There Is Not a Legislative Fix for Every Work-Life Balance Problem

What Women Really Think
July 18 2013 2:45 PM

There Is Not a Legislative Fix for Every Work-Life Balance Problem

The decision to stay home with your child does not always have to do with gender.

Photo by Adam Berry

In The Nation, Ashley Nelson laments her choice to quit a full-time job when she had kids. It doesn’t sound like she ever stepped back completely—she mentions freelance income and hiring a sitter—but her career certainly took second place to her then-husband’s, as her family moved several times for his jobs, eventually overseas. When they got divorced, she realized how economically vulnerable she was and now wishes she had done things differently.

Nelson frames this as a women’s issue, which I think is a mistake. Certainly the gender wage gap exists, and mothers are penalized in the workplace more than fathers are, but the fact is that the lower-earning spouse in any relationship with children—regardless of gender—is more vulnerable. The assumption that women always earn less is becoming more and more antiquated, as we read reports of breadwinning women on the rise. Nelson also says she doesn’t blame women who “leave work because they are tired of spending their entire paycheck on childcare.” But as I’ve pointed out before, a husband and wife are both in need of child care—why should a woman frame it as her expense alone?


The second, more complicated issue Nelson addresses is that parenting young children is very difficult to do in America because of the cost of child care and the lack of paid leave, not to mention the expectations on workers. If I had a full-time, nonflexible job, our child care costs would go up a great deal, and I would not see my daughter during the week, since she sleeps from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. In families that don’t have the pooled money to outsource child care, cleaning, and cooking, it is much more efficient for one person—again, regardless of gender—to work fewer hours if it’s possible.

Nelson believes that there are legislative fixes, like giving parents the right to ask for a flexible work schedule, that will make it easier for women to re-enter the workplace after leaving and help prevent them from leaving in the first place. I’m all for that. But even if those things were in place, lots of people are going to make career choices for a spouse or to step back from work a bit to do some caretaking, which will make them more vulnerable. There’s nothing innately wrong with that, and preparing for a divorce isn’t something that can be legislated. 

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.



The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The Supreme Court, Throughout Its History, Has Been a Massive Disappointment

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 5:19 PM Social Outcasts Republican candidates are retreating from debates on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception.
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 5:47 PM California Gov. Vetoes Bill Requiring Warrant for Police Surveillance Drones
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.