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NYT Publishes My Letter to the Editor on Balancing Work/Home Life

Written in response to this article about how women struggle to balance their spouse/parent/household manager/career roles.

A lot of my students and coaching clients (and not just the women) are in this predicament. They blame themselves for being underachievers, when what they should be doing is congratulating themselves on their ability to multitask and meet multiple difficult responsibilities.

Underachieving in your career is a problem that can be at least partly corrected using the techniques outlined in The Lifelong Activist. But only partly - the NYT article does a good job of explaining how a lot of blame should go to society. “The real challenge is, companies expect you to perform as if someone is at home taking care of everything for you,” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. “Some men are better positioned to deal with these corporate demands, because they do have someone at home. Most women don’t.”

The NYT editors edited my letter somewhat, but the gist is intact. I am particularly pleased that they published it, because it might help some people who are struggling under guilt and shame see that, in reality, they are coping (often, not badly) with a difficult time bind, and if they have sacrificed some of their professional success, it was to the good cause of being responsible parents, partners, citizens and homemakers.

The letter:

August 18, 2007
To the Editor:

Re “Wedded to Work, and in Dire Need of a Wife” (Business Day, Aug. 11):

As a career coach, I regularly have to remind my women clients that the reason they might not be as far ahead in their careers as they would like is that they are also busy raising kids, taking care of elderly parents and running a home.

The reality is that the traditional mom and housewife role is so time- and energy-consuming that even doing half of it (assuming the husband or others help out) can still derail a career.

In my work, the topic of perfectionist housekeeping — encouraged by our consumerist, perfectionist society — still draws the biggest emotional response. And I am still astonished about the number of women in their 30s, 40s and beyond who care about what their mothers or sisters think of their housekeeping.

I tell my clients that you can either have a meticulously cleaned house, home-cooked meals and so on, or live your dream. Either path is honorable, but they are probably mutually exclusive.

For most people, the more likely choice to long-term happiness is to leave the rug unvacuumed another week and work on their dream.

Hillary Rettig
Boston, Aug. 12, 2007

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