Having it All or Embracing What We Have? by Gina Messina-Dysert
Like thousands of other mothers, I found myself consumed by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s 13,000 word cover story, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” for the July/August edition of The Atlantic. As a new mom with a Ph.D. and growing career, I have wondered if I can truly “have it all” or if something will eventually have to give in my overloaded schedule. It has been exhausting and near impossible to keep up with my “normal” workload while being a parent and I have constantly been concerned about my daughter getting all she needs from me (and me getting all I need from my daughter!).
I had a long struggle to becoming a mother. After ten years, multiple infertility treatments, many prayers, and even more tears, me and my husband decided to adopt. We’ve been so fortunate to be blessed with our darling daughter, but becoming a mother has been nothing of what I expected. I had fantasized about motherhood, imagined it as my true destiny, a spiritual path, the role God intended me to have. Now that I am a mother, I find myself constantly falling short. The laundry is never done, take out for dinner happens far too often, and some days I forget to pack my daughter’s lunch. I’m late to work, I miss deadlines, I don’t return phone calls or emails, and I wonder if it is possible to get back to being organized and on top of life the way I was before.
After reading Slaughter’s article, I was relieved to know I’m not the only feminist that is questioning the “having it all” theory. I’ve started to think that perhaps “having it all” is nothing more than a feminist fairy tale. Rather than believing in prince charming and happily ever after, feminists (myself included) have held onto this notion of having the best of all worlds with no consequences. However, there is no such thing as no consequences. There are repercussions to every decision we make including choosing to be a working parent vs. a stay at home parent. The interactions we have with our children are different, not better or worse, just different.
I love my daughter and I love my career, but the bottom line is, I am not able to give the attention to both the way that I want to. If I was a stay at home mom, my relationship with my daughter (and our family) would be different. If I was not a mother, my career would be on a different path. Yet here I am, doing both, and trying to figure out how to do both well.
I am certain that I am not alone. And for many women, working is not a choice. Whether I like my career or not, we are a two income family by necessity as many families are. And then there are single moms doing it all on their own…just thinking about that makes me exhausted!
I am grateful to Slaughter for beginning the conversation. I also appreciate her thoughts on scheduling life, seeing our careers as having peaks and valleys, and learning how to navigate them. But what about mothers who don’t have a choice about scheduling their careers? How do mothers have it all – particularly when they do not have any choice in the matter?
Do we have to have it all or can we just have what we have and embrace it for what it is? While I find myself failing on a daily basis – ordering pizza for dinner, missing a deadline, or not making it to the shower (yes, it happens!) – I do know that I am offering my daughter a role model of a woman who keeps trying.
There is no such thing as the perfect mother, we all know that. There is also no such thing as having it all and we need to stop obsessing about it. Instead of reaching for something that is impossible, I want to embrace what I have and honor it for what it is. I am a mother and a career woman, some things I do well, others I don’t, but every day I wake up and do my best. I don’t think that there is a better example I can set for my child.