This weekend, I sat next to another mother at a birthday party and, trying to not talk about Friday’s shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school, asked her how her job at the law firm was going.
She said she was at a crossroads. She had been debating whether to continue on partner track or to step back from her career while her boys were young. Considering the question for a while, she said these past days had convinced her to leave the firm.
The subtext: Newtown.
That’s the name of the small town where 20 children and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary school by a gunman who first killed his mother at home.
The evening before the birthday party, over dinner with friends, two working fathers talked about how they had heard about the school shootings while away from home on business travel. Both said they immediately wanted to fly home. They agreed they now want to cut back on travel in general.
The “now” really meaning “after Newtown.”
Another father I know usually stops by his office for a few hours every weekend. This past weekend, he later told me, he instead immersed himself in play with his “munchkins.” He never did find time to drive to the office.
Much of the country this week is rightly focused on gun violence, wondering if the shootings will finally bring us to the tipping point where we enact rational gun control legislation.
Newtown could also become a tipping point of another sort for some working parents. It might cause us, if not collectively, perhaps individually, to do more than examine the clash between American careerism and child-rearing.
Tipping points, we know, only appear after mounting pressure. Newtown is the worst of too many school shootings that have shaken every parent’s sense of security. It also comes just after the shocking nanny killings in New York City, after which more than one parent of a young child contemplated leaving a job altogether.
And, it comes on top of a glut of essays examining the ability to “have it all,” from the Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic cover story to Sheryl Sandberg’s viral speeches to Marissa Mayer’s minuscule maternity leave.
This year more than ever, we’ve been talking around the edges of how our culture is inherently flawed in its dismissal of working parents’ needs.
Much of the attention is focused on three intersecting trends: More women are joining and excelling in the workforce; more men want and are expected to share parenting responsibilities; and Americans are delaying childbirth, so they are having kids just as their careers become most demanding.
Up until now, the proposed solutions have mostly remained just that, proposed.
They remained “shoulds.” We should demand more workplace flexibility. Legislators should enact more supportive leave policies.
Add the renewed fear of violence, however, and more parents might consider making a personal change while they wait for general work-life-balance reform, an issue that has gotten even less political traction that gun control.
It’s difficult to quantify how many singular decisions to leave the office early, bail out of travel duty or change career tracks based on the Newtown tragedy are merely short-term reactions.
Still, it’s worth considering if Newtown, in terms of workplace reform, will lead to “meaningful action.”
What’s been your reaction to Newtown in terms of family priorities? Has it changed your perspective on work-life balance?