Last night, I joined the masses of people reading (and tweeting and Facebooking about) Ann-Marie Slaughter’s essay for The Atlantic, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All and am so thankful I chose to spend my Saturday night doing so. While not necessarily ground-breaking, it nonetheless pacified my pregnancy hormone-infused brain, which has recently kept me awake at night obsessing over my choice to start a family before jump-starting a new career path in human rights.
While I deeply believe the “better late than never” motto, I still chastise myself for not figuring out what I wanted to do with my life until my late 20s. If only I’d known out of the starting gate that my passion was human rights work, I could have gotten my Master’s and forged a beloved career much sooner, rather than spending seven miserable years in corporate America. In other words, I’d already be well established before popping out my first baby just shy of turning 31 and I wouldn’t feel tortured over how and when I can possibly “have it all.”
But, as Slaughter points out, things don’t always follow a linear path, and regardless of which path you choose, you face trade-offs. For example, while having a baby now inevitably pushes back my dream of starting a new, very much desired career (cue my latest fear: who’s going to jump at the chance to hire a 30-something new mother in an entry level position?), at least I don’t have to worry about missing my window of fertility and struggling to get pregnant later on. The bottom line is, either way I’d be lying awake at night obsessing over something: starting a family or starting a career.
Which is infuriating, and very much to the point of Slaughter’s essay. Why should I have to lose sleep and feel compelled to choose between two of life’s greatest achievements? And, for shits and giggles, let’s say I do get to “have it all” and land my dream job soon after giving birth. Since when has juggling sleep deprivation, the needs of a new baby, long commutes and even longer work days — thus entrusting some stranger to raise my kid — become the new dream, the new unquestioned standard? Sounds sort of nightmarish if you ask me, which is why I applaud Slaughter’s suggestions on making the work-family balance for ALL members of the workforce — not just women — more achievable. A shift in our society’s consciousness and work culture is absolutely mandatory for any progress to be made, in order for women (and men) to avoid developing ulcers worrying about moving up the professional ladder at the expense of family or vice-versa.
But as frustrating as I find this predicament — not only for me personally, but for working parents in general — I don’t feel mislead by the feminist understanding I grew up with: that I could have it all, that with hard work and determination, I could be and do anything I set my mind to. While I’m (finally) seeing the holes in this mantra and realizing its imperfections, I still owe it credit. Believing it for so long has propelled me to do, see and say lots of shit I might not otherwise have done, seen or said. Which is why I will be passing it onto my daughter, not as an absolute truth, but as inspiration to achieve everything she possibly can and to fight the barriers that stand in her way of having it all.
One of the things I loved about her article was that she pointed out that those other parents, oh yeah, the fathers, actually were missing out, too. And probably more than they felt comfortable admitting. Because there’s that stigma. Still. Let’s face it, anyone who’s had a mother is bound to have some issues with “mommying” or “parenting” or wait, the most loaded term, “nurturing”–and unfortunately, because moms do rule for a big part of our formative years–those issues are probably going to be negative ones. But why we can’t get past that I don’t know. I think it’s kinda key to having a healthy happy adulthood.
I wish I’d figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up earlier in life, too. And I’m still waiting for the bigshot confidence that every 25 year old man seems to have–or fake. But I wonder how many men would be happier if they could admit that their first instincts weren’t so much on the mark either.
At any rate, happy almost-baby!!! The woulda shoulda couldas are the worst and irritatingly crippling. Here’s to hoping we make them shut up while we do our own thing at our own pace.