Balancing Act: Can women have it all?

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I have thought a lot about International Monetary Fund leader Christine Lagarde ever since a national debate sprang up over an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic magazine's most recent edition.

The article, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," has irked women and men, both single and married, and I'm thrilled it hit a nerve. We need to talk about conflicts around balancing work and family now that more families have two parents who contribute income to paying the mortgage. I've been writing about work-life balance for a decade. I've interviewed hundreds of women and men trying to raise children and run companies, climb the corporate ladder and succeed in their professions.

Here's what I've learned: All working parents experience conflict throughout their careers. At the end of the day, the choices around balancing work and family depend on two things: financial need and tolerance. I still strongly believe that women (and men) can "have it all." But not today, not with the way America's economy and society are currently structured.

I've found myself amazed and infuriated by the reaction to Ms. Slaughter's article. It has ranged from criticism of her for being ridiculous enough to think anyone could ever have it all to praise for being upfront with the future generation of working parents.

Lori Gottlieb, the author of "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough," writes in response: "How does a smart woman like Slaughter still believe in the childlike notion that people (of either gender) can have whatever they want whenever they want it?" She continues: "Men don't lose sleep over the fact that they have to make choices."

I disagree. Men lose sleep over their choices, too. But for men, financial need usually has a greater influence on their tolerance for sacrifices in their family lives. Men who are CEOs and world leaders usually don't feel as guilty as women when their work demands turn them into absentee fathers.

But we need women like Ms. Lagarde to lead with charm while making radical economic reforms. We need women at the helm of Fortune 500 companies and on corporate boards to make buying and management decisions that improve the lives of female customers. And we certainly need women in top policy-making positions who are more likely to push decisions that benefit families.

We need role models for young girls who should dream big.

Ms. Slaughter believes we need policies and workplace changes for when, where and how work will be done. We already see some employers who get it and both offer and encourage flexibility to make the juggling easier. Still, most working parents are giving it all at work and home and finding maintaining balance is a struggle every day.

We need to do more as a nation to make family-friendly policies a reality in more workplaces. We need to stop judging parents who re-evaluate their situation and make changes or mothers who want to make the necessary sacrifices to climb to the top.

We will never stop trying to have it all, but it's OK to like what you have.

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Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. Email her at balancegal@gmail.com.


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