According to a recent DoubleX article on Slate
, Dutch women have cracked the work-life-balance code. They are happier, well-adjusted human beings who "work half days, meet their friends for coffee at 2 p.m., and pity their male colleagues who are stuck in the office all day."
They would pity me, too. Two weeks ago, I started a full-time job after three years of work-from-home freelancing. (I have chronic grass-is-always-greener syndrome.) They would most certainly pity me as I worked up a sweat speed-walking home from the subway in order to capture every last remaining minute of the day with my 3-year-old and husband.
Do the Dutch possess the answer? Can women really have it all, or are we attempting the impossible, as these underemployed European women prove?
That's the deal here in America.
If you want a steady paycheck, you work. Leaving at 5 p.m. is pretty much off the table, too. But these ladies in the Netherlands are leaving long before the clock strikes five. They are a culture of part-timers. According to DoubleX, "Though the Netherlands is consistently ranked in the top five countries for women, less than 10 percent of women here are employed full-time."
In fact, the government can't get these ladies to work. Turns out, the women and their partners -- and the women's employers -- are satisfied with the part-time female work culture. To that end, a law was passed in 2000 mandating that women have the right to cut back hours at their jobs without repercussions from employers.
Here's the catch: Over there in the Netherlands (aka Happyland), women are responsible for only a small portion of the household income. Their partners bring home the rest. (Yes, those poor men whom the Dutch women pitied.) A-ha! So that's why this all works out so neatly.
As I see it, there are two things stopping me -- and probably many more American women like me -- from living the Dutch dream: I have never found a reduced-hours position, and my husband does not make enough money. Our family needs my full-time salary to get by.
And trust me, I have tried to get creative. In my three years of freelancing, I applied to a handful of jobs. At first, when the freelance work was steady -- and I had nothing to lose -- I asked if the full-time position I was up for offered a flexible schedule, maybe some work-from-home hours?
After that backfired several times, I learned to keep quiet, so as not to seem lazy or unenthusiastic. Hiring managers here
want to see a driven, passionate candidate, and asking for Fridays from home was the kiss of death. (I'm more than willing to log in evening hours. Anyone who hires a mother and offers her some flexibility will see amazing productivity.) So I stopped asking, sucked it up, and got a standard-issue full-time position.
As for needing a full-time salary, I'll say this: No one forces me to live in New York City. I choose to, and with that comes myriad expenses and price jack-ups. But I love it here, and I love raising my daughter here.
I once interviewed a very smart and inspiring woman, Jill Blashack Strahan, who explained, "As a mom, it is really a myth to think we can have it all. But I have learned that we can have bites of it all."
The founder of Tastefully Simple
, a gourmet prepared-foods site, went on to add, "Here's a hard truth: When we say yes to something, we say no to something else. We don't have an infinite amount of space and time, and ... it all comes down to what you want and making very intentional choices."
I made my intentional choice: After three years, I'm putting my career ahead of my daughter, at least for a little while. Because balance is just a myth; choices are the reality. But do I secretly wish I were in the Netherlands, chatting with friends over coffee and not worried about money or work or life in general? Ja
. (That's Dutch for "yes.")
Maureen Dempsey is a frequent contributor to Lemondrop. Her daughter Clemens is now 3 and doesn't yet want to be Dutch.
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