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Bringing Home the Bacon vs. Bringing Up Baby:

Fresh Ideas on How to Cope with the Conflicting Demands of Career and Family







For every working woman—and particularly for those who aspire to major and implicitly very time-consuming careers—the balance between work and family is an issue that must be addressed and resolved. At its most basic level, this is about women having time available to devote to an important career. Historian Ruth Rosen observes, “American women have won the right to “have it all,” but only if they “did it all.”

Most women have children to care for.  Many have husbands and a household to run. At some point, working women also may have to assume at least some of the responsibilities for elderly or infirm parents or in-laws.  A common refrain among executive women and U.S. Senators alike is that they wish they had wives. Senator Patti Murray ( D-WA) says: “When I go home and there’s nothing in the refrigerator…I head for the supermarket. Nobody else is going to do it. Let’s face it. No matter how supportive, your husband is not usually the one who remembers to pick up the toilet paper.”


  • Take time off if that’s what works for your life. Take time to recharge. In the mid-1980s, the author had to cut back on business interests to oversee 3 shifts of full-time nurses for her mother, who had had a stroke and become wheelchair bound. After her death, a grueling time of business crises and a stressful time as caregiver, the author decided to take time off in San Miguel de Allende, to lie fallow and have some restorative time for herself - a much needed and beneficial decision.
  • Take time for your family when they need  it; go back when the need abates. Karen Hughes, the longtime powerful adviser to President Bush, resigned to spend more time with her family. Now, as Karen’s son goes off to college, President Bush has tapped her as “spin doctor” and ambassador under Condoleezza Rice to help improve the nation's standing abroad, particularly among Muslims. Brenda Barrens, new CEO of Sara Lee, was the most powerful woman in the consumer products industry, running Pepsi-Cola North America until 1997, when she quit to move home to Illinois to be a full-time mom. Now in her 50s, with her kids grown, “she's back.”
  • Find ways to outsource repetitive chores.  This is another way to value yourself and invest in yourself.  Lynda Obst, producer of such films as Sleepless in Seattle and Contact, made the conscious decision to invest in herself.  She spent almost everything she earned in her first working years on day-care and other services. Don’t drain your energy and creativity if there’s someone you can pay, who actually needs and will benefit from the money by doing it for you. My friend Norma did an informal survey at her media company and found that all the women who held powerful, executive jobs had their household and yard chores done for them.
  • Sometimes, balance can come by working with your family to build a business together. Liz Coker was a single mom with two kids, who earned her GED at night school and launched MINCO Technology Labs, a leader in providing highly reliable semiconductor devices to markets such as medical, military, and space electronics industry, and the primary source for semiconductor products—now a $20+ million company with $10 million in annual revenues. That’s a long way from August 17, 1981, the day that MINCO opened for business and the company consisted of a table, chair, telephone, a microscope, 2250 square feet of space, and only 4 employees.
  • Discuss with your family what is the best outcome for your family as a whole and  the best strategy to achieve it, and get everyone on board with the decision. Sometimes, couples opt to throw all their support behind the partner who has the opportunity for the biggest job. Hollace Davids, a senior vice-president at Universal Pictures and president of Women in Film (L.A.), says: "It's really helped that my husband works at home and is a supportive partner. He's the one who'd take the kids to the dentist, and during spring break, which is Academy Awards time, he'd take the kids on a vacation.”  Even more inspiring is the story of a career officer who was told the Air Force wanted to fast-track her for General. She and her husband (who was at the time a Colonel supervising more than 4000 employees at the Pentagon) agreed that he would  become “Mr. Mom” to their 2 sons, so his wife could move up the chain of command.

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