While employers shouldn’t privilege parents over other workers, too often they end up doing the opposite, usually subtly, and usually in ways that make it harder for a primary caregiver to get ahead. Many people in positions of power seem to place a low value on child care in comparison with other outside activities. Consider the following proposition: An employer has two equally talented and productive employees. One trains for and runs marathons when he is not working. The other takes care of two children. What assumptions is the employer likely to make about the marathon runner? That he gets up in the dark every day and logs an hour or two running before even coming into the office, or drives himself to get out there even after a long day. That he is ferociously disciplined and willing to push himself through distraction, exhaustion, and days when nothing seems to go right in the service of a goal far in the distance. That he must manage his time exceptionally well to squeeze all of that in.
Be honest: Do you think the employer makes those same assumptions about the parent?
Above is a quote from Anne-Marie Slaughter’s long essay about women in the working world entitled “Why Women Can’t Have It All.” It’s an interesting read in its own right, but I selected this passage because it reminded me of the stark differences between Kate and Zoe’s situations in the beginning of the novel.
We start with the tension of Zoe waiting with her coach to go out and compete in the Olympics. We also meet Kate, who is watching (or trying to watch) her friend Zoe on TV with a baby on her hip, “ten pounds heavier than her racing weight,” and feeling a bit sorry for herself. Did she pick the right path, she asks herself? Her husband is there with Zoe competing, and despite his sensitivity to the situation on the phone in later pages, we see what’s happened here: the mother has sacrificed her career for the couple’s child.
Eventually Kate convinces herself that having and raising a child is a different, if not more potent, happiness, and thus restrains her self-pity. But what are we left to think? Has she accomplished less? Are Zoe and Jack seen by society as harder working? — Sam Schlinkert