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You Can’t Have It All Until School Is Year Round

During the summer of 2012, Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter thoughtfully presented an argument that our generation of moms has known since the day our first child was born – Women Can’t Have It All at least not the “all” contemplated by our Mom’s generation who fought so hard for entry to law, medical and business careers. Even though our parents and the many female ‘firsts’ we watched during our youth told us otherwise, we knew all along that finding career and family balance would be elusive.  Why?

Foremost, few structural changes occurred in our communities to adjust for the reality of two-working parents (a financial necessity for most).  In her popular piece, “Why Women Can’t Have It All”, Slaughter quotes her former assistant saying, “You know what would help the vast majority of women with work/family balance? MAKE SCHOOL SCHEDULES MATCH WORK SCHEDULES.”  It is a small point about the absence of substantive changes in the lengthy piece but, having spent hours coordinating and funding after school and summer child care myself, this sentence struck a chord.   For women who earn salaries at the median levels (or lower), this adjustment would be life-changing.

At first, the notion of altering the beloved summer/3pm school schedule seems sacrilegious, un-American even and yet the schedule does not work for children or parents.  Summer vacation and the 3pm school dismissal are deeply rooted in our culture but it wasn’t always this way.  Slaughter’s article caused me to look for answers – does our school schedule reflect our agrarian heritage when children needed to be available to harvest and work on the farm? No, actually. Here some facts:

-         America has not always operated on the 3pm / summer vacation schedule.

-         The summer vacation was set aside to allow the rich to retreat to summer homes and reflect a time when moms and children could be sent on vacation for a period of time.**

**In 1840, most large cities supported a yearlong school schedule with a 3-week break in the summer.   However, around 1889 a growing elite class in New York wished to escape the summer heat and encouraged schools to extend the vacation to 2 months for children to ‘rest their minds’.**

-         American students attend school fewer days than most European,  Asian or South American children.

-         In fiscal year 2007, Alabama spent over $209 million to support after-school care programs in the state.   In 2009, 27% of Alabama children (approximately 217k) took care of themselves after school and only 21% were enrolled in any type of summer learning courses.  (Source: America after 3pm)

School schedule aside, Slaughter goes on to highlight a moms’ difficulty choosing work over children – a topic that deserves its own post.  She says the following:

When I described the choice between my children and my job to Senator Jeanne Shaheen, she said exactly what I felt: “There’s really no choice.” She wasn’t referring to social expectations, but to a maternal imperative felt so deeply that the “choice” is reflexive.

Thus, when the school-day ends and our caregiver does not show or our child is struggling with the after-care program, we go.  We take that precious sick-leave or vacation time perhaps even downgrading our pay grade and work schedule to accommodate this flexibility all the while wondering about the women around us – Does She Have It ALL?

You can hear Dr. Anne Marie Slaughter in Birmingham on February 27th at the MOMENTUM Leadership conference.  For ticket information visit, the MOMENTUM Conference website.