I want it all too. Who doesn’t? I knew I would be up at an ungodly hour at least one night last week, so I printed out all 22 pages of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s controversial article from the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” to keep me busy in the pre-dawn hours. Slaughter writes about her choice to step down from a high-powered job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department in Washington DC in order to spend more time with her family in Princeton, NJ. While her wonderful husband picked up the slack mid-week when she was gone, she felt she wanted to be home more too. So she went back to teaching a full load at Princeton, writing about foreign policy in print and online, appearing regularly on TV, and writing a book. What a slacker.
It is hard to be a woman these days. We work, we take primary control of the kids’ scheduling, we are in charge of making sure the house is clean (except if we are lucky enough to marry a neat freak; while I edit this my husband is touching up spots only he sees on the wall), we make sure there is dinner on the table (well, at least until the kids go off to college), and we plan our social lives. We are the ones who remember the names of our kid’s friends. We are the ones who know which parents will be clueless or absent when there is a party going on at the house. It is our fault when we forget the niece’s and nephew’s birthdays (and I wish to publicly apologize right now to two nephews and six nieces).
“I really don’t think Annie should EVER marry,” my 97- year- old grandmother announced the other day. “She should just live with a guy. It’s too hard for women these days- with work, kids, and the house, they have too much to do if they marry.” I almost fell off my chair, and then I realized that she was being sarcastic (a rare and beautiful sight) because she can’t really fathom how Annie can be so happy being single at 25. Right after that, she asked if she could come live with us and sleep in our now empty dog crate.
But I digress. Anne-Marie Slaughter is obviously one smart cookie. She loves and cares for her family, she is quite a role model, and she took a big risk admitting that it was impossible for her to juggle a high level government job with the needs of two teenage boys, which doesn’t quite seem fair when you consider how many men travel much of the week, relying on their very special spouses to hold things together at home. Slaughter makes some salient points about society’s need to change expectations about when, where and how work is done to accommodate work/family balance. She advocates for employers to allow more flex time, more work from home, and she implores employers to value results, not hours logged. Yay for all of that, and I love that she is a woman of power advocating for women.
On the other hand, did Anne-Marie Slaughter miss the physics class where the rest of us learned that you cannot be in two places at once? Of course you can’t sip champagne and greet foreign dignitaries with the Obamas in DC during the week and still be physically and emotionally present for your family in Princeton, NJ. And does teaching a full load, writing a book, giving 40 to 50 speeches a year and appearing regularly on TV and radio qualify as cutting back? You make the average Josephine feel pretty damn inadequate.
The description of what Anne-Marie does as her “light load” made me tired. I closed my eyes and the pages of the article dropped to the floor in a mess. “I totally admire and can’t stand this woman,” I thought, “but is she any different than any of us?” I wondered if Anne-Marie was also up at night (could she possibly have time to sleep?) and if so, whether she tortured herself about her life decisions? Did she wonder if her choice was between professional success or happiness and whether she chose wisely? Did she wonder if she never should have taken that job that brought her away from her family five days a week? Did she think that with more attention, her son would have fewer issues? I couldn’t help but think Anne-Marie was just like everyone else, that she was up at night wondering.
Part time, full time, stay at home mom- we all know there are no guarantees. Every full time professional woman I know wishes they had more time for the kids. Every stay-at- home mom I know is wondering “what’s next?” Every part- time working mom feels overwhelmed and torn. And if there were really a guarantee that our children would come out perfect if we sacrificed everything for them, I don’t know a woman around who wouldn’t take that deal.
If I had taken a different path, I could have been a partner in a law firm. If I had taken a different path, I never would have been a lawyer in the first place. Maybe I wouldn’t be so obsessed with the lives of my children. Maybe I could have could made a name for myself. I could have been a stronger role model, or was I too strong? Did I talk on the phone about work too much in the car while my kid sat next to me bored? Should I have gone to those night meetings? Did I pay enough attention? Did I pay too much attention?
I could have. I should have. Do I look back now and wonder? You bet. To be human is not to have it all. To be human means to feel that something is missing in our life, that something is incomplete.
I guess I’m human.