I know – it’s the billion dollar question. The question that has been debated for generations, and yet remains unclear. Can mothers really have it all? Or is it a myth, an unattainable rung on the ladder that serves only to remind us that we are failing?
I don’t know.
I am trying, dammit. I grew up in the generation that was taught that we women could do anything and everything. And do it well. And with grace. And beauty. And charm and wit and manners and all the rest of it.
Were they right?
For my first 35 years, I would say yes. I would probably say a resounding yes. The formula simply worked. I studied hard, I worked hard, and I soaked in every experience that I could. My achievements were recognized and I was rewarded. And so I worked harder… for greater achievements and larger rewards. I was striving towards my potential, and slowly but surely realizing it.
I felt that I did have it all. The education, the career, the house, the travel, the husband, the enriching friendships. All it took were some goals and elbow grease. I was smug. If others worked as hard as I had then they, too, could have it all. Perhaps those whining about not having it all were just a bit… lazy.
And then as the story goes, my first child arrived. Then my second. And then all hell broke loose.
Cracks began to appear. A child is shushed on a Saturday because Mommy needs to finish something up “really quick” for work. A project proposal draft is halted because a feverish child needs to see the pediatrician. My new greatest fear is the nanny calling in sick. Or an out of town business trip.
When I am with the children, I am worrying about all the things I need to remember to do at work… and emailing myself reminders. When I am at work, I am missing and worrying about my children… and emailing myself reminders. I am juggling, as millions of mothers do every day.
Suddenly I am torn. My former 100% at work has doubled with a new additional 100% towards the children. Some say that it becomes 50/50. I don’t agree with that. If I don’t give 100% at work then, well, my work will suffer and I will not achieve and that begins a downward professional spiral. If I don’t give 100% to my children then, well, I don’t even want to think about what could happen. So we try to pull the additional hours out of thin air.
Sleep suffers. Relationships suffer. Stress levels skyrocket. But above all else, I feel like I’m not doing anything well.
Is this what “having it all” means? Trudging through day by day, checking the endless boxes on a laundry list of tasks to simply make it to bedtime? Refocusing constantly between kids… work… logistics?
But on paper, I have it all. The family and the career. I am living the American Dream.
Maybe this is temporary. My children are young, ages 3 and 1, and we don’t have any help that is unpaid. Perhaps this is the tough stage before it gets easier. Maybe when they are ages 15 and 13, I will be so grateful that I powered through this stage to have it all… my wonderfully raised children and my flourishing career.
And maybe I won’t. Maybe I will regret the time I missed with my children.
Or maybe having it all isn’t a destination at all. Maybe it isn’t a societal prescription of accomplishments. Maybe instead it is simply a frame of mind. A focus on gratitude for whatever decisions we make in our lives. The work-outside-of-the-home mother being grateful for the ability to nurture both her personal and professional sides. The stay-at-home-mother being grateful to experience every moment with her child.
Maybe once we peel away the expectations of what we think having it all is supposed to mean, then we can begin to understand what it actually means for each of us. And then our natural priorities can begin to shine through.
I still don’t know.
But I do know that the answer is not nearly as clear to me as it was a few years ago.