Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Who said we could have it all, anyway?

As a college student, I frantically studied compound interest rates, internalized queueing theory to the point that, even now, standing in a line, I look around for a more efficient way to manage all the waiting people, and calculated and recalculated linear programming models to optimize moving crates on a ship to port.  Like everyone else in my classes, I imagined one day sitting at a grand desk, sitting atop the broken ceiling glass, as the COO of a major manufacturing corporation, an international one so that I could and would be required to travel regularly.  At the same time, I would be a mom who showed up for the chorus performance, baked cookies for the Valentine’s party, taught Sunday School, and kept an immaculate home.

I soon came to the realization that all that wasn’t possible, at least not for me.  This realization became evident to me as I worked 12 hours a day, on the late afternoon/night shift in a production facility.  I almost forgot what my husband looked like awake.  But I thought that if I changed my professional goals and realigned my plans, I could have more of what I wanted – a career and the life of June Cleaver - if I was a teacher.

When my daughter was born, I had all intention of going back to work and I did.  I enjoyed my job, I really did love teaching, but I couldn’t wait to get back to her.  I was so anxious about what she was doing and what I was missing in her little teeny life while I was at work.  So, I eventually quit.

And that was hard.  Because it’s hard to answer that inevitable question at alumni events with “no, I’m not working, I’m staying home with my daughter.”  It’s hard to explain to folks why I was sitting at home playing pat-a-cake and Itsy Bitsy Spider with an MBA hanging on the wall.  It was hard watching my friends’ careers take flight.  It was hard walking around empty handed at my husband’s work events while everyone else was passing out business cards.  Being a stay-at-home mother was a very hard transition, almost more so than becoming a mother.

But it was a choice that I made, with 100% support from my husband.  I weighed the options.  I could be a working mother, at whatever career level I aspired to, or I could be a stay-at-home mother.  (Now, as an aside, let me say that both of these terms are a bit inaccurate as every mother is “working” and not too many “stay-at-home”.  But, back to where we were.)  It was obvious to me, that I couldn’t “have it all”, not if “all” was defined in the way I had framed it in my head when I was 20-something years old – a high-level, travel around the world, executive career and a be-there-for-every-moment motherhood.  There was no way that was possible as far as I could see it.  Many women are still striving for this holy pink grail of womanhood, but  I still don’t see it - not for me, not for anyone.  At the risk of annoying or insulting any of my acquaintances, I don’t know anyone who does have it “all”.

I have friends who have dynamic, interesting, awe-inspiring careers and no children, friends who are fully and wholly devoted to their house-full of children without a career in sight, and friends all along the continuum in between.  We each have made some crucial, important, and very personal decisions and choices to be at our particular point in life.   There’s not one that I think has it “all”, but I do believe that most of my friends are happy with their lot, whether heavier on the career side or the family side, or somehow balanced.  Even the idea of a balanced work-family combination, it still considers a selection of choices.  I know women who have good, mid-management careers who have forgone the climb up the ladder because they would rather spend some time cheering on basketball games and sitting through dance recitals.  I don’t know if that’s having it all, but it seems like a pretty good mix.

The entire discussion of having it all is interesting, because it seems almost faulted at its root.  In what other aspect of life, can we have it all?  Yes, I do lament that I can’t have a perfect hourglass, size 4 figure while by-passing the gym and eating chocolate cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Not ready to offer me a solution, are you, because that’s just ridiculous.  Even Jesus couldn’t have it all.  He begged His Father for some other solution – could He be the Saviour of mankind, but not have to die as prophesied for the past couple thousand years?  Apparently not.  So who are we to think that we can have the corner office and the corporate jet, and still make it to school for the sing-along and have a ready plate of brownies every time the little folks get off the bus?

I think we all can strive to find the mix that works for us.  That configuration of professional existence, motherhood, wifey-ness, and our own personal self that defines who and what we are.  Instead of worrying about how to have it “all”, I think we should focus on having what we want, really and truly.  Do we really want to be a corporate executive or do we really want to be a mom or do we want something in between?  There’s no right or wrong, and there’s no need to rearrange society so that everyone can have all of both.  And we shouldn’t make it seem like there’s something wrong with any woman (or man, for that matter) who isn’t trying to grab all the crayons in the box.

I don’t have any scientific numbers or quotes from highly intelligent people to bolster my position.  Partly because I’m writing this post in the middle of the night, while eating a peanut butter & jelly sandwich for dinner because we were at a swim meet until almost dark and then came home and watched the Olympic trials long after my children should’ve been in the bed.  Partly because I will forget to look for any factual evidence by the time I get everyone to their activities and return to my computer for a few quiet moments tomorrow.  And partly because, well, I figure I’m intelligent enough to at least come up with my own opinion, without anyone telling me what I'm supposed to want.  And so are you.


Anonymous said...

I love this! Now how to talk to the girls about this? ... to reach for it all now with the understanding that it's not because you have to be CEO someday, but it's for your joy and growth and to give you OPTIONS when you are older. That there is beauty in sacrifice and that your value comes not from what you do, how you look or how much you earn...bit from the Christ in you. -Paula

Mommyx4 said...

I agree - education, at all levels, allows people to have options to do what they want. Education shapes our minds, teaches us how to think, and makes us well-rounded, intelligent people, regardless of what we do professionally. I sometimes joke that my Ops degree comes in handy when trying to manage the comings & goings of a family of 6.

Debra Sydnor said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Franci - which I found to be on point (as usual). :-) To me the big takeaway is to not get caught up in how the world or societal "norms" define "all" or "having it all." The truth of the matter is that we are all unique individuals created according to God's sight with individual and unique purposes. So, there's no one size fits all definition of "all" and, more importantly, "all" tends to be a fluid concept. What "having it all" means in our 20s is quite a different animal than what it means now in our 40s or what it'll mean in our 60s. The fact that we have happy, wholesome, and loving husbands, children, familial relationships, and nurturing sister-friends is a blessing and for many the definition and full embodiment of "having it all!" Love you lots!!