Disclaimer: this column is highly personal, so don’t take it personally. It’s a reflection of my own experience about parenting and work.
Why write about such a sensitive subject? Because I think you should read American law professor and think tank president Anne-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 article “Why women still can’t have it all” in The Atlantic. It quickly went viral with more than three million clicks and was developed into her subsequent book Unfinished Business (Random House,2015).
Many of us often feel pressure at home and at work. Am I spending enough time with the kids? Am I working hard enough? There is no absolute truth, but here are some personal observations.
Firstly, despite all the progress we have made we still live in a society where women’s careers often take a second place to those of men. Even up here in the Nordics. How often do you hear of a husband sacrificing his career for his family? Why are there still fewer female CEOs than male ones?
I find this unfair and antiquated. Half-truths are plentiful, everything from “you just have to marry the right person” to “you just have to organise it the right way.” Not true, I think. No matter how much you believe in 50-50 parenting and careers, it’s often mothers who carry the bigger share of the burden.
Secondly, the life of a career father is often not a walk in the park either. From personal experience I can say that there is nothing worse than saying goodbye to your kids before a long business trip or having to skip an important school event or hobby because of work.
And it can get worse. When I was prime minister the work load and pressure were so intense that even when I was at home, my mind was absent. Not exactly an ideal situation, but something you have to cope with — not alone, but as a family.
Thirdly, at the end of the day it’s all about personal compromises and choices that every family has to make.
But I also believe that we can do a lot at workplaces and through legislation.
Parents should be given enough flexibility to juggle work and family. This means flexi-time and providing people with the technology to work effectively from home when necessary.
The more single-parent families we have, the more critical this becomes. Through legislation we should also try to do everything possible to make sure that men and women have equal opportunities when it comes to parenting and careers.
Since the Industrial Revolution we have split work and family into two different categories. As Anne-Marie Slaughter aptly sums it up, “family makes work possible in the same way work makes family possible. It’s up to us to create the conditions in which the two can reinforce each other.”