Can we really have it all?

I remember when I was 25 and it was the year 2000. That birthday was hard for me, because I remembered 10 years prior, when I was 15 years old thinking of all things that I wanted for myself when I was 25. I thought I would have it all. I would definitely be married, have at least one child, have gone to college and had an awesome job. I grew up hearing I could be anything I wanted and I believed it! So, at 15 years old thinking of 10 years down the road; I couldn't wait for the new mellenium and my 25th birthday. I would be happy beyond my wildest dreams. So, when 25 rolled around, I had an associates degree in a field I didn't like anymore, I had been in a so-so relationship for 8 years with no engagement ring, no children and was just completely lost. What happened to having it all? Kids, marriage, career? I longed for it because I just knew it was the golden ring to my happiness.

Nine years later I have the great marriage, two beautiful children, the college degree in a field I love and my career is just within reach. This is it! Right? Then why do I lay in bed each night, thinking and feeling guilty about having both? If I put my kids in daycare to work on a career that I love, I miss out on them. If I give up the career to stay home with my kids I miss out on doing something amazing that I know will leave a positive mark on others. If I do both part time I run the risk of making myself crazy which in turn bleeds onto my kids and my husband. A couple of weeks ago as I told this to one of my girlfriends on the phone, I said, "If this means 'having it all', then I don't want it."

And how dare I say that! With all the opportunities I have. A fantastic education, the gift of fertility and healthy children, and a hard-working husband who is an amazing father. Women would give their right arm to have some of the things I have, if not all! But here's the thing: As women who grew up hearing "you can be anything you want" topped with society's pressure of doing it all well, the overwhelmingness of it all can be unbearable.

I recently read an article by Jill Berry where she states,

"The truth is that modern women can't have it all. They may succeed in their careers and they may succeed as mothers, but to do both at the same time? No, that is not possible without making huge sacrifices which many will find simply too much.
The fact is that life is not a level playing field. Men and women may finally have equal opportunities, but that doesn't mean women should make the same choices as men. The sexes are different.
Most women want children and they want to be the principal carer. Encouraging young women to aim for the top at the same time as raising a family is unrealistic and, I would argue, damaging."

I have to agree with Ms. Berry here. But what do we teach young women? I can't imagine telling my daughter, "Honey, let's be realistic. You just can't do both. Choose one. Go to college, but don't go for your dream job because you'll just end up wanting to leave it anyway when you have children. Or, don't bother having kids, they'll just get in the way of your awesome career."

When I had children, I finally understood what it meant to want to give them the world. They smile, and I want to hand it over. But has a disservice been made to my generation? Courtney Martin talks about the "feminists unintended side effect" in that women who were told they could be anything grew up feeling like that had to do so and do it perfectly. Our mothers only wanted the best for us- better than what they had. But they had no idea that they may have been setting us up for disaster.

I am the first person in my family to graduate from college. I'm so proud of that. And I have always wanted to go to grad school and am encouraged by my fellow girlfriends, most of them mothers. But when I really sit down and think about it, it sounds absurd. Grad school, 2 toddlers, a career, a marriage...with a side order of cranial lobotomy, please. When my son turned one, I went back to school to finish my degree. I bought a ticket for the crazy train and took 21 units. That was the hardest 16 weeks of my life. Regardless of how the gap of parental roles has closed (somewhat), mothers are still the primary caregiver. It was difficult to leave him to go to school, study, write papers, be a wife and a mom to a toddler. I have a hard time believing women who say they don't feel guilty leaving their children 40 hours a week. I feel like they are either lying to me, or themselves. Or both.

So, what's your take? I'm curious what other moms think, or even if you're not a mom, do you feel like you were pressured to do one or the other? Or perhaps you have spent so many years on your education or career, now your biological clock is quietly whispering to you?


Michelle said...

Andrea, definitely a hot topic, and I don't think there is one answer for everyone. Before I had kids, I was very idealistic and judgmental, thinking it was practically a woman's duty to spend her childrens' formative years at home with them if she could, helping them develop into the best human beings possible. Eight years after giving birth to my first daughter, I have one word for you in regards to my original sentiment: HA!

I now realize that each parent has their own, unique set of skills they bring to the table. Some are better parents when they have a career outside of the home that lets them be someone other than a mom who gets spit up on them all day long, wondering if a 30-second shower will be possible at any point in the day.

Other moms wouldn't dream of doing anything other than staying home with their kids -- that IS their career, and that is equally as valid and important of a role as the woman who chose to remain at work.

I have had mom friends in all situations -- those who chose to work, those who don't want to work but have to, and those who were able to stay home. Not that every working mom does, but the moms that I know who have chosen to work seem to do a pretty good job at balancing their careers and parenting. But it's usually not without the support of a great nanny/housekeeper or a family member.

I have been fortunate to be able to stay home with my kids, but at times I have questioned my decision. I was never career minded, and always knew that I wanted to be home with my kids when I had them. But motherhood was a big shock to me, and for much of my "career" as a mother, I felt terribly under-qualified, wondering if everyone in my family would be better if I chose a different full-time career and left the parenting to a care giver.

Fortunately, I have come to a place where, just like with my body, I love who I am as a mother, for better and for worse, and I know I am doing the best job possible. But, at the same time, I have used this time to work on defining who I am outside of being a mother, which is ultimately what led to the creation of While I am getting it off the ground, I can still devote my time to my children, and then next year, when my youngest is in first grade (i.e. full day school!), I can put more effort into a career and/or further establishing my site.

Melissa said...

I am 23 years old and I have a wonderful husband and 2 adorable children. I graduated from college the month after our first child was born and have been a SAHM ever since. This isn't a decision that I have struggled too much with, as I was raised with the belief that moms should be home to raise their kids. I am an active member of the LDS church (Mormon). Our leaders counsel us that women can have it all, but sequentially, not all at once. I agree that it is not feasible to do everything at once, but at the same time, if you take time out to stay at home with your kids, it is definitely going to be harder reach your career goals.

Sometimes I am jealous that my husband is able to go to grad school right now and that my education is on hold for the time being. Some days it is really hard to be happy at home. I would like to go back to school and have a career someday but I really don't know if/when that will happen.

The way I like to think about it is that it really isn't possible for anyone to do everything they want to in life. There are so many worthwhile opportunities available and we all just have to do the best we can in deciding what to spend our time on. I firmly believe that family should be top priority but I know that this is a difficult decision that all women need to work out for themselves. While my priorities may change later, I am doing the best I can right now.

Andrea said...

@Michelle- I too used to think it would be the best and what you should do- to stay home with your kids. Now that I am eyeball deep in spit up, diapers, tantrums and no showers I long for adult interaction. And feel guilty about it. But having this experience has made me not judge any mom for the decisions she makes; weather she stays home or works.

@Melissa- I agree- we can have it all, just not all at once. Thanks for reminding me! :)

Tracey said...

I had a breakdown when I turned 25 too! I wasn't dating anyone, I was working a paycheck job, and just getting by. Now I'm 30, just had my first son, and quit my job. I help myself by looking at stages. I taught for 5 years, and now this is my baby time of life. I've also taken up a hobby, that I don't get nearly enough time on, but I do love it. I'm sure I'll go back to teaching, but I won't be able to go back to being a mommy with babies -- he's already getting so big! Seasons... that's how I make sense of it all. And there are always good days and bad, no matter what you're doing.

Rebekah said...

I like to think that being able to be a mom IS having it all. After all, my career won't appreciate me at the end of life. Too many people get burned by their employers when it's time to retire. I think of motherhood as "The Hardest Job I've Ever Loved". (A saying stolen from the Marine Corps....) Sometimes I miss my "freedom", but moreso I enjoy the freedom of not having to work outside the home. Even in the job I loved before my daughter was born, too often I found myself wishing I were elsewhere, doing something, anything, other than being stuck there.
I have a bachelor's degree, and the debt to go with it. I like to think that when my kid(s) are in college I might go back as well. But that's not so important to me anymore. It's just knowledge, and knowledge is something you can gain in a million ways.
Are there moments when I miss aspects of my life before baby? Of course. Personally, though, I've found the school of family quite to my liking!