Here’s the #1 question I get from women readers: How can I have a successful career and a happy family? Many of these readers already are successful in their careers. What they’re really asking is how to also have a happy family.
This is a very new question for us. For centuries, women’s careers were our family. Our career was ‘caregiver.’ We lived to please our fathers, our husbands, our sons. In return for our service, we received a lifetime guarantee of stability and security.
But today that bargain has vanished. We’re still doing our part by serving our families. But for many if not most, marriage now is a source of deep insecurity.
Most young marriages now end in divorce
No one enters a marriage thinking, ‘Someday we’ll hate each other,’ but that’s been precisely the experience of most of China’s born-post-1980 generation. The Ministry of Civil Affairs reports that by 2005, the divorce rate for this generation already had reached 57 percent.
For the first time in Chinese history, a generation of children now is growing up in broken households. Women often suffer greatly during divorce, but at least we can take charge of our lives and move on. Our children, on the other hand, cannot. When divorce occurs, they’re victims in the truest sense.
The impacts on children of divorce can last a lifetime. I happen to know this first-hand, since I was born in America in 1969, and it was in the 1970s that divorce first exploded in America as is happening now in China. My generation was the first to grow up as the children of divorce. While my own parents stayed together, over the years I’ve seen the impact on my friends of their parents’ divorces. Their own divorce rate is exceptionally high. Many have grown up afraid to love and fearful of life’s possibilities.
Future generations can suffer such cascading impacts even when parents don’t divorce but stay together in troubled marriages. Today, half of American young adults whose parents stayed together said they may have been better off if their parents actually had divorced! What a heartbreaking situation for parents and children alike.
Women bear most of the costs and risks of parenting
Compared with previous generations, today’s husbands are doing much more of the housework and spending much more time with the kids. And yet we still have a long way to go to achieve equality.
Women still do most of the housework and childrearing. For most, motherhood means we get two full-time jobs rather than one.
So, to women who want both a successful career and a happy family: The only way to ‘have it all’ is not to try to do it all yourself.
Step #1 to achieving a happy family: Marry a man you love, who loves you, who is committed to being your partner, in all aspects of your lives.
Do not marry just to marry
This means that you’ll need to push back against society’s pressure to hurry up and marry just anyone. When you don’t have a boyfriend, they ask ‘Why don’t you have a boyfriend?’ When you have a boyfriend, they ask ‘When are you getting married?’ When you do get married, it’s ‘When are you having babies?’
I’ve seen friends marry for the right reasons, and I’ve seen friends marry the nearest guy when their alarm clock goes off at the age when they think should be married.
In this way, the leftover-woman stigma wreaks havoc with women’s lives. It hurries us into marriage-for-the-sake-of-marriage. The inevitable result is a society full of loveless marriages and extramarital affairs, leading us and our children into lives of financial, emotional and spiritual insecurity.
In defense of Chinese men
Recently I was on Beijing TV when a glamorous 40-something Chinese guy informed me that my views on family are unrealistic and un-Chinese. Because, he explained, 40-something Chinese guys only want 20-something women who will idolize them.
I disagree with his assessment. To the contrary, my conversations with Chinese men make me optimistic about the future for men and women in China.
While I’ve met only a small fraction of all the men in China, the men I’ve met are extraordinarily thoughtful and interesting, and searching for the same things women are. As in: a good life and a wonderful partner with whom to share that life. And children, who are happy and well-prepared for life.
Are there some Chinese men only interested in being the objects of women’s worship? Sure. But if we as women demand mutual respect and partnership, those men eventually will have to come around or be left alone.
Be a headhunter
Most men are cautious about marriage. They’re afraid of being trapped with the wrong partner. So today, we have a system where men do the choosing, and women wait, hope, and sometimes, scheme, to be chosen. But since women bear most of the risks of marriage and parenting, we need to be at least as cautious as men.
Become a headhunter for your Mr. Right. This analogy is close to me because for seven years, I worked as a professional headhunter, finding CEOs and other top executives for global companies. And the funny thing is, being a headhunter taught me how to choose my Mr. Right!
Many career women agonize over every career choice, and yet sail almost at random into boyfriend relationships. But that’s an upside-down way to approach our lives. We’re now living through massive economic change, and that means that over the years, we’ll have good jobs and bad jobs, good bosses and horrible bosses, we will work for good companies and bad companies.
When it comes to our careers, as long as we’re growing every day, we can turn any career mistake into a learning experience.
But marriage is a forever decision. The fact is, for most women today, the major potentially devastating mistake available to us the consequences of which can wreck our lives and the lives of our future children, is the choice of whom we marry.
This is the most important decision of your life
So, relax about your career decisions, and focus on not bungling the big one. Now, not only can you choose your man, but you must.
Every headhunter knows that for any search to be successful, you need: lots of candidates! So get out there, expand your social network, meet and make friends with lots of men, including those you think you’d never date. Because becoming friends with lots of interesting men, and women, is the best way to access the many candidates you need to successfully complete the most important search of your life.
Besides, headhunting is fun! Men and women think differently, and even just as friends, men can bring us lots of fun and new perspectives. And befriending lots of men, most just as friends, some as lovers, helps hone our headhunting skills, helping us understand what we need from a life partner.
Marriage is life’s most profound decision. Choose wisely. When you get this decision right, you’ll be able to give your children the best possible gift: a family that’s warm, happy and secure. They deserve that, you deserve that, and so does he.
This column was originally written by the author in English. Hear her reading it aloud by clicking here.