As a young woman I always believed in the “feminist fairy tale” — that I could have it all. But when I finally became a mother, I began to question such a reality. As a new mom with a Ph.D. and growing career, I wondered if I could truly “have it all” or if something would eventually have to give in my overloaded schedule. I was (and am) exhausted and it has been near impossible to keep up with my “normal” workload. I have constantly been concerned about my daughter getting all she needs from me (and me getting all I need from my daughter).
I had a long struggle to becoming a mother. After ten years, multiple infertility treatments, many prayers, and even more tears, my husband and I decided to adopt. We’ve been so fortunate to be blessed with our daughter, but becoming a mother was not what I expected. I had fantasized about motherhood, imagined it as my true destiny, a spiritual path, the role God intended me to have. But once I became a mother, I found myself constantly falling short. The laundry is never done, take out for dinner happens far too often, and some days I have forgotten to pack my daughter’s lunch. I’m late to work, I miss deadlines, I don’t return phone calls or emails, and I wonder if it is possible to get back to being organized and on top of life the way I was pre-mom.
In my very short time as a mom (my daughter is now 6 years old) I’ve come to realize that in fact, “having it all” is nothing more than a feminist fairy tale. Rather than believing in prince charming and happily ever after, feminists (myself included) have held onto this notion that women can have the best of all worlds with no consequences. However, there is no such thing as no consequences. There are repercussions to every decision we make including “choosing” to be a working parent vs. a stay at home parent. The interactions we have with our children are different, not better or worse, just different.
I love my daughter and I love my career, but the bottom line is, I am not able to give the attention to both the way that I want to. If I was a stay at home mom, my relationship with my daughter (and our family) would be different. If I was not a mother, my career would be on a different path. Yet here I am, doing both, and trying to figure out how to do both well.
I am certain that I am not alone. And for many women, working is not a choice. Whether I like my career or not, we are a two income family by necessity as many families are. And then there are single moms doing it all on their own…just thinking about that makes me tired!
I am grateful to the women like Sheryl Sandberg and Anne Marie Slaughter who have recharged the conversation. I appreciate their thoughts on scheduling life, seeing our careers as having peaks and valleys, and learning how to navigate them But what about mothers who don’t have choices about scheduling their careers? How do mothers have it all — particularly when they do not have any choices in the matter?
Do we have to have it all or can we just have what we have and embrace it for what it is? While I find myself failing on a daily basis – ordering pizza for dinner, missing a deadline, or not making it to the shower (yes, it happens!) – I do know that I am offering my daughter a role model of a woman who keeps trying. And to me, that is what it means to be “momstrong” — giving it our best and never giving up.
There is no such thing as the perfect mother, we all know that. There is also no such thing as having it all and we need to stop obsessing about it. Instead of reaching for something that is impossible, I want to embrace what I have and honor it for what it is. I am a mother and a career woman, some things I do well, others I don’t, but every day I wake up and do my best. And I don’t think that there is a better example I can set for my child.
By Gina Messina, PhD.