Q: I’m married, in my late thirties and have two wonderful children. I work outside the home and feel as though I am constantly running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to “have it all.” Home, career and family but rather than feeling like I “have it all” I feel like I’m constantly stressed. How do I manage all this?
A: I think that you are actually on the right track toward answering your own question. And what I mean by that is you are on the verge of getting to the heart of the matter and defining for yourself what “having it all” means. Are you allowing society and the latest women’s magazine to insist that the path to enlightened womanhood is only to be found through a high powered career, a supportive yet progressive husband, two kids, a golden retriever and a Range Rover? Or have you sat down to think about who YOU are, what makes YOU happy and just what exactly do YOU want out of life…your life.
Truth be told, I think that women are so phenomenally critical of one another that we make it a bitterly difficult task to find our way in life. To date in life I have experienced all of the following; The career woman looks down on the stay at home mom as selling herself short and failing in her duty to contribute to the empowerment of women. She casts her in a shadow of tame domesticity and intellectual inferiority. According to her, stay at home moms lead trivial lives focused on meal planning, kid’s activities and domestic bliss and simply have no idea what it takes to be a “working mother.” All the while she is feeling a powerful undercurrent of guilt and remorse because of all the soccer games she has missed and the fact that she herself has never once volunteered to chaperone a field trip and was left with vicariously seeing her child’s laughter and wonder in the pictures the nanny took. On the flip side, the stay at home moms can consider themselves morally superior because they are prioritizing their children and their families above all else and are therefore among the ethically elite. They are devoted and self-less and carry their PTO involvement around like a badge of honor looking down on those moms who’s kids go to after school care and have to order hot lunch because their moms don’t take the time to make them one. But in some of their quiet moments they resent all that they have “given up” and occasionally yearn for the intellectual obligation of a report due, or the excitement of a critical deadline or pivotal lunch meeting.
And the net effect of all this seems to be that rather than just acknowledging that we ALL so often feel torn, confused, overwhelmed and uncertain, we just get bitchy. Women can run the gamut from being subtly disparaging to downright vicious and to be honest I’ve yet to meet a man that can be as cruel and condescending as an insecure women. If her boobs are better than yours, they’re fake. If she’s thinner than you she must be bulimic. If she’s got a better job than you she slept her way there. If she throws a better party than you she must have hired someone else to do it. It’s truly insane and something I have never quite been able to wrap my mind around. To be sure there are those women that are confident and secure enough to encourage, uplift and embrace and I feel deeply blessed to have a few of those in my life. We don’t judge each other, we just acknowledge that we’re all doing our best, regardless of what that looks like and love, support and encourage each other.
So give yourself that freedom. Try as best you can to detach yourself from other people’s ideas and expectations and ask yourself what you want. Know that you aren’t going to change womankind and that any decision you make will likely be met with criticism, prone to being whispered rather than spoken aloud, but what’s the alternative? Staying on the hamster wheel and trying frantically to run between guilt and obligation? If you have a career that you love, give yourself permission to love it then enjoy balancing that passion with the blessing of your kids. If you ache every time you leave your kids to run off to a job that is barely tolerable, sit down with your husband and have a heart to heart talk about how you change your picture so you can be home with them. This certainly doesn’t mean you are no longer a “working mom.” The average stay at home mom works 97.7 hours a week and if she was compensated would earn over $117,000 per year. Even Oprah says that being a mother is the hardest and most important job in the world. And this coming from a woman that has achieved nearly unimaginable success in business. If some hybrid is your ideal take some pleasure in knowing that corporate America is slowly but surely coming to an understanding of what women contribute to the workforce and are creating scenarios to accommodate their needs through part time, flex-time and working from home scenarios. But above all DO NOT settle for feeling as though it just is what it is. Is it possible that life may look different once you make an honest evaluation about who you are and what brings you the greatest joy? Yup. But that’s kind of the idea anyhow right? “Having it all” requires that you first know what it “all” looks like. Once you know what your picture is, pursue it with passion and without apology. You will benefit, your family will benefit and I can guarantee that your actions will give someone else the implied permission to have the courage to do the very same thing.