No One Asks Men to Choose between Family and Career

No One Asks Men to Choose between Family and Career April 23, 2019

Lori Alexander wrote this in a recent post:

Every Thursday, Dennis Prager has a “Happiness Hour” on his radio program. Yesterday, he asked if parents are raising their daughters to want to be married or have careers. He has asked many women this question through the years: “If you could choose to have a successful marriage or successful career, which one would you choose?” He said the women answer 50/50.

No one asks men this question.

No one asks men this question. 

No one asks men this question.

Men are allowed to have both successful careers and successful marriages. Nay, they are expected to! No one ever asks like it’s an either/or, for men. Why would it be an either/or, for women?

We’ll come back to this in just a moment, but first, let’s return to Lori’s discussion of Dennis Prager’s radio spot:

During the program, he spoke about a man who had written a book about happiness and fulfillment. The author came to the conclusion that a career can never bring long-term happiness nor fulfillment, yet this is what most young women are taught to pursue.

Um, and young men? This sounds like it ought to be a gender-neutral message. If careers are unfulfilling and only the family and home life can bring true fulfillment, everyone, men and women, should be warned against investing too much of themselves in careers. Everyone should be encouraged to find their happiness in their friends, their families, and the intentional communities they form. Why is this being gendered?

Dennis shared that when he heard that his own book had reached number one on the New York Times Best Seller List, it didn’t bring him any lasting happiness or fulfillment. Money, fame, and careers have no ability to do this. God created us for families.

Uh huh. Okay.

Look, when things in my career have gone spectacularly well—when I’ve created real, true change, when I’ve substantively made something better or changed someone’s life—that absolutely brings me happiness. Is it “lasting happiness”? What the heck does that even mean? Does it mean, will I remember that achievement fondly in the future, and will it remind me that I created meaning with my life? Then my answer is yes.

The real question, though, seems to be this: Does family bring “lasting happiness and fulfillment” in a way that careers can’t and don’t? To that, I’m going to answer both yes and no.

Everyone needs friends, and a sense of community. I can see how one could become profoundly lonely if one had a career—a successful career!—but no one who cared about them, no one who wanted to spend time with them. Having community is important. This may look like a nuclear family, but it doesn’t have to. This is also not something that’s only true of women, or only true of men. All people need human connection.

But let me say this, too—I have seen family cause incalculable harm and pain. I have seen young people grow up with restrictive, manipulative parents, only to break free, leaving their parents angry, grieving their loss of control. Family can be toxic. If you expect family and family alone to bring you happiness and fulfillment, well—let’s just say I wouldn’t recommend that. That’s no more healthy than not having family or community.

I have seen homeschooling mothers raise their children just so, with the intent to ensure that those children will follow in their footsteps, attending church, marrying, having children, homeschooling, with stay-at-home mothers—only to experience incalculable loss when those children grow up to make very different choices.

When you look to family and family alone to provide you with happiness and fulfillment, you are putting all of your eggs in one basket. When you pour those energies that might go into a career into turning out children who are just so, and they don’t turn out just so, you will have harmed both yourself and them (no child of any age should face that pressure, carrying the happiness of their parent on their shoulders).

In closing, let’s turn to the spot where Lori attempts to explain why she is making this all about women, and not also men:

Careers are for men to make a way to provide for their families, not for women to find fulfillment in their lives away from their families.

Lori’s argument—and Dennis Prager’s argument—appears to be that careers don’t bring anyone fulfillment. Okay. Fine. But then, instead of applying this in a gender neutral way—urging young people not to expect their careers to bring them fulfillment, and not to forget the importance of living in community with other humans—Lori (and Dennis) argue that this really only applies to women, because men have to have careers because they have to “provide for their families,” and women don’t (which also isn’t true, but fine).

The argument is that careers aren’t fulfilling for anyone, but that men have to do careers because they have to provide for their families. That conclusion only makes sense if we have patriarchal starting points. Lori may think she’s speaking to women with careers more broadly, putting forward an argument that is applicable regardless of beliefs—that careers aren’t fulfilling and that women should turn to their families—but she isn’t.

Remember that question Dennis Prager said he asked women?

“If you could choose to have a successful marriage or successful career, which one would you choose?”

Even within the framework of Lori and Dennis’ patriarchal assumptions, they should still be asking men this question too. They should be going around making sure men see careers only as a way to provide food for their family, and ensuring that men know to refuse promotions that would require them to work longer hours.

This entire framework is broken. Here’s an idea—why not let people do what works best for them? Believe it or not, different people are different! Why not work on livable working conditions for people of all genders, thereby ensuring that people have time to invest in family and community, while ensuring that people have the flexibility (and mental space) to work if they need to or want too. Imagine that!

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