Balance vs. Having it All

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Many people have been chimed in on this article in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Now it’s my turn. In this article,  Ms. Slaughter discusses the difficulties facing women today in developed countries. In the grand scheme of the world, these difficulties seem really whiny as I sit here in my nice air-conditioned house with plumbing and clean water, but comparatively, they are a big deal to the sanity of women today. Growing up, our mothers always told us that as women, we could “have it all”. Meaning, we didn’t have to be like our mothers or grandmothers. We didn’t HAVE to stay at home with the kids and have dinner on the table at 6:00. We could work full-time, high-powered jobs AND be the president of the PTA AND be a gourmet cook AND have a clean, well-organized house AND be super fit and well dressed. Essentially, we could have our cake and eat it too. Society did a fantastic job at selling us a dream. Too bad reality didn’t catch-up with the dream.

The idea of getting to be the best at everything sounds phenomenal; it’s just not realistic. When you have dreamed of all of those roles for so long, it’s a tough pill to swallow when you realize that unless you have a Time Turner from Harry Potter, there is no way you can make all of those dreams come true. Several years ago, I gave up my life long dream of being a professor. It was a bittersweet day because I felt that I was letting myself down. I thought that I was selling myself short by not pursuing an “important” or “impressive” career as a professor at a Research I university or a high-level analyst within the public sector. Those types of careers were what people expected of me, at least in my mind. Even now, I think about going to high school reunions and having people ask me what I do and saying, “I’m a teacher.” I LOVE what I do, but the expectation was that I would have a more prestigious position. However, that fateful day in graduate school where I had such bad stomach pains from stress that I could not stand up I had to make a choice.

I chose family. I wanted to be able to have time with my husband and any future children. My mom went to every single softball game, swim meet, and play and had a delicious dinner prepared every night. I wanted to be good to my family. Back when I was trying my darnedest to be Super Amber, I was a failure. I was mean. I cried all the time. I was selfish. I was not a good person. Something had to give. I needed to be a good person and being a stupendous career woman, in my mind, doesn’t necessarily make you a good person. More that, I wanted to have some sanity. Even though I did cut back, my life as a teacher is still difficult because I constantly strive to be the best. As a result, there were times right after I had Ben when I was breastfeeding and I realized that I had a total of 1 hour to myself daily that didn’t involve doing something for someone else. That hour included showering, going to the bathroom, and eating breakfast because all other times I was either pumping, grading, or doing some sort of multitasking. I’m not the only woman who has gone through this, and it’s a hard life. But, I can’t imagine what life would have been like had I chosen another path.

Part of the reason why it is so difficult to “have it all” in our society is that Americans, for all of our focus on the family, are remarkably unfriendly to employees who want to have families. Granted, I’m speaking in generalizations, but many women and men are judged if they don’t want to work 80 hours per week and want to have dinner with their families. I would be so bold to say that part of our obesity epidemic is our focus on achieving at our careers. Beyond that, there is some hard evidence as to why America is so negative toward family. First, the government only requires companies to provide 6 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. That is barely enough time for a woman who has had a C-Section to heal enough to go back to work. I should know. I returned to work almost 6 weeks to the day after my C-section. Point two: daycare is exorbitantly expensive once you do go back to work. In many markets, women actually PAY to go to work because of how expensive it is to put their kids into daycare. That is ridiculous. Another point is that work and school schedules are often at odds. Granted, I’m a teacher, but I have to be at work before the students arrive and after they leave. Add in a 30+ minute commute and I’m not going to be able to put Ben on the bus to his first day of kindergarten or be able to see him get off the bus. That makes me incredibly sad.

While this post is long and whiny, I do want to say that I am grateful that I have the ability to work. I just wish that I was able to REALLY have it all. Maybe the next generation will be able to figure it out.

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