“What do you think Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama mean for working moms?” I’ve been asked that question more times than I can count over the past few weeks. Reading Anne Applebaum’s OpEd in The Washington Post entitled “The Class of ’64,” confirmed my hunch that, ultimately, the most important aspect of both Sarah Palin’s and Michelle Obama’s impact will be a subtle yet powerful shift away from the “balance” mindset and the “all or nothing” work life dichotomy that drew the battle lines of the unwinnable mommy wars. They have the power to usher in the post-balance era of countless work life fit choices based upon our unique work and personal realities, and finally begin a productive discussion about the way work is done, life is managed, and business operates.
In her OpEd, Applebaum writes, “Here is a woman (Michelle Obama) who actually chose to present herself as simultaneously intelligent, ambitious and maternal…No less intelligent, ambitious and maternal than Michelle Obama, equally civic-minded and physically fit, (Palin) is the perfect illustration, in the words of Slate blogger Meghan O’Rourke, of the fact that the notion of a clearly defined, right-left/red-blue cultural war has become deeply misleading, since “the categories aren’t as tidy as they’re made out to be,”especially for women. Is it “right wing” or “left wing” that Palin went back to work the day after having a baby? Is it “feminist” or “conservative” to defend one’s daughter’s right to get pregnant before being married? There aren’t good answers — just as it isn’t easy to say whether Obama’s presentation of herself as both happily married and professionally successful was a “red” or “blue” piece of political theater.”
It turns out that Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, Anne Applebaum and I have something in common—we were all born in 1964. As Applebaum so eloquently points out, our experiences make it difficult to put our individual work+life choices neatly into any particular category. And it’s been interesting to watch our culture uncomfortably struggle with how to explain and judge that work+life ambiguity over the past few weeks.
In this election, our generation of moms is front and center for the first time. And we are showing the world that there isn’t a “right,” or “all or nothing” solution to the question of how you combine your work with the other parts of your life. It’s about what works for each of us, our families, and our jobs. I believe this post-balance mindset shift will help everyone, not just moms, because it reflects reality.
As Michelle and Sarah prove, every woman (and man) must create a work+life fit that works for them personally and for their jobs. The primary question becomes “How is he or she performing on the job?” instead of “How does she do it?” While it can be helpful to get tips and insights from someone else’s work+life fit, it is impossible to judge their choices. For example, how would you define my work+life fit? I am a mom who works full-time as the CEO of a company that I operate out of an office in my home. This means when I am not traveling or at a client’s, I am in my house. Am I a stay-at-home mom, or a working mom? In fact, it doesn’t matter.
As we move past the “all or nothing,” “right or wrong” work life balance debate of the past decade, now we can hopefully focus on increasing the amount of work life flexibility on the job, and take action on the issues of portable health care and pensions, paid sick and dependent care leave, and child care and eldercare. Because in a post-balance era these are strategies and supports we all need to manage our ever-changing, unique work+life fit throughout our lives and careers.
Do you think the work life fit choices of Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama have moved us into the post-balance era?