Having it all in the suburbs! Wish you were here!

Let me tell you a story (harp music playing in background):

Christy was having a busy day.  She is a physician who works full time in a respected practice in the suburbs.  The only thing getting her through her insane schedule was how much she was looking forward to a girl’s night later with her friends.  Each patient seemed more and more stressful and time consuming than the last, until-at last-she was free!  As music blared from her car, she applied make-up at each stop light on the way to meet her friends.  Then her cell phone rang, she could see it was her nanny.  When she pulled over she was told that her three year old had taken a nasty fall at the pool.  The nanny explained the toddler was fine, she just was inconsolable wanted her mommy.  Christy, taking a deep breath, called her friends and cancelled.  Then she turned the car around and headed home.

Have you been here?  I know I have.  Could she have called her husband to go home instead?  Why didn’t the nanny call Christy’s husband?  She knew Christy had plans.  Would a man have felt the same pull to go home if he was headed to a bar to watch the game with friends?  None of us blame her.  We are all rooting for her.  But we all know why she did what she did.  Because women, for the most part, feel that push/pull of parenthood in a different way than men do.   Because she could hear her child crying in her ear, even above the volume of Flo-Rida.  Because she always puts her kids first.  Because, you see, she is The Mom.

Like many of you, I read the recent article by Anne Marie Slaughter on women having it all with great interest  Ironically, I was working on an informal Q&A with many of my friends about the very same topic at the time the article was published.   The answer to whether women can have it all is unanswerable, really.  Let’s just start right there.   The conversations around this question have lingered in the air for weeks, floating above my head as I watch soccer games, go camping, attend gatherings and watch my friends struggle with decisions in their lives.  Thanks to all of you who provided your honest answers, even while occasionally getting in my face about it.  You suburban ladies are fierce.

At recent events such as book clubs and happy hour, I set out index cards with the question “Can Women Have It All?  Go…”  and had people give me their brief and gut level responses.  The answers from fellow suburbanites are all over the board.  Would you like a sampling?  Of course you would!

In the “yes” category:

Absolutely. I don’t believe in limiting myself.  Keep seeking until you discover it.

The key is balance.  Having your priorities straight and keeping perspective.

I absolutely have it all.  I have lots of friends and love in my life.

It’s all in your mind.  If you can think positively, and not compare your life to someone else’s.

I do have it all!  A husband who is my BFF, a daughter who inspires me, a dog that loves me unconditionally.

Of course, it depends on how you define it.  For me, faith, friends, family are my definiton of having it all.

It’s all about the choices you make.  You have to do what is best for you.

I think women have it all, they just don’t realize it.

Without exception, the “yes” responses were about relationships, choices, family, love but almost none mentioned a career.  Nor did they mention money, social standing or providing for their families.  Men, lucky you!  It appears that is your domain.  One exception was from my boss, I hope she doesn’t mind me mentioning, was that she thought women could have it all but just not all at once.  It should be noted also that these women seem to have shaped their responses by the fact that they feel completely okay, not comparing themselves to women with careers, money, etc.

In the “no” category:

My mom always told me I could have a career and family.  She was wrong.

“Having it all” is the same fallacy as “the American dream.”  It doesn’t exist.

Women juggle so many things, something always has to give.  You can’t have it all, all the time.

Women are not stagnant, knowing what we want all the time.  We are constantly changing so our needs and wants never seem to catch up.

Women are limited by years of conflicting media messages and societal roles.

Unfortunately, it’s much easier for a man to have it all.  Women feel constantly torn and can’t truly, freely do what they want.

I have daughters, I’d love to say yes but no I don’t think it’s possible.

It may be possible for us, but certainly not for all women.

Okay, reader, I will be honest.  I do not think women can have it all.  How can I possibly say that women can have it all from my deck sipping a glass of wine, gazing out at my (sometimes) well groomed yard/children, not worrying about my next paycheck or finding a job or if my husband will beat the shit out of me when he gets home?  That seems pretty fucking presumptuous of me to say the least.  As a fortunate suburbanite,  I have the token symbols of “having it all”:  an awesome husband who loves me and the kids, and who also has a well paying job, smart, funny and beautiful children (okay I’m biased, aren’t you?), a mini-van, a garden, a compost pile, a secure part-time job that I love, a gym membership and a Costco card.  And I am grateful beyond measure. So why the angst?  It boils down to this.  “Having it all” to me implies that I am done, satisfied and full.  Like there is nothing left to want.

At age 43, as Slaughter writes in her article, I have about a snowballs chance in hell of finding a new career and making it in a new field if I only wanted to work part time.  Like you, I have friends who are trying to re-enter the job market after they have watched their kids get established in school and the need for some additonal cash flow becomes apparent.  As it turns out, men have obtained 80% of the jobs created since the recession began.  Women are also underrepresented in foreign policy, government jobs, academia and think tanks.  We are more than 50% of college graduates but occupy less than 10% of power positions.  Even in the non-profit sector, where women are more numerous, they still only command 20% of management positions.  Not okay!  Think about how much better womens’ lives could be if we had some kick-ass women making the big decisions.  My ideal powerful woman is someone who isn’t ashamed of her feminity or maternalism.  Someone who can rise to the top without crushing competitors along the way.  Someone who represents all of us and values our point of view.  Someone who, even if they don’t have a “career,” actively supports other women in need by volunteering, advocating or simply raising her voice.  Someone who shares her gifts with the world.  Someone who is willing to dream big for those who can’t.  We need more of these women, for fucksake!

So the answer to whether you can have it all is really about if you have everything you want.  I’m am glad for you if you have it.

But I want more for ALL women:  career/power oriented women who want a family too (hello Melissa Mayer, pregant CEO of Yahoo.  She doesn’t have it all until it stops making news that a pregger is in charge), single moms, child-free women who don’t want to be second guessed for their decision not to have kids,  those who can’t find a job and desperately need one, those who are victims of domestic violence and finally, all who find themselves always juggling ten balls at a time and dropping them fairly often.

I’m holding out on my “yes” until all of you can say it too.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-can-8217-t-have-it-all/9020/

http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html

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4 comments on “Having it all in the suburbs! Wish you were here!

  1. I think the people I have found who disagreed with Slaughter didn’t read the article or don’t understand the difference between working and career mobility. And her point was, you couldn’t get to the apex of your career and be there for your children 100%. It’s just not possible. Yes, you can work part time and stay at home part time. Yes, you can be fulfilled as a SAHM. But, you can’t become a SAHM and CEO of Yahoo. Or if you can, it’s a very rare experience in a very niche field.

    This is very near and dear to my heart right now as I struggle. I wanted to believe that I could have a career and a family that I Cared for. What I’ve learned is one has to give for the other to progress. My plan in the next year is to work part time, but only to work to make money, I will not be advancing my career. Later, as I go back to work full time at some point, maybe then I Can get back on the ladder. But in my field, it’s just not possible to “get ahead” in my career (As far as moving up positions, benefits, pay, type of work I get to do, # of people I manage, etc…) part time.

    • suburbotypes says:

      I hear you. You captured that well, you do have to give up something to move forward in whatever you want to do. And day care is another mind-numbing decision that I really didn’t even begin to explore. It is a struggle for you now, and will be down the road. You think as your kids grow, they need you less but it turns out that’s not really true. Slaughter’s article is a great read, and I am glad she re-ignited the discussion.

  2. Barbara Paulsen says:

    I’m with you, Jeanne. I don’t think women can have it all. Maybe your boss is right, however, in that you can, but not all at once. If you are a woman and choose to have children then you are going to miss a hell of a lot of cocktail hours for many years. I think it is a catch 22. We need women in positions of power to help make change, but in order to relate to Mother’s they need be a Mother themselves (IMO-and I know I’m generalizing), which means they can’t have it all and may not go as high up the ladder as a man. I actually think the question should be: Can you be happy where you are right now.

    Nothing ever stays the same. Children grow, your interests change as you age, your friends and maybe even your home town change along with a million other variables. Working, not working, children, no children…..it changes, but are you happy where you are right now having what you have and doing what you are doing?

    • suburbotypes says:

      Agreed. Life is in a constant state of flux and we are always trying to keep up. There is always more to make us happy or fulfilled, and figuring that out is a lifelong challenge.

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