David Brooks Discovers the Wheel!
Look what I found! It's round! It can make vehicles move!
Okay, maybe I'm being a little snide. And maybe I should just be grateful that any male commentator is discussing the challenges inherent in raising a family and having a career. (After all, we could be treated to another of Caitlin Flanagan's "I'm a wife and mommy and I've never wanted a career -- except for that gig at the New Yorker and please don't talk about my full-time nanny" diatribes.) But still, I couldn't help but greet Brook's column with a great big DUH. Allison does a terrific job of taking on the various implications of his fundamental point, so I'm not going to bother replicating her analysis.
Here's the thing. Let's say I had done what Mr. Brooks suggests. Let's say I had taken the following advice:
it might make more sense to go to college, make a greater effort to marry early and have children. Then, if she, rather than her spouse, wants to stay home, she could raise children from age 25 to 35. Then at 35 (now that she knows herself better) she could select a flexible graduate program specifically designed for parents. Then she could work in one uninterrupted stint from, say, 40 to 70.
What would my life be like now? Well, I'd be married to a very pleasant albeit, er, simple Israeli who, like my father, is missing the communication gene. I'd be wretchedly unhappy, as would he. I'd not only be wearing my bathrobe at noon on Sunday, I'd be living in the goddamn thing, because I would never be able to motivate myself to dress for the misery that my life had become. See, the big ol' problem with Mr. Brooks argument is that for the vast majority of us, marrying the person we are stupid enough to be dating at, say 23 (because shouldn't we be married for at least a year before getting knocked up?), would be a catastrophic mistake. And let's not even talk about your average 23-year-old American man, and how ready he is for marriage at that age. The whole idea makes me shudder. But wait, is Mr. Brooks saying that 23-year-old women should marry 40-year-old men? Is that the whole point of this column?
The truth is I actually do think we need to rethink the way we sequence careers. I always say that your profession can't be like a train that you get on at the bottom of the hill, ride for 40 years, and then get off at the top. We need to make room in our understanding of what constitutes a career for stopping and starting, changing trains, etc. Many women (and some men) are doing that. It's just that the employment world forces each individual to (if you will) reinvent the wheel. And they are almost always penalized for their choices.