Originally published August 30, 2018
Also titled, “The Million Little Lies Women Tell Themselves to Get Through the Day without a Stiff Drink.”
This 50-day memoir of sorts wouldn’t be complete without an ode to the cultural shift that started in the decade we mid-lifers were born — the 60s — and that has continued to evolve into the more politically correct mindset labeled, “work-life balance.”
Like previous topics, I’m not the first to write about this, nor will I be the last. And I certainly won’t be the best. Anne Marie Slaughter’s 2012 essay is still one of the most on-point pieces I’ve read on the subject of work-life balance, speaking truth where it isn’t always welcome.
So here’s mine.
I grew up with Clair Huxtable, Gloria Steinem and “Free to Be You and Me.” I grew up in the age of Sally Ride and Sandra Day O’Connor. I grew up with Diane Keaton’s “Baby Boom.”
It wasn’t that there were no ceilings left to bust through — clearly, those still remain. But I think for my generation, the sense of urgency cut both ways. On one hand, we saw what women can be capable of. On the other, because those living, breathing examples walked amongst us, it wasn’t as much of a thing. Why would it be? We were surrounded by women making history all the time, so why would we assume we couldn’t?
Of course we could.
The thing is this — we were taught women can do everything. But no one gave us a larger plate. And the powers that be, whether it was men, work culture, social paradigms and the whatnot — none of that changed as readily, or at all, to accommodate the shift in the day-to-day lives of women.
We could work more, but (at least at first) school and daycare operations remained the same. Sure, land that full-time job. Just make sure your kid has a key around his or her neck so they can watch themselves for 3 – 4 hours every day after school. (Fast forward to today, when making that kind of arrangement can land you in hot water with the Department of Child and Family Services.)
We could work more, but not at the expense of our spouse’s job. Need to stay late? Dinner’s not making itself, sweetie.
We could chase our dreams, as long as we remembered to continue nurturing and supporting those of our children. You’re still a mother, and that role doesn’t come second to anything, right?
Of COURSE you can have it all — strong, resilient children, a happy, satisfied spouse, a house operating on all cylinders and a boss that would be lost without you.
What you can’t have? Sleep and an intact grasp on sanity.
I get it — there are some women lucky enough to have a spouse that treats them like an equal on all fronts and is fully present to co-parent on a 50-50 split, and is just as helpful around the house, waking in the middle of the nights to bottle feed expressed breast milk (because, of course) and up early on weekends so that the women can sleep in.
I’m just saying they are married to unicorns.
In my circle of friends, it’s always been the woman that shoulders the heavier load with the kids. I ran them through their spelling words, I read to them in bed. I pre-taught concepts for my special needs son. I was room mom. I did the PTA. I was the soccer team mom and hockey team manager. I coached Girls on the Run. I helped run the band parent group and volunteered at competitions. And I’m not bitching about it. My life and my relationships with my kids are that much richer for it. It was what worked for my family. I loved almost every minute of it and would do it again.
But the bulk of what I just rattled off? I was only able to do that because I left my full-time employment status for about 8 years.
I edited my definition of what “having it all” meant to me. And that was the ability to be closer to the kids. I didn’t stop working — I freelanced from home to keep my toes in the water while I raised the kids. But in the traditional sense of what’s presumed when talking about “having it all”, I didn’t feel like my arrangement was as closely aligned as it had been when my boys were little and I was scuttling back and forth between work and daycare and home.
And being back at work full time outside the home again? I’ve had to adjust my definition of success once more. it is hard, for sure. There are times the kids have stumbled, tumbled and even smacked their faces hard on the proverbial pavement, and it stings to think somehow if I had been home nurturing instead of at work editing, they could have avoided that pain. But I also know my career means a lot not just to me, but to them, as an example of what people can aspire to become, and more importantly, an outlet to exploit when they want whatever it is their hearts desire. (I am a sucker for puppy eyes. I will buy it all.)
I’m not a fan of the pressure placed on young women today, between social media and school, parents and friends. My daughter had a senior class assembly yesterday about college applications, and when I asked her how it went and if it was beneficial, she said, “All it did was stress us out even more.” Ugh. What I hope for her instead is to understand she is capable of anything and everything. The world is her oyster. But along with it comes the responsibility of making good decisions that are the right ones for her. That she has rule over determining what makes up her “all.” And no one — even the sisterhood — should ever have the power to judge her for it.
Today’s recommendation: I gotta go with Lean In. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it has a strong message and is worthy of consideration.