Friday, May 14, 2010

The Myth of "You Can Have It All"

Countless books and articles have been written about our generation of women and our ability to have it "all" - the career, the man, the house, the kids. I won't rehash what's already been written ad naseum, but you know the drill: You can have a fabulous career doing your dream job; fall in love with the man of your dreams, who looks like Brad Pitt (before the recent unfortunate facial hair); have 2.5 beautiful, athletic, intelligent children; own a large, luxurious home with a dog and a cat and 2 fish; and still make it to every soccer game, school play, and ballet recital. All while looking like Heidi Klum or Elle MacPherson.

What a load of crap.

We've been sold a bill of goods that doesn't exist. No one can have it "ALL" - at least, not all at the same time. What a lot of pressure to put on women! As hard as we moms try, we cannot be all things to all people all of the time. It's not possible to work a 50-hour week, bake 5 dozen cupcakes for the PTA bake sale, throw the birthday party of the century, make love to your husband every night, and keep up with your house - unless you're the undead and don't need to sleep. Me? I'm tired just typing that sentence. I don't have it "all." I don't WANT it "all."

Truth is, we have to accept that it's enough to have some of these things at some time during some of our adult lives. We have to accept that whether we are working moms or at-home moms, or a combination of the two, we give something up to get something else. Hopefully, for each woman, what she gains is worth the sacrifices she makes. Choices are made, decisions are made, and we have to understand that anyone who expects us to HAVE it "all" or DO it "all" is, well, an idiot.

Besides, who's to say what "all" is? My best friend and her husband decided that she'd keep working days and he'd change to nights, because they didn't like the idea of daycare. She comes home, he leaves an hour later, and then he gets home long after she's in bed. They've sacrificed couple time during the week, but they make it work. (And they've made me a believer in the concept of "quality time.") My sister works part-time from home while her husband is working a traditional 8-5 schedule, giving them family time at night. Her son naps, her daughter goes to preschool, she runs around like a crazy woman fitting it all in - but gets to keep working AND be home, where she wants to be. My friend Enid and her husband decided it made more sense for him to take a leave of absence when their kids were small. He was their primary caregiver, and it's given him such a close relationship with his girls. It works for their family. My next-door neighbors work insane hours, plus have their own business, and rarely get home before 7 PM. But Grandma picks up the kids and keeps them after school. And they take fabulous extended-family vacations four times a year. The trade-off is worth it for them. (And my kids are positively green with envy. They are dying to take a Disney cruise or spend a week at Atlantis. but as a one-income family, that's not in the cards.)

Me? I married a fantastic man. (He's no Brad Pitt, thank goodness. Brad's not winning any awards for world's best husband, and he's always flying off around the world. No thanks.) I left my dream job - happily - when I had my first child. My husband's job is demanding and his hours somewhat unpredictable. He's not always around to help get kids off to school or cover in the evenings if I have a meeting. Most nights, our kids are asleep when he gets home. Child care and household duties are primarily MY responsibility, freeing him to do his job without having to worry about what's going on at home. I'm on it. That's my job. Yes, there are some sacrifices we make (I no longer wear designer clothes, our newest car is 6 years old, I haven't had a facial or manicure in years, and there's no trip to the Bahamas in our future), but it's worth it for our family, because it works for us.

And who knows how life will change? Five, ten years from now, your "all" may be different than it is right now. I've fallen, quite by accident, into this writing thing precisely because I AM home now. If I'd kept teaching, would I have discovered a passion for writing, would I have chosen a new career path? I don't think I'd have had the time or the energy.

If we work, we're going to miss something - a soccer game, a class party, a gymnastics meet. It's going to happen. And you know what? Our kids will be fine. Really, they will. If we stay home, we're going to miss something - a fantastic vacation, earlier retirement, newer cars, career advancement and job satisfaction. And you know what? Our kids will be fine.

And c'mon, do you really want to be at every class party? I'm the freakin' room mom, and I don't even want to be at all of them. And school plays? Really? Look around the cafeteria/auditorium. Notice the glazed-over eyes? Yeah, your 3:00 meeting WAS more exciting than a second-grade rendition of Peter Pan. Trust me. Three lattes later and I can barely keep my eyes open. And let's not even start in on a three-year-old's soccer game. Herding cats, that's what my husband calls it. A bunch of toddlers running around and picking dandelions (and their noses) is what I call it.

Slacker Mom Says...don't buy into the myth that you have to have it all right now. Who's to say what "all" is, what works for each family? Let's end the "Mommy Wars" and move on already! No matter what path we choose - career, being at home, a combination of both - our kids will be fine. Love them, hug them, let them know how proud you are. That's all they really need.

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