Suzanne's Reviews > Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family

Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter
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When I told a friend I was reading this book, she said "That's the kind of book where I just read the magazine article about it instead." And I think Slaughter would have been better served if she had written a series of high profile articles instead of a book as it felt like she was trying to boil an ocean by covering so many different aspects of the challenges in work/life balance (or as she prefers to call it "work/life fit").

I think she makes excellent arguments on how we need to value the work of caring more as a society. It's not just caring of our children, it's also care for aging parents. With most households needing two income-earning parents, many families now have to outsource the care of these two crucial age groups, and we're doing everyone a disservice with the low pay that carers earn.

She also makes some interesting points about language. For example, if one parent can focus full-time on care, then she recommends not calling them a stay-at-home Dad or Mom. Think about terms like "lead parent," or "anchor parent" (but I draw the line at her suggestion of "full-time parent" as just because I'm at work doesn't mean I've suddenly stopped being a mother).

Where I have the biggest divergence from Slaughter is on her exhortation for people to plan ahead for every potential challenge:

"If you want a life in which you can experience the joys and rewards of both a successful career and a loving family, you must plan ahead. As early as possible, you should try to anticipate the times in your future when you'll want to focus intensively on your job and the ones when you'll want to focus more on caregiving responsibilities. To the extent you can, tailor your professional choices accordingly." (This is just one example of many times when she talks about the need to plan ahead.)

She gives some scenarios for young couples to discuss before they get married/have children. While I think it's great to have a broad conversation about how you view things (talking about who would be looking after any children we had was certainly helpful when my husband and I were preparing to get married), I think that getting into a detailed hypothetical "will you defer your promotion so I can take mine?" or "you've been told that your daughter is too disruptive for summer day camp and cannot stay, all the other quality camps are full, what will you do?" kind of discussion is just creating unnecessary angst. You can't possibly know all the different factors that both of you will be weighing up in 5 - 10 years time, nor the type of support you may or may not have. What you believe earlier might have changed significantly later, yet Slaughter is encouraging you to make lots of decisions about the type of career to pursue now based on these discussions.

Slaughter also seems to be excessively negative about all the things that "could" happen. For example, towards the beginning of the book, she lays out what she calls are "half truths" about women and careers. One of them is "you can have it all if you marry the right person" and one of the reasons Slaughter says this is a half truth is that you might get divorced! You cannot realistically control or prepare for all eventualities. I fear that people reading this book would either feel overwhelmed and give up on building a career (something Slaughter says she wants to avoid) or that it would just add to their stress.

So, an important contribution to the conversation about work and our lives, but, for me, an uneven delivery. Thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book to review.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
October 3, 2015 – Finished Reading
November 22, 2015 – Shelved

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Betsy Plan ahead? So many twists and turns in life...even if you try to plan, raising a family and working full time is an impossible juggling act!

Suzanne I know! And you change as a person over time too which impacts your decisions. You can't possibly know how you will feel about things in five years time.

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