Levelling with our daughters about 'billable' hours


CBC News Viewpoint | September 25, 2003 | More from Georgie Binks 

Georgie Binks At exactly 7:02 the other night, as my daughter and I drove along a street in North Toronto, I spotted a well-groomed woman clutching a knapsack, which belonged to her son, who skipped happily beside her. It was one of those moments that captured exquisitely what had been dogging me for some time.

I turned to my daughter and said: "That is reality. That woman has just come home from work. She and her son haven't eaten dinner yet. She hasn't even made it. That's what it's like when you're working full-time."

I didn't want to frighten or dishearten her but, increasingly, as my daughter looks at potential universities and suitable career choices, the issues are more than simply, do you want to be a doctor or a lawyer? I feel it's important to discuss what kind of a life she wants to have, rather than simply what job she wants to do.

When I went off to university in the 1970s, my classmates and I were all set to be professionals. Everything seemed possible as young women streamed into the law and engineering schools. I wonder if our mothers, knowing that someone had to cook the meals and wash the laundry, were simply so eager to see us play out our dreams along with theirs for us that they didn't want to burst our bubble. Or perhaps they figured that, just the way you shake one of those glass snowballs, the housework, kids and career would all magically fall into place.

The reality is that 30 years later, we eager career women have learned a crucial lesson: although as, say, a journalist, you can never predict when the next bomb will drop, there's no doubt who will want dinner at 5:30 every night, realize they need 24 cupcakes at 8:05 in the morning, or develop an ear infection the night before you have a big presentation.

Having been a mother for the past 16 years, I have found myself playing a constant game of trying to have it all, to balance everything, to give up nothing, and winding up exhausted.

I have watched friends of mine with great jobs as television anchors and litigation lawyers chuck it all so they can spend time in the playground with their kids. I've watched others, who didn't have the financial resources to do that, soldier on, working on Mother's Day, weekends and at night, just to keep their jobs. I know women who decided to stay home with their kids and are too terrified to re-enter the workforce, and others who've jumped right back in, crazy from years of Play-Doh and Barney.

The thing is, I don't want to put up roadblocks, but I do want to be truthful with my daughter. Based on 2001 census figures, she will likely be doing more housework than her husband (nearly two million women reported doing 30-59 hours of housework a week, as compared with nearly 700,000 men) and there's a good chance she will pick up a good bit of the child care as well.

It's something the schools don't like to address in a big way, for several reasons. For one thing, they see it as a parental role. But they also feel the kids are just a bit too young to be thinking about who'll be picking up the kids from day care when the other one is performing brain surgery.

Fifteen-year-old girls are more concerned about what to wear on a first date, and I understand that. But I still feel that if that same 15-year-old is considering law school as a career choice, she might want to know why 54 per cent of those called to the bar in Ontario last year were women, but only 34 per cent are practising law, with only 26 per cent in private practice.

That doesn't mean she shouldn't be a lawyer, but she should know that the number of "billable" hours, as lawyers refer to their time, is a big consideration. And that the fewer you have, because your child has been sick with the flu, the slimmer are your chances of becoming a partner.

I have several friends who have dumped law for their kids, but they don't say they would discourage their daughters from pursuing it. One friend confided, "I think it's a great background for so many things, and it is so exciting. I wish I'd kept my finger in the workplace, because it's too hard to go back now."

Maybe that's what it should be all about: if we let our daughters know that it isn't all clear sailing, but that chaos is actually the "new normal," they won't drop out and be wistfully watching from the sidelines. Nor will they be in the thick of it, trying to shovel snow faster than it falls.

It's all about balance say the experts and, certainly, women's magazines herald the fact on their front covers every month. Karen Wright, an executive coach in Toronto, tells me she's constantly working with women trying to find a balance. Her answer is "Do what fulfills you. Don't do what others think you should do."

And maybe we don't need to sit them down to get the message across. Hearing their moms chide Dad, "Would it kill you to put a President's Choice lasagna in the oven once a week, just to create the illusion of some type of sharing around here?" might do more than rhyming off statistics.

My daughter is a bright, ambitious, extremely competitive 16-year-old. I want her to pursue her dreams, as I have been able to pursue mine, both on the home and work front.

I just want her not to be too hard on herself when she isn't perfect at either. If she is, she's definitely doing something wrong.


I'm sorry Georgie Binks but you are part of the problem.


As a married woman attending the University of Toronto's Law School, I am very aware of the meaning of "billable hours". It is one thing to commiserate with your peers about the sad state of the world but it is quite another to accept it.


You should be directing your comments not at your daughter but at your son and your slacker husband.


You are correct that the problem is domestic tasks are not shared equally but this should not just be a problem for women.


Kathy Watson

I like the article but like most articles on this subject it stops short of saying it; You can't have it all, it's a fantasy. Being a mother, running a household and being the keeper of the marriage, dealing with the health problems of ageing parents or disabled kids and the voluntary work that comes with staying involved with your community, does not leave any time to invest in a job let alone a demanding job.


Fact is women have handle these things forever and men are not standing in line to do the job. Most men just don't have what it takes to do these job and the pay stinks and fairness is not an incentive. I can't even blame them; it's a thankless labour of love that requires a nurturing trait found mostly in women.


If you try to have it all, you will end up resentful, unhappy, burnt out, guilt ridden and sick. I have seen it time and time again and experienced it in my own life. The massive dysfunction coming over our society stems from women being stretched beyond their limits leaving a black hole in our society.


The liberation of women must come full circle. We are an intelligent skillful lot and can do almost anything we set our mind too; we have proven that. It is now time to respect and truly value the vast, hardworking, unpaid, selfless work put fourth by women in our society. Without that effort our society will and is falling apart.


Nurturing the next generation and supporting the family unit and strength and vitality of our society should be considered the highest of occupations not one to be ashamed of.


It is bad enough that men don't get it and show little respect or understanding of this underground economy, but women should never sell themselves short and need to be proud and support each other in this most awesome of tasks that require all the intelligence and skill and compassion woman kind has to offer. Maybe then woman wouldn't feel the need too or failure associated with having it all.


Kim Mercer



My oldest child is a few months short of turning 19 years old and I remember taking her and her younger brother grocery shopping when they were preschoolers. After using every bit of my energy and patience to keep them in the cart and think about what groceries we needed I ended up at the checkout facing a Chatelaine magazine.


One of the main titles on the cover implied "Career, Children, Love Life...You Can Have It All" and I remember saying to myself, "But I don't want it all anymore!"


I too entered adulthood with aspirations of having a great career, great kids, a partner who willingly did his share, a smooth running household, exotic vacations and retiring at 55.


The reality is, I do have a great career, my children are wonderful but the battle of dividing family tasks equally is still a regular issue and I'm on the "Freedom 95" retirement plan if I'm lucky!


I've found that the feeling of guilt either that I'm "not putting in those extra hours at work or on committees" or that I'm "not with my children as much as I want to be" is exhausting.


We've worked hard to have equal opportunities in the workforce, now we have to work hard to promote and advocate more family-centered work policies in this workforce. And, I hope hearing our stories and the lessons we've learned in "trying to have it all it" helps our daughters create more balanced and guilt-free family lives.


Thanks again for the great article.


Jamie Koshyk