Where you gonna fall
When you realize
You just cant have it all….
~ Bob Seger
Women are in the news again today, making the cover of The Atlantic. A few weeks ago, the buzz was all about Time’s “attachment parenting” cover story, featuring a young mom breast feeding her almost four-year-old son. This time, Anne-Marie Slaughter weighs in on the challenges of balancing family with a powerful position at the US State Department. And Slaughter concludes, based on her experience, that women still face tough, tough choices when it comes to career advancement balanced off against family life. Choices that just aren’t the same for fathers.
I grew up in the feminist era of the late 1960’s and 1970’s. I can still hum the ad for Enjoli, which claimed to be the 24-hour fragrance for the woman who could “bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never ever let you forget you’re a man.” Helen Reddy sang “I Am Woman” to my college friends and me. My roommates and I bought tickets to hear Betty Friedan speak on campus. My friends were smart women – doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, and musicians.
When I married, there was never a question that I would work full time. So I headed out every day by 6:30, to teach a captive audience of high schoolers. Summers and a few nights a week, I worked on my graduate degrees. I was president of a professional organization. I spoke at conferences. Eventually I wrote and published professional articles. Moved into a consulting job, then administration. Built a decent resume.
But here’s the part the resume doesn’t talk about. My son Bryce was born in June. I planned to be at home for the summer with him and his 17-month-old sister Sarah, and return to teaching in the fall. I even had the option to return on a part-time basis for a while. My sister in law took care of the kids and loved them as her own. Ideal, right?
But two children in diapers is a lot of work. And Bryce wasn’t sleeping through the night by the time back-to-school season rolled around. He wasn’t sleeping by Christmas either, or by the following Easter. Bryce was one of those kids that didn’t need much sleep; I sat in shocked silence as friends described babies who took two naps a day and were down for the night by 7 p.m. Bryce might drift off by 10, but was ready to rock and roll a new day sometime around 3:30 am.
So while Slaughter writes of redefining the value of face time in the office and revaluing family values, the elephant in the room is this: Being a mom is a lot of work, and working moms get tired. Even in the ideal circumstance outlined by Slaughter, by the time we work a full day, eat with the family, watch a basketball game or drive the carpool, and oversee baths, bedtime stories, snuggles, and goodnight….guess what? The prospect of a few hours of work related e mail may lose out to putting your feet up for fifteen minutes or so and turning in early.
Returning to work for an evening meeting, or dialing in to a teleconference?
Well, you decide.
Photo: Phillip Toledano for The Atlantic