. I do often wonder the same about dads though. My husband has the same struggles as I do with family and work. I wonder how Ben feels about his own family/work balance? Someone really should ask him.