As soon as Anne-Marie Slaughter's Atlantic cover story, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," hit my mailbox, I devoured it, and I've been discussing it all week with friends, my husband and yes, my nanny.
I think her attitude is unnecessarily defeatist. You know what? I do have it all, and I'm proud, happy and grateful for it. I'm going to keep working like hell to keep it all. And I'm not going to apologize for that.
Caveats: I'm 31 and have a 6-month-old, so I'm at the very beginning of this lifelong working mother role. And like Slaughter's piece, my comments pertain to an oh-so-small sector of the population; upper-class educated women, not the vast majority of mothers who do work because they MUST work. Actually, I think it's disrespectful to those women for those of us who DO have it all to complain.
That said, here's HOW and WHY things work for me so far.
I woke up at 6:30 this morning, nursed the baby, played with her, sang to her, read to her, put her down for a nap, pumped breast milk, went for a quick run, and then my nanny arrived and my workday started. I finalized research for a two-night overseas reporting trip I'm taking this week, met with my editor to discuss it, wrote this blog post, did an interview, caught up on email (a chapter I'm contributing to a book; made arrangements to remotely visit a class) and was home by 3. I wrote my monthly personal finance column during the baby's nap and walk, played with the baby, made dinner, gave the baby a bath and put her to bed, had dinner and connected with my husband, and then went to bed myself by 10.
- I have a great employer and a variety of flexible freelance gigs including writing and speaking. My value is based on the work I do, not the time I spend in the office. This is crucial! It's also increasingly common. It doesn't work for the State Department, but I know lots of doctors and lawyers who work part-time and/or are self-employed.
- I have a husband who wants to share equally in the parenting, and just as important, I let him. He took several weeks of paternity leave. He gets up early in the morning with our daughter at least a couple of times a week, sings to her and plays with her and comforts her when she's upset. In one of the discussions about this story, a father said something like "Well, the kid just prefers his mother and that's that" -- therefore she's in charge when baby's sick or gets up in the middle of the night. No. That doesn't just happen. It happens when moms refuse to take a step back for fear that something won't be done perfectly. And it happens when men refuse to step up and be real 21st century men. Parenting as a team has made our marriage stronger. So has going out on regular dates and doing fun things that remind us of our child-free selves.
- Lots of other people love my child, and I let them, too. I believe that a lot of the anguish in modern working motherhood comes from a false image of the mother as the be-all and end-all. I've read that we evolved in tribal societies with "allomothers," siblings among them, sharing in the baby care. Everywhere my child goes, she makes friends and charms people -- she's evolved to do exactly this, because she needs as much love as she can get! My group of "allomothers" includes my in-laws, who live nearby and visit often -- my daughter's grandmother is eagerly taking her for an overnight while I'm traveling on this business trip. And of course, our amazing nanny. We've stayed in our one bedroom apartment for the past six months in part to be better able to afford her full-time salary (on the books, with benefits).
- I don't believe I owe my child a perfect life. I do believe that we all owe it to each other to try to be as happy a family as possible, where everybody gets as much of what they need as possible. I know along the way I'm going to miss a recital (Grandma or Grandpa can hopefully sub in for me), read a few bedtime stories over Skype and also pass up a great work opportunity here and there because my family needs me. That's just life! That doesn't mean don't have it all.
Follow Anya Kamenetz on Twitter: