Consider this from the fantastic Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of Unfinished Business*:
"The words we use reflect and reinforce deep assumptions about what is normal and what is not, what is approved and what is not, what is valued and what is not."
NINE WAYS TO TALK THE TALK
If we want to create a culture with family supportive values, we need to talk the talk. So let’s examine some common things we all may say. And consider whether we’re doing right by ourselves in using these words, or if there’s a better way:
1. Instead of Dad “babysitting” his kids, say Dad is “parenting” his kids.
And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of the soft bigotry of low expectations, and by that I mean applauding fathers for doing the exact same things we expect of mothers. Ex. “OMG, he just changed his kid’s diaper! What a fantastic dad.” No thank you.
2. Instead of describing someone who decides not to have children as “childless,” say that person is “childfree.”
Not everyone wants to have children. This is a choice that should be respected and destigmatized. What’s more, not everyone who wants to have children can (infertility effects many of us and at various times). Questioning a couple about whether they want to have (more) children, despite good intentions, can, in fact, be entirely insensitive and, frankly, none of your damn business.
3. Instead of describing parental leave as time “off “or “not working,” say “maternity leave,” “paternity leave,” or “parental leave.”
Because, let's be real, that time is not “off,” and it is certainly not a vacation from “work.”
4. Instead of focusing just on an expectant mother and what her work-life situation will be after having a child, have the same conversations with an expectant father.
The lives of both will be impacted, and not acknowledging this, which in effect dismisses that a child is both parents’ responsibility, perpetuates values we aim to change.
5. Instead of using “working mom” as a category exclusive to women, let’s say “working dad” and “working parent” as well.
6. Instead of Dad “helping out” with the kids and home, say Dad is taking “responsibility” for the kids and home.
A point of follow-up on this one: then dads actually have to do it, taking on the burden of scheduling, schlepping, and planning. And moms have to let them, which in many cases means letting go of things being done their way.
7. Instead of “work-life balance,” say “work-life blend” or “work-life integration.”
The word “balance” suggests a trade-off, that when you’re working you can’t be living your life, and vice-versa. Better to integrate and value the totality of the components that make you you: family and friends, self, community, and, yes, work.
8. Instead of bragging about long hours, all-nighters, and our busyness in general, let’s talk about the mental capacity and productivity brought about by a good night’s sleep, the energizing value of an uninterrupted vacation, and the soul-affirming nature of meaningful relationships.
9. Instead of defining “providing” for your family as something exclusively financial, let’s expand the definition to include the many other integral and necessary ways a parent “provides” for a child, including emotionally and physically.
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* For more great tips and in-depth discussion, check out Slaughter’s book.