Nothing brings on unwanted advice like becoming a parent. From binkies to breastmilk, suddenly everyone is an expert, whether they have kids or not. And when it comes to the issue of whether to work or stay at home, the opposing sides are usually ready to take up arms against each other. Childrearing choices speak to our deepest convictions about gender identity, family, and the structure of work in America. Will daycare cultivate violent, needy children, incapable of intimacy? How can we structure a society where mothers have the same opportunities as fathers? And while we're figuring this all out, how should I live my life now?
Most people must make vocational decisions amid competing claims. A wider spectrum of people can actually choose how to spend their days than ever before. But making fundamental life decisions is a complex process and hugely contingent on individual personalities. Even successful and capable women like author Catherine Wallace find themselves "juggling cinderblocks," as she puts it, in the attempt to balance the pressures of work and family.
Wallace's story begins 20 years ago. She was then a newly tenured English professor who, having just given birth to twins, was also the mother of three asthmatic children under the age of two. Faced with the prospect of paying high fees for an R.N. who could deal with respiratory ailments and was willing to be a nanny—if such a person could be found—or dropping out of the academy, Wallace chose the latter. But she continued to keep her eyes wide open and her pen working as a freelance writer, requiring her to try every trick in the book—from working only during naps to daycare, from working part-time to overtime.
Regardless of her choices, she found, each action ...1
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