The Illusion of Having it All

My friend, Linda Mills and I got a chance to talk yesterday, and we talked about how many women are having problems balancing home and career these days.

Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s (I graduated highschool in 1983), there was this kind of post-feminist, “You can do whatever you want” feeling, like there were no longer any serious barriers to a woman’s success.  However, the caveat to the “You can have it all” was the small print, “but not all at the same time.”

Women want to have families and careers.  Those that put career first in the agenda are sometimes finding starting a family is not as easy as they thought, trying to conceive after age 30, and much harder and riskier if they wait even longer, until they turn 40.  If you have that high powered career, it becomes hard to leave it for the hearth and family; having both concurrently means outsourcing part of the job by necessity.

Mostly, for women I know who are doctors and lawyers, this means nannies and au pairs to take on household duties.  Yet, these moms still feel tons of guilt for not making every school play, but they are torn between clients and patients needing their attention, and hoping their children will forgive them for not seeing them in the Thanksgiving pagent, having instead to watch it with Grandparents on video tape.

Men have it rough too, but there is not as much pressure from their peers to be the perfect Dad and the perfect Professional.  They can be the perfect dad by being the perfect professional, and they aren’t measured by their peers on the basis of the bake sale items sent in, or how the kids are dressed in the morning, the same way moms are.

The Mom Mafia  judges the choices you make harshly.  How is your child doing in school?  How are they dressed?  Did you make every karate tournament?  What did you contribute to the bake sale?  Did you order your share for the school fund raisers?  Do you have dishes in your sink?  It’s largely stupid stuff, but the Mom Mafia has high standards.

I have developed a series of acceptable short cuts to cut out some of the guilt factor, and to allow myself time to have a life of my own beyond my roles as wife and mom.  For Thanksgiving, we are limiting the ridiculous number of side dishes.  I am making stuff ahead.  We are having only one dessert.  And this is okay.  It may not quite be the blow out of year’s past, but everyone will still eat well, without needing weeks of therapy for the stress, either.

What do you do to cut the stress?  How do you balance home and career?  And are there larger societal effects we haven’t even considered?

In particular, I have seen a number of professional women move to part time schedules so they can balance home and career more effectively.  Yet work creep starts to pull them into more work than they agreed to at the start; Doctors can’t always limit their schedules to comply with the demands of patients who don’t get sick on a schedule (surprise- neither do our kids….) lawyers have co-workers and clients who don’t care what your home life is and they want things done when they want them.

This means evenings spent working along side your children as they do homework as you try deperately to meet the demands of your two employers- home and career.

Career men wonder why their women partners don’t seem to work as hard as they do, or seem to be out of the office so much, and then this creates an impression that as a business person, you are not as serious or dedicated to the job, limiting promotions and steps up the rungs of the ladder, so to speak.

I do think women are more “trapped” by their biology and sociology in the balance between work and home.  I think we just have to accept that we may be able to have homes and careers, but look at them as overlapping, sequential, not always concurrent things in our lives.

Trying to do it all leaves you hearing the voice of Yoda in the back of your head- “Do or Do Not. There is no try.” There is no one right answer to any of this- infinite shades of gray and how we work it out for ourselves and our situations.

But I think it is important to realize the promise of “having it all” was somewhat illusory and failed to take into account there are still only 24 hours in a day.  And I think it’s a brave person who says “You know what?  I can’t do it all, so I am going to intentionally pick my battles and be happy with those choices.”  I am doing my best to accept my limitations and boundaries and imperfections.  And I hope I can do the same with others as well.

Having it all is an illusion.  But how I wish it were true.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Illusion of Having it All

  1. My friend on Facebook shared this link with me and I’m not dissapointed that I came to your blog.

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