In late April, I posted a short note about “personal symbiosis,” the mutuality of our work and personal systems. This was weeks before Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece in the Atlantic that reminded women that having it all is nigh on impossible in our current culture of face-to-face meetings for us and summer breaks from school for our kids. A follow-up piece by Susan Chira shares her story of a run of success as the NY Times foreign editor, but reiterates “that we’ve made little progress toward building a society that supports working mothers.” She also wrote, in a sentence that jumped out at me, “Like Ms. Slaughter, I had a supportive husband.”
The universe of choices available to women like Chira and Slaughter is far more expansive than that available to me and the millions of other single parents in this country. I am not complaining about my lot, but pointing out that the social contract of marriage is part of the infrastructure that supported male success (remember this: “Behind every great man there is a great woman”) and makes the success of powerful women like Slaughter and Chira possible today. I chose not to continue in that contract. Sadly, in most states even that choice is not available to my many friends who love someone of their own sex.
As a single parent, I’ve made some difficult choices about how my work interacts with my personal life including what Slaughter calls a “planned descent.” The other day, my daughter asked, “Did you have to take a pay cut when you stepped down [from an administrative post to a faculty position]?” “Yes, a pretty big one,” I replied. “Do you regret it?” “Not at all,” I answered. She said, “Me neither.” That is what I call success.