I grew up with a working mother. I don’t remember my mother not working. I believe that she only worked part time when I was an infant and toddler-aged, but I’m not sure. I also grew up with a liberal feminist mother. I remember being taking to an ERA rally when I was only 3 or 4-years-old. When I was in high school, I thought that only women who were weak-minded, or slow decided to stay home with their children. Why would anyone stay at home with their kids, when they could be working? When I was 18, and just starting college, I did honestly think that the goal of life was to be a Superwoman. A Woman Who Did It All. I wanted to have the job, not just a job, a good career. I wanted to be at the top of my field. I wanted to be a wife who kept a perfectly clean house that was beautiful decorated. I wanted to be a mom with two or three well-behaved, brilliant children. Boy, was I naïve!
After graduating from college, I had my first job working in psychology research with some fabulous mentors. Women I respected, who I still respect and admire. My boss was just a bit younger than my mother, and she had two teenaged children. She was one of those women whom I believed wanted to be. She was one of those women who had it all. I looked to her for guidance, and what I saw before me was a women whose life was extremely complicated and overloaded. She was consistently having to make sacrifices—go to her children’s concerts, or write her next grant. Her life had few boundaries, children and work were always competing with each other, and she was always juggling them both. I think many time the demands of her career made her miss those concerts, plays and recitals. I think she had many regrets.
At the same time, I watched a slightly younger mentor, who had two preschoolers, try to balance her children and her work. Her challenge was a bit different—her husband had a successful career, a demanding career, and his star was rising in his field. She was needing to branch out in her career, and take the next step in her field, but her career advancement was in direct conflict with her husband’s career. She’d potentially have to uproot her two kids, and her husband to make the next jump in her career.
By the time I started graduate school and left this wonderful job, I knew one thing for sure. I didn’t want a career like my mentor and boss—the older woman who was juggling everything. I admired her convictions, and her willingness to try to do everything, but watching her overwhelmed me. It was too stressful, and what I realized was that having it all didn’t mean what I thought it did. First you can never have it all. That’s an impossibility—you’ll never find the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. I knew that rather than having it all, I’d be forced to make some choices. My younger mentor must have reached a similar conclusion, as she took a pause from her career path, to be at home more with her young children, and allowed her husband’s career to flourish. I know that she felt a great deal of trepidation when she stepped off that cliff. Also, over a decade later, I know that her choice panned out well for her. Her career is thriving now. She is successful, and close to home. I think her priority will be with her family until her kiddos are out of the house, but she is doing well at home and at work.
Now that I’m a bit older, and hopefully wiser, it seems to me that much like these two wonderful women, there isn’t a woman out there who has it all. You can’t have everything and do everything. I think that the generation of women prior to mine, the ones who created the model of the superwoman, must have been horribly disappointed. Having a goal that is so unattainable must lead to much discontent. Sometimes you have to make choices– Hard choices where you lose and gain things at the same time. I think women make this choice at the birth of their child(ren) since becoming a mother such a life-altering, game-changing experience. I think many women, regardless of their choice to be at home, or be at work, have a deep sense of uneasiness about their choice. They worry that they are being judged or making the wrong decision. I think we also need to learn that having it all, a career, children a sense of contentment, means that realize that life is about different stages at different points in time. I found this great quote by Oprah Winfrey a while ago:
I liked it so much that I made a printable (in fall colors) for all of us mother (or fathers!), at home, or working who are always feeling like they should be able to do it all, or at least do a bit more. Of course, I realize that some mothers don’t have this internal struggle, and I envy them in their happiness and personal convictions. As for me, I know that I do want pieces of it all, but there is a time and place for everything.