By MONICA GRECO
Opinion Editor Emeritus
Since the publication of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s much-debated article in The Atlantic this past summer, the Princeton community has dwelled on and even agonized over the work/family balance issues facing women today. The topic is huge and multifaceted, so to get a grip on it, we’ve narrowed our discussion to women of Slaughter’s demographic. Slaughter herself concedes, “I am well aware that the majority of American women face problems far greater than any discussed in this article. I am writing for my demographic — highly educated, well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place.”
Though as Princeton graduates, we fall, for the most part, squarely within Slaughter’s demographic, we might have something to gain from thinking about how women outside of this group approach the work/family balance. Women in other demographics are surely also dissatisfied with the amount of time they have for child rearing, but that doesn’t mean they don’t rear children. They may not “have it all,” or close to it, but they certainly have something. If our demographic is struggling so much, how are the women in other demographics managing to have anything at all?
My hunch is that other women have something most women in Slaughter’s demographic don’t — a support network that reaches beyond the nuclear family to more distant relatives and friends. It seems that families with lower incomes on the whole tend to live closer to one another — if not together — and interact more frequently. The reason for this might be that as families live in America longer and accumulate more wealth, subsequent generations start pursuing higher paying jobs and moving out of old neighborhood to pursue these jobs. As a result of this process, wealthier families are comprised of more dispersed nuclear units. I should also note that in addition to class, cultural norms might also be the reason for the greater involvement of more distant relatives in some families.
Whatever the reason, the greater involvement of the extended family presents advantages to both mothers and children. Having a relative cook dinner one night means that a mother can instead spend the time with her kids and her children can benefit from having more than one role model. While distributing responsibility to the extended family may still not be ideal for working mothers, having the additional support certainly offers some reprieve.
I know this to be true from my own experience. Growing up, my grandparents were my primary babysitters. My grandfather purchased and delivered every diaper I ever wore, and my grandparents’ involvement allowed my parents to have a greater level of freedom in pursuing their career goals without sacrificing their sense of family.
Slaughter also suggests a similar division of responsibility for child rearing to relieve the pressure on the mothers in her demographic. But whereas she argues that responsibility for child rearing should be more equally split between parents, I might ask, “Why not also split responsibility between generations and siblings?”
Because this kind of integration into the extended family necessarily limits independence to which our demographic feels entitled, there is a pervading notion among my Princeton peers that “I don’t want to go back to Wisconsin” or “I don’t want to live with my parents.” A friend refers to this notion as escaping “the tyranny of my mother.” I understand this sentiment — I am no stranger to the nagging mom. But I wonder if later in life, I’d be willing to sacrifice this independence from my mother or my mother-in-law for a bit more freedom in pursuing my career or a bit more structure for my children.
Of course, not every Princeton graduate is so lucky to have a family that is willing and able to pitch in while he or she is in pursuit of “having it all.” For some, it is a manner of not being able to go back to Wisconsin because there are no opportunities there. And it’s certainly a lot to ask of our families, but social norms that prioritize independence should not prevent us from considering this kind of system as an option.
Sacrifices will have to be made to have it all or have as much as possible. But maybe instead of sacrificing ambition at work or care for our children, we should consider sacrificing freedom from the tyranny of our mothers.
Monica Greco is a Classics major from Brooklyn, N.Y., and the executive editor emeritus for Opinion. She can be reached at email@example.com.