The Great Myth of “Having it All”

I came of age in the 1980s. This was post second-wave feminism, a time when it was ostensibly possible to be a partner with a corner office, the mom who made homemade treats for the school bake sale, and cooked gourmet entrees for her hottie husband before tantalizing him with Agent Provocateur lingerie every night.

That was what we, the young women of the Decade of Big Hair and Massive Shoulder Pads, were told was our destiny, and, moreover, an entirely reasonable and attainable norm. Even more so, it was the very least to which we could aspire after all of the sacrifices of those magnificent female warriors who paved the way for us. After all, how hard is it to bake a few cupcakes?

Enter the 1990s. I was a young wife and mother working as an associate at a law firm while my husband was completing his residency. We worked ridiculously long hours, were living on a shoestring budget (residents don’t make much, and there wasn’t much left of my starting associate’s salary after the student loan and day care payments had been made) and had precious little of the “quality time” all the experts told us was all our daughter really needed from us anyway.

Our life looked nothing like what women’s magazines like Glamour and Cosmopolitan told us it should. The closest we ever came to gourmet meals in those days was spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread. Homemade bake sale items? You’ve got to be kidding me. I was just hoping the other moms wouldn’t judge me for the grocery store mini-muffins I dashed in to buy the morning of with a cranky, miserable toddler on her hip.

As for the sexy lingerie, try granny panties and shape wear designed to hide those extra 15 post pregnancy pounds.

And don’t even talk about oral sex.

I’m 56. My oldest daughter is the parent of a toddler. Are things easier for her, 25 years later?

Is it okay for her to prioritize in favor of relationships and not appearances? Dear lord, I hope so.

With every breath in my body, I hope so.

I hope that she knows that focusing upon what her baby needs is so much more important than a sparkling kitchen and bake sale offerings that look as though they were purchased at a patisserie (although she could certainly make a baked good to rival anything you might find in a Parisian bakery).

I hope she realizes that making the most of her “free time” nurturing her marriage and the deeply loving, healthy relationship she has forged with her daughter is so much more impactful that whatever else one could be doing with one’s time.

Robert Reich, a cabinet member of the Clinton Administration’, once said, “you can have it all, but not at once.” Truer words have never been spoken.

I have had it all, to be sure, but I have had it over a lifetime. I’ve had tons of quality AND quantity time with my children. I have time to focus a large amount of attention on a career I love. I’ve been able to nurture my marriage and have never been happier with my Duck. I’ve gotten to pursue interests and hobbies that have fulfilled my creative ambitions, and I am so grateful that I have been able to travel and exercise and focus on work on my issues.

But I did all of that over the course of 30 years, and not all at once. The gourmet meals line item remains unchecked, but Michael’s got that covered.

The notion of “having it all” was daunting when I was 25; in this day and age, it strikes me as insanity. I hope young women today see the concept for the phony bill of goods women accepted 40 years ago as the standard to which they had to adhere in order for their career ambitions to be acceptable to the men who at that time still ruled most institutions.

I hope young women will be confident enough not to feel as though their choices need to conform to the expectations of anyone other than themselves. I hope they won’t encounter judgment should they decide they don’t want a spouse or a kid or a career outside the home or any combination thereof.

And I hope they know that store-bought bake sale items are perfectly okay.

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