Welcome Brazen Careerist Readers
Just when we felt the blogosphere was quieting down about the NY Times Magazine article, up pops career blogger/columnist Penelope Trunk with a classic attack post today. It is designed to provoke, in Penelope's standard fashion. And the odd thing about it (well, really not so odd because this is how she works, in her brilliant way) is that she ends up half supporting what she starts out to detest - equally shared parenting.
But first, a disclaimer: We've emailed back and forth with Penelope a few times over the past 2 years, and she had been genuinely helpful and fully supportive when we were just starting this website and trying to widen our readership. She seemed super nice and fun, to use her own words.
However, we can't pass up the opportunity to shed new light on some of her attacks:
1. Shared care (the term she uses for ESP) shields people from the reality that their careers are not great.
What she means is that you can't gun for a top management position, competing in the very top of your field, and practice ESP. We agree with you here, Penelope. But who cares? Some people do - those who narrowly define a career as one that can only be accomplished at fever pitch. The odd thing is that we have perfectly appealing careers ourselves, and Penelope might even coach others on how to land positions with titles like ours. But she is defining 'great' by time rather than effort. Jobs that overtake one's life and boost one's ego with big accomplishments are not what Penelope herself says that Gen X/Y want - she says they want balanced lives instead. In which case, they would probably say 'amen' to her definition of 'not so great' careers.
Maybe the best answer to her point about 'not so great' careers is a quote from Penelope herself. This one is from her blog two weeks ago on June 27, 2008: "I know that people who are workaholics are scared of two things: Not being great at work, and having to face an empty personal life. And I'm worried about both." Perhaps high-power careers shield people from the reality that their personal lives are not great. Just a thought.
2. You need a lot of money to do shared care.
This myth has been floating around for a long time - it's one of our top naysayer comments. Penelope adds to it by saying that you need to have family nearby if you're going to do ESP because they will have to bail you out. Huh? Family help is not a part of our lives except on rare occasions; Amy's family lives in the Midwest and mine is in-state but a long car-ride away. In fact, we can't think of another ESP couple (and we know many) that relies on family care.
The money issue is solved by doing the math. Two parents who work reduced hours can result in two decent paychecks (more than the single paycheck awarded to a sole-breadwinner household) and a big reduction in outside childcare costs (remember, we don't use grandma for childcare). Two paychecks also insulate a family against layoffs. But more importantly, take a look at who elects to practice ESP - not the rich, but those who value time over money. In fact, I have a theory that 'lots of money' would be a huge deterent to ESP - not too many high powered, wealthy people are inclined to chuck it all to reduce their hours and be with their families. The irony is that those who could most easily afford not to work at all are those who could not possibly think about cutting back to value something other than accomplishment and yet more wealth gathering.
3. Shared care kills two careers.
Here, Penelope says neither parent can have a decent career when both cut back to do ESP. Again, if you define a viable career as top-of-the-heap, mucho bucks, this may be true. But the very people who aspire to ESP do NOT aspire to these careers. They would stifle them. Penelope highlights Dylan Tweney (a nice guy who has been very supportive of this website) as someone who tried ESP but found he wasn't able to grow his freelance business while 'working 4 hours a day.' Who says anything about 4 hours a day? We work 32 hours a week - hardly 4 hours a day. Many people would be thrilled to have careers like those of many ESP couples we know. Yes, it may be hard to land jobs that allow perfect ESP schedules in today's business world, but it is not impossible - and if you want something bad enough, it is worth the effort. Gen X/Y are demanding flexible jobs and more time with family, which means that these possibilities will likely open up tremendously in the near future. And traditional marriages with a stay-at-home spouse kill one career for sure (at least temporarily); if that's what both partners want, hurray, but if it is not....
Another quote from Penelope in a blog post from August 18, 2007: "So if you're considering taking a job that requires long hours so that you can make a load of money, don't do it...consider seriously the idea of making more time for yourself by agreeing to earn less money."
4. Shared care requires an unlikely match of personalities in a marriage.
The argument here is that two caretaking personalities don't fall for each other, and ESP requires two caretaking personalities to marry and have kids. Penelope admits to no data to back up her theory, so I'll throw a harebrained theory of my own up here. Our culture has conditioned men to marry down and women to marry up for a long, long time. Therefore, most couples position the man to succeed outside the home and woman to take care of the home so he can. That's not to say every woman is happy about this and every man loves being burdened with primary breadwinning. ESP is a way for both partners to have balanced lives, something that Penelope has pointed to again and again in past blog posts as a deep desire of Gen X/Y couples - both men and women.
Here's a quote from Penelope in her blog on March 18, 2007: "Today men and women have shared goals: More time for family and friends, and more respect for personal growth at work for everyone, not just the high-ranking or the hardest-working. We are at a shift. The majority of men under thirty say they are willing to give up pay and power to spend time with kids."
5. Shared care caters only to detail-oriented types.
Arghh. The old color-coded charts argument again. I'm about the least detail-oriented guy you can dig up. I hate structure and planning and checklists. Amy loves them. But we still manage to co-manage our home and co-parent our kids. ESP means you have to talk about how you're going to divide things initially, and then periodically check in with each other, because you and your spouse are a team. In exchange for this level of communication in my marriage, I get to have my own home - from how it is run to how it is furnished - reflect me (not just Amy), and that feels authentic.
The bottom line is that Penelope tried what she says was shared care in her own marriage (she's currently divorcing) and didn't like it. Her personal ESP description seems a lot more like reverse-traditional than ESP, however, so I'd be curious to know more. But I don't need to either. ESP is not, and never will be, the right family model for everyone. It is perfect for me and Amy, perfect for many other couples we know, and perfect for many couples who might not even know it is possible.
At the end of her blog attack, Penelope admits that ESP is one of the ways Generation X is expressing their desire to put parenting before anything else (meaning careers). Yes, well perhaps. I'd say parenting and balanced lives.