We all have dreams for our lives. Some of them are more realistic than others. When you were little, perhaps you wanted to be a fairy princess and a mom and an astronaut, all at the same time. As you got older, the combinations might have changed, but, generally, you still saw several interconnected roles in your future.
Years ago, though, women didn’t have as many choices, and some of those choices used the conjunction “or” rather than “and.” You could be a mother or a career woman. You could go to graduate school or get married. You could remain single or have children.
In the ensuing decades, as more choices became possible, the belief was that women would select many roles. They would want to “have it all.” “Have it all” meant they would find a partner, have two or three children, and pursue a professional career, or at least have a paying job. Added to this list might be supporting their partners’ careers, volunteering at their child’s school or at church or in the community, and helping aging parents. Few women could successfully fulfill all of these obligations, and certainly not at the same time.
Today cultural trends regarding marriage, motherhood, and work are changing. Women are getting married at later ages, and many women are choosing to remain single. Last year, 41% of births were to single women, and almost 71% of women with children under eighteen were in the labor force. Research further shows that the average woman takes only ten weeks off for childbirth before returning to work.
There have been some workplace advances that have helped women manage their multiple roles. The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 gave employees (both women and men) the right to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave for childbirth or adoption, or to provide care for a seriously ill relative. Some organizations offer flexible work schedules or the opportunity to work from home. These can be invaluable when trying to merge work and family commitments.
Before accepting a job or moving to a new company, explore options that are, or might become, relevant to your family situation in the future. Be sure you understand benefits related to having children. For example, family medical leave, which protects your job while you are out, only applies to employers with 50 or more employees and you must have worked for your employer at least 12 months. Ask about short term disability insurance which may help provide income when having a baby. Also check whether the health care insurance policy covers children, and, if so, at what cost. These will be important if and when you have children.
Also, check for workplace flexibility. Are there personal days available each year? Is it a “family friendly” organization?” Can you work from home if your child gets ill? What is their policy on snow days if schools close?
If you are interested in furthering your education, check to see if the employer has tuition reimbursement or if you can change your work schedule to accommodate a needed class. Ask about policies related to taking a loan from their 401k program if you have a family financial crisis or want to buy a home or send a child to college.
Most, if not all, of these topics should be covered in the employee handbook. It’s a good idea to ask for a copy before you formally accept a job.
Whether or not you “want it all,” you should still prepare for life’s changes and challenges. A lack of preparation may limit both your choices and those dreams you have.
Photo Credit: MIke Kllne