A recently popular Huffington Post piece posits that we’ve all misunderstood the breakthrough that women can “have it all.”
The author suggests that “having it all” should mean that women can have all the same choices about their lives that men do. It should not mean, she quips, that women should be expected to have it all – or do it all – at the same time.
The “having it all” mantra is both liberating and overwhelming. It insinuates that a woman can have a full-time career, all while being a fully present mother and homemaker, in addition to maintaining some independent and entirely fulfilling sense of self. It suggests that “having it all” is merely a question of choosing to, or not.
I am lucky enough that choosing to become a mother, and choosing to keep working outside the home, were choices I could make. Rest assured that I recognize the privileged position that puts me in. But having the wherewithal to make a decision doesn’t mean the results are easy.
During my daughter’s early years, I was an attorney at a large law firm, working out of its New York City and Washington, D.C., offices. In both locations, my hours were exactly what you are assuming they were. I spent her first Thanksgiving on a trial in Delaware. I never met any of her regular playmates at the park.
When I wasn’t traveling, I left the office to be home in time for dinner and the nighttime routine. The trade-off was logging several hours of work from home after I put her to bed. If I ever went to the gym, it was as soon as it opened in the morning, so that I could be home by the time she woke up.
I made no new friends. I struggled to stay in touch with the ones I had. I ate randomly, dressed haphazardly, and read sporadically. Time with my husband typically occurred when we were both drained from the day.
I managed to make my office work fit into my life’s work, but barely.
Moving to Maine was a meaningful improvement, but it did not magically create balance. I still work about 60 hours a week, and I regularly travel. My children spend more time in someone else’s care than in mine.
Still, I’m lucky. I work a lot of hours, but many of those hours are pre-sunrise and post-sunset. If I’m not traveling, I can usually be at the bus stop, and I can be the parent who does afternoon pick-up. I can sign my children up for after-school activities, and I can often take them there.
I have a job with flexibility and colleagues with compassion and perspective. I have a supportive husband who is a complete partner. There is no way I could do my job as a lawyer or as a mother without those components. I acknowledge that truth on a daily basis.
Despite that best-case scenario, there are realities I have to manage. The deadlines are there, the work piles up. My children need me, in their own ways and on their own schedules.
Every day, I have to work toward balance. The only way to approach it is to balance fewer things. So I have to live with “no.”
Most often, I’m saying no to sleep. More significantly, I’m saying no to standards I can’t meet.
I’m late to everything. I look like a passable mess when I get there. No, I haven’t lost baby weight that’s almost 4 1/2 years old. Yes, I’m checking my email regularly.
I can’t host playdates. I don’t bake birthday cakes. My child will never deliver a handmade Valentine’s Day card. My house is never really clean.
“Me time” makes me feel guilty. So does sitting still. I’m constantly worried about what I’m forgetting. I’m constantly aware that I’m failing at something.
Here I am, though. I have the life I chose. I continue to live my choice because, despite its challenges, it’s the choice that fits. I accept the sacrifices because they are acceptable to me.
I have it all because I have a life I can value and justify. It’s not easy, but it’s mine. That is everything, and that is enough.