Not Your Mother's Life: Changing the Rules of Work, Love, and Family


The next generation of women want a career and a life, but they don't know how to get both. Having watched the boomer generation, they know they don't want their options: sacrificing family life for high-powered careers or consigning themselves to the "mommy track." Not Your Mother's Life shows how today's young women are uniquely poised to reach out and take—or create—the work/life balance that proved so elusive for the boomers. The key, Peters argues, is for women to use their newfound economic power to choose ...

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The next generation of women want a career and a life, but they don't know how to get both. Having watched the boomer generation, they know they don't want their options: sacrificing family life for high-powered careers or consigning themselves to the "mommy track." Not Your Mother's Life shows how today's young women are uniquely poised to reach out and take—or create—the work/life balance that proved so elusive for the boomers. The key, Peters argues, is for women to use their newfound economic power to choose their lives instead of letting their lives choose them. Full of real-life examples of women who are doing it their own way, Not Your Mother's Life offers this new generation a vision of how to remake the work world according to their own needs—ultimately benefiting women and men.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Deftly chronicling the complexities, difficulties, and desires embedded in the territory of modern womanhood, Peters provides a sobering analysis of what it takes to achieve the balance so many of us envision in our future. While women today enjoy professional status that eluded previous generations, the reality is that personal lives and family are being sacrificed in the bargain. Stories from women recounting both success and failure reveal that the key to attaining a balanced and fulfilling life is to plan. Peters urges women to decide what they want and then create a life around that goal, rather than pursuing professional success with the assumption that personal happiness will just "happen" when the time is right. This fascinating book will inspire readers to apply a long-sighted vision to their lives, increasing the likelihood of reaching a harmonious balance
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With strategic planning and a few sacrifices, today's mothers can have it all, just not all at the same time, argues Peters (When Mothers Work). Because of their economic clout and knowledge gained from past generations' mistakes, contemporary young women are uniquely positioned, according to Peters, to achieve the balance of work and family that eluded their mothers and grandmothers. The keys to success are knowing what one wants, planning accordingly and avoiding the traps of a traditional marriage, in which the mother bears primary domestic and childcare responsibilities. Choices of college majors, careers, nurturing partners and even residence (close to family for child care) all affect the child-rearing experience. Real-life case studies are scattered throughout the book, showcasing a wide range of strategies. In some families, dad stays home; in others, mom chooses flextime or a less-prestigious but more family-friendly employer. A chapter on entrepreneurialism instructs women on how to strike out on their own; another titled "Understanding the Workplace 2000" teaches women and men to negotiate and redefine the workplace: its hours, pressures and benchmarks of success. Extensively researched and highly readable, this book offers a road map to a more balanced future for mothers, fathers and the children who will benefit from happier, more fulfilled parents. Agent, Susan Ginsburg. (May) Forecast: An entire generation of middle-class women faces the problem Peters discusses. Her optimistic and accessible book should have a wide appeal. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Peters (When Mothers Work: Loving Our Children Without Sacrificing Ourselves) believes that women today can and should buck the boomers' have-it-all superwoman mindset. Via her interviews, she did find some evidence that women are finding ways to achieve balance by "working smarter, not harder." One of Peters's most interesting points is that there seems to be a pre- and post-parenthood divide. Couples who were completely egalitarian before they had children somehow manage to slide into gender-role behavior norms afterward. Peters believes that this is because society rewards women for "mommy" behavior and sneers at men for helping out in the nursery. Although Peters covers many interesting subjects, she doesn't offer a real introduction and skips from topic to topic, leaving a lot of loose ends. Her intended audience isn't really clear either; she seems to be writing a political manifesto for the (as she admits) apolitical post-boomer generations. Public libraries with a large post-feminist clientele should consider. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780738206820
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 4/18/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 316
  • Sales rank: 1,376,100
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Joan K. Peters has written for the New York Times, Ms. Magazine, Family Life, Cosmopolitan, The Nation, and numerous other publications, and is the author of When Mothers Work. She lives in California with her husband and daughter.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"In Dreams Begin

I can start with a proposition or a story. But the story's more engaging, as stories tend to be. Besides, it foretells what's illustrated, tabulated, verified, and at times, expounded in the rest of the book.

    So let's cut to a real-life protagonist, one of several you'll meet along the way. She's a lawyer and the mother of a three-year-old. A heroine, but not the destined-for-success kind. More your average female college grad who muddles through her twenties, dating the wrong guys, unsure about what she's doing with her life (aside from paying back student loons). But one who gets a grip. She figured out who she was, what she wanted, and how best to get it in the light of workplace realities. Not so much acted upon as acting, changing the rules as much as playing by them—and thus, changing them for everyone. In other words, she planned her life well and is making a personal workplace revolution.

Carol Ann and Greg Kalish

That said, meet Carol Ann Kalish, a 36-year-old litigator at the most prestigious law firm in Sarasota, Florida, where she lives with her husband of ten years, Greg, a 45-year-old cardio-rehabilitation therapist. A year after she become a mother (at age 33), she described her life to me in an e-mail:

When my baby Benjamin was born, I took about 10 days off, then came back to the office part-time, working 5 a.m. to noon each day. Ben would come to the office with me, usually sleeping of course, until about 8 or 9 a.m. whenGreg or my mom would pick him up. This went on for about two months, then I came back to work full time. Now, Ben is with Greg two days a week, my mom three days, and Greg and me together two days. His care is a family effort and he is the happiest little guy I've ever seen. This works for us and for Ben.

    Although she didn't mention it, her mother-in-law later told me that her 36 colleagues volunteered to make one dinner each, which they delivered to the new parents' home during Ben's first month. Checking back with Carol Ann a year later, this time meeting her and Greg at a family gathering, I find the same profoundly satisfied mother, effective attorney, and happy family. On a later visit when Benjamin is three, there they were again, balanced as gymnasts on the beam, though far less strained.

    We meet at the house they bought four years back, a "Florida-cracker style house," they explain on my tour. It's old fashioned, in "a real neighborhood," like they wanted, small (two-bedroom) but with ample porches and a cypress-paneled dining room all decked out in Christmas greenery, tree and trim.

    Out back, maternal grandma Margaret (whom they pay $1000 a month for childcare) plays with Ben on his swing-set. He hurries over for parental kisses when we poke our heads out, then hurries back.

    Do you enjoy your work? I ask grandma casually, expecting a weary sigh. "I love it," she says flatly, "no more stress." Lucky for everyone, Carol Ann's mother retired the year Ben was born.

    Under the lazy noonday sun, Greg and Carol Ann look out of place in work clothes, but there they are: Carol Ann in her lawyer duds: a black pinstriped suit with an ankle-length skirt; Greg in aqua hospital scrubs. The two are a study in opposites: Carol Ann, a diminutive blonde all-American type with peachy skin and cropped hair and Greg, an immigrant hodgepodge (in looks, that is) of tawny Mediterranean tones, angular Greek cheekbones, and a prominent Native American nose.

    We head for the sunporch while Ben plays with Margaret and my own eight-year-old, whose school holiday meant an extra take-your-daughter-to-work day. We all put our feet up on the coffee table and meander through their lives.

    Their schedule's changed. Both work full time now, but they usually get home for lunch with Ben and Margaret. Greg works 35 hours a week so he's home more—though, as a serious athlete (he's done three triathlons), he's often out running, biking, or thrashing through ocean currents. Actually, I find out from neighbors that he's famous for running in his skimpy Speedo swimsuit so he can dive directly into the surf after covering five miles. Admiring ladies call him "the streaker."

    Although they both have that glowing, well-toned look of Sun Belt athletes, Carol Ann assures me she's not athletic at all. Outside of work, which keeps her at the office from 9 to 5-ish, she does community work with "Lawyers for Literacy" or the local chapter of the American Cancer Society. Later in the week, in fact, Greg's going to play Santa at Carol Ann's "Young Lawyers Xmas in July" program.

    "You have time for this?" I inquire. She tells me her firm gives the attorneys credits for 15 hours of charity work a week so it's not so hard to fit in.

    Sure, I'm thinking: ideal people, ideal community, ideal law firm. And they all found each other. What about ordinary mortals slaving away 24/7, arguing with our spouses about who's making dinner, and never having time to go to the gym or play Santa. Well, it turns out, the rest of us may not have planned as carefully.

    Part of the charm of Carol Ann and Greg's life is the ease with which they live it. But daily ease doesn't mean their life was easy to create. Living Carol Ann's version of work/life balance takes a great deal. Most notably,

• a willing grandmother living close by,
• a willing husband with a flexible schedule,
• a willing employer who offers flexibility and part-time options;
• an energy level to perform demanding office work on a few hours sleep despite nursing Ben at night;
• a mellow, healthy baby;
• and a second set of adoring grandparents living close by.

    Carol Ann is lucky. But she also lined her ducks in a row before plunging into her future. She made some clear decisions, such as living near her mother, whom she knew would help. She married a man who never put his work above hers. She chose an employer whose stated priority, after excellence, is "family comes first." All three are choices that require the courage to buck substantial social pressure.

     A lot of high achievers Carol Ann's age live far from their families, leaving home in order to strike out on their own and go to "the best" school they can get into or take "the best" job offer, wherever it may be. Carol Ann was very tempted to do the same. After graduating from the University of South Florida at Tampa, she came close to choosing one of the great law schools. As she tells it, "My L.S.A.T.'s were so high that I got courted by everyone. I felt a sort of intestinal pressure to go somewhere important. But I just didn't. I stayed local instead. With hindsight, it was the best decision I could have made."

    It may have helped that Carol Ann took plenty of time to make the decision. After college, she worked for three years as an assistant buyer for a local department store before settling on law school. Her conscious motive was to save money, an excellent strategy in itself. But as you'll see from a lot of the real-life stories that follow, people who take a break to think about what they're doing with their lives often get a better perspective on crucial decisions. In Carol Ann's case, she realized how much she liked her hometown, and what an advantage it was to have deep roots in a place. Alone in her early twenties, she also understood the value of a supportive family nearby and friends from as far back as fourth grade. Having grown up relatively poor, she wanted the opportunity to enjoy Sarasota's middle-class pleasures and to participate in the community at a leadership level. She chose law because of the community's ready acceptance of lawyers as leaders.

    In the planning department, Carol Ann had learned the hard way. Her father, who died when she was ten, was a successful lawyer. But because he had made no provision for his family, his early death plunged them from the middle class to a much humbler existence. With barely restrained emotion, Carol Ann said, "I learned that you don't do that to yourself or others."

     When she finally graduated from Stetson Law School in St. Petersburg, chosen because she knew she wanted to practice locally and because she could commute to live with Greg in Sarasota, she faced another great temptation: a job in a big Atlanta firm where she could easily have gotten a starting salary of $70,000 instead of $50,000 in Sarasota. The bigger offer was particularly appealing because she had $82,000 in school debt. Also, as she explains, "law school is so competitive, kids take the `plum' job because it's the prize, not because it's what they want to do or at a law firm they like." But when she interviewed for those plum jobs, she found herself uncomfortable with the high pressure and the competitive atmosphere. She knew that the young associates worked night and day, which she didn't want, particularly because she'd just married Greg.

    Then she interviewed at Williams, Parker, Harrison, Dietz and Getzen in Sarasota and loved it. "They were collegial, not competitive. They were interested in me as a person, not just as a lawyer. They told me that a lot of firms will give you a Disneyland clerkship, taking you drinking and dining every night, but you have to wonder, where are their spouses while they're out till all hours? They said, we don't do that. Family comes first here. Everyone goes home at night. Once a year, the whole firm goes on a family weekend."

    Being a smart cookie, Carol Ann didn't believe them so she drove by the parking lot on Saturday morning: an excellent strategy, and a good outcome. The lot was empty. It would be well worth the forfeit of $20,000, in her estimation.

    Seven years later, Carol Ann can say the firm is what it seemed. They really do grow young attorneys. They don't want anyone to burn out. They want all of the associates to make partner, which is rare elsewhere. Usually two-thirds drop out or don't make it, she tells me. That's why other law firms are so much more competitive.

    She was the first woman in the litigation department, but her mentor helped and listened: "I was comfortable revealing my insecurities and asking for direction. He was generous and reasonable. Later, when I was pregnant and told the senior partners I was going to work from 5:00 A.M. to noon and bring the baby to the office, they said, `fine.' They trusted me as an attorney and simply went with my plan."

    And why shouldn't they? "It's not like there's a law that workplaces have to be a certain way," asserts Carol Ann. "Some are, the largest, maybe, but in many others you can go in, find a like-minded mentor who believes in a decent work ethic, and help to make the office reflect your beliefs. Most lawyers leave the field instead of trying to change it."

    Carol Ann is now the lead outside counsel for the firm's premier client, an important Sarasota hospital. It's a very demanding job, but she's got it under control: "I think about my job all the time. Inspiration for strategies can come in the shower or at lunch. It's a career, not a job. But I'm honest about what I can deliver. I do excellent work, but I won't be on call after hours or on weekends." She has also never worked on a case in which she felt the hospital wasn't right, nor would she be pressured to; they all respect her judgment. As for the money, Carol Ann now earns $100,000 instead of the $150,000-$175,000 she'd be pulling down in Atlanta—with no regrets on her part. And she was just made a shareholder.

    She told me about a new recruit from the University of Virginia Law School who accepted a job at her firm (over the more "plum" possibilities), explaining her choice to Carol Ann by saying, "I don't want to always be trying to get somewhere. I want to love where I am."

    When I visit the law offices, I can see why a new recruit would love WPHD&G (as they call it). Despite it's staid colonial exterior, thickly carpeted hush corridors, and formal Ethan Allen furniture, the firm is filled with friendly people, all of whom come to meet me, to be interviewed, or just to tell me something I might not know about Carol Ann.

    Carol Ann introduces me to the senior partner, the man responsible for setting the tone, explaining that he had custody of small children while he went to law school, so he really understood the importance of family. I meet another partner who took a month off when he and his wife adopted a child. "Now, he does mornings with his son Henry," Carol Ann whispers. I meet Susan, a very pregnant tax attorney (wearing one of Carol Ann's hand-me-down velvet-trimmed silk maternity suits), who is planning to take six weeks off, then work from home for a while. Susan says that the senior partners told her to wait and see how much she can do so she won't feel pressure. "If I'm less productive, they'll adjust my salary. They won't penalize me professionally."

    The firm is "reasonable," Carol Ann says, but Carol Ann also scouted for work within it that helps her to maintain a work/life balance. Though it can be different in big cities, in Sarasota litigation gives her more control over her time than standard transactional work would. Here the courts have established rules for how long lawyers can take to do things; they create clear deadlines. However, she still has a big say over trial dates. In her view, attorneys who work with big business clients seem to have hysterical deadlines when they're closing a deal. It's very hectic because the clients choose the dates and drive the work. Again, Carol Ann designed her life thoughtfully.

    Her most thoughtful decision, though, may have been her choice of a husband. An awful lot of women find security in marrying someone more ambitious or higher salaried than themselves. It's what feels "normal" and is all too often encouraged by parents who often still ask their daughters, "how will he support you?"

    Before she met Greg Carol Ann lived with a successful broker. "He was everything I wanted—on paper. It was the go-go '80s. He was doing great. But in reality, he was a mean-spirited person with very little self-confidence, a disappointment to his dad, who expected him to be a billionaire. He was all work, with no real life. I think I realized all this when he never even visited my dying grandfather, whom I was very, very close to."

    On her first date with Greg, she saw what she really valued:

We were caught in a rainstorm so we went to his house and I was charmed. It was a real home, with Mexican tiles and plants and pictures of people in his life: family, friends, himself with three basset hound puppies, him on a dive. I saw he had passions, he wasn't waiting for someone to give them to him. When I got to know him, I saw that he wasn't running around with his hair on fire trying to accomplish. He was living his life. That, to me, was so appealing. I liked that he talked about people lovingly and with respect. I felt I could learn from him to put life first. He was living in a way I really admired.

    As Greg is quick to point out, he "makes as much in a day as Carol Ann spends on panty hose." But work was never the center of Greg's life. He thought a lot about finding work he genuinely loved, but he earned money just to "go on his next dive." Graduating from Michigan State in fine arts, he took a graduate degree in therapeutic recreation. "I loved art, but working so introspectively, in isolation, was not for me. I was also very athletic and enjoyed helping people, so I decided on physical therapy."

    Eventually, he found cardio-rehabilitation, which was very satisfying to him. In six weeks, he'd see post-op bypass patients transformed. "I could really help them to live healthier lives."

    Greg liked how intimate the job was, how well he got to know his clients. Now he monitors patients on pacemakers, a job with less of the patient contact that he likes so much. But he works closer to home and has less rigid hours so that he can be more available in Ben's early years.

    There's not a lot of money in the helping professions. And though he wishes it were otherwise, it's something he can live with in order to do what he likes. "It doesn't bother me that Carol Ann makes more money than I do. It bothers me that I don't make more money doing the work I do. I make less than anyone I know, anyone I went to school with."

    Does he regret his choice? Was this a bad life design?

    "I have my moments," Greg says, "but I'm comfortable with my choice. I enjoy the hell out of my life."

    I was thinking that Greg must take it on the chin from men who make so much more than he does. But when I ask them how men react to Greg, Carol Ann blurts out, "They're fascinated by him. Everyone talks about `the Greg and Ben' show. It's Greg with Ben at the store, at the park, at a playdate. The other cookie-cutter men envy Greg's relationship with Ben. They tell him, `I wish I could do that,' meaning take off early and go to the beach with their children, have lunch, stroll around town as a dad."

    I wonder if Carol Ann isn't playing the cheerleader here. Especially when Greg adds that it's hard to find friends who are like him. "Other guys here like to play golf or watch football. They sometimes treat me like I'm gay because I cook and take care of my son. But I have my family. I swim. I run. That's enough." In fact, Greg has more friends than he acknowledges, as I learn when one of the attorneys in Carol Ann's office introduces himself to me as Greg's "best friend." And some genuine admiration. The husband of Susan (the very pregnant tax attorney), a builder, is so taken with Greg's lifestyle he's modeling his parenthood on him.

    People tell Carol Ann how lucky she is that Greg's such a great father, but both of them know it wasn't luck. Some men—some people—are naturally great with small children. But great parents are mostly made, not born. Greg was quite fearful of fatherhood and unusually honest about it. "I never liked babies or kids. I had no experience. The only reason I agreed to have one was that I thought I should have this experience before I died. But we were very close to never having children."

    Nor did he take to fatherhood immediately. "Infancy horrified me. I remember thinking, this is as close as I'll get to being air-dropped into Vietnam. There I was with this screaming, pooping larvae. I couldn't relate."

    But unlike many men (who may suddenly have an awful lot of office work to do), he persevered because he'd agreed to, and he "tag teamed" with Carol Ann, taking care of Ben when she wasn't. "I got to be alone with Ben. Carol Ann totally ceded him to me on my days. She never criticized me. We each took turns, doing what had to be done."

    Then Ben smiled. "I remember the day. That's when I knew he was actually a little person and that's when I bonded. I never thought I'd have those feelings. Now it's as if I'm seeing life through a child's eyes and getting so much insight into my own childhood. I never felt so loved by anyone, or have loved so much."

    If any two people have been true to their dreams, it's Greg and Carol Ann, and it shows in their happiness. Neither regrets their major choices. Neither feels stuck, or as if life's been unfair or they've had to give up too much. They have lives, not just livelihoods. But we can't forget how much they each sacrificed for their dreams. Greg relinquished standard male salary and status, for which he's paid a price. Though not the price men fear they'll pay: rejection by women (he's always had great girlfriends) and derision from other men. She's given up the big-city fast track and the role of big-status breadwinner.

    However, that's them. As much as we may admire how Carol Ann and Greg designed their lives, as much as we all know we should be true to our dreams, it's hard to do. And yet this is the first generation in which both women and men really can design their lives—and should if they want to work and also have a life.

Renaming Gen XY, Claiming Its Powers

In combining the polar opposites of dreams and responsibilities, poet Delmore Schwartz' mysterious phrase, "in dreams begin responsibilities," conveys what we all, deep down, suspect: If we don't take responsibility for our dreams, we betray them, and ourselves. We know we're our own worst enemies in the dream department. Especially women.

    Most Y Gen women coming of age in this new millennium, as well as the so-called Gen X'ers between the ages of 25 and 45, do dream what women have rarely dared to before: of having rich work and personal lives. Just as unprecedented, they have a good shot at getting both if they design their lives thoughtfully. But there's much more to life-design than individual happiness, not that I'm knocking individual happiness. There's potential for a cultural revolution here. Think of it this way: the cumulative effect of each woman creating a balanced life (by demanding decent work hours and flexibility and insisting spouses do the same) will restore a sane work ethic to America's current obsession with ever-greater productivity.

    What makes this sound more pipe dream than possibility is that no one's yet stated the obvious loudly enough: Women who are now of childbearing age are the first generation with the training needed to compete at every level in the market place. They are the first to create predominantly dual-income marriages—more than 30 million, compared to 11 million with a male earner only. They are also the first to live rich (no pun intended) lives as singles, more than half of whom own their own homes. Single women not only dominate the formerly male home renovation market, they dominate other formerly male upscale markets, such as adventure travel.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
First Thoughts xi
"In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" 1
Generation XX: No More Business as Usual 21
Reality Bites 39
Rethinking Modern Romance 59
Designing a Life: Finding a Direction/Choosing Work 83
Understanding the Workplace 2000 107
If You're Considering Medicine, Business, or Law 129
Striking Out on Your Own: The Entrepreneur 161
Work And Family: If You're Thinking of Kids (And Most of You
Are) 183
New Rules, New Parents, New Choices 217
No Woman Is An Island 245
Notes 267
Bibliography 287
Index 299
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