Not so long ago, Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg announced to all working mothers in America than if she can have it all, then so can they! It's easy-peasy -- just leave work at 5 p.m., take some paperwork along home with you and VOILA! -- more time with the kids and you can stay on top of your profession.
Except that Sandberg missed one little point -- that about 99.9999% of working women in our country don't have the luxury or job security to just pack up at 5 p.m. and make a show of breezing out of the office. If they did, lots of them would find themselves out of work or, at the very least, on the wrong end of the promotion list.
Even a Princeton professor and former Obama administration official knows better and she's written about that in The Atlantic. Anne-Marie Slaughter's article is an excellent one -- except for the title, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." To say that Slaughter is an accomplished professional woman is a massive understatement. But as her children got older, she learned something that many of us already knew -- there will be times when your children's needs trump your professional ambitions. Slaughter hasn't abandoned her working life, but she talks about choices she's made that fly in the face of cultural expectations that real professionals will choose job over family -- the "having it all" conundrum.
I've thought many of the same things as Slaughter. We are both "women of a certain age." And I believed, thanks to the women who paved the way for my generation, that I'd be able to be a committed professional, as well as a hands-on mother who could "have it all" with no problem.
Not surprisingly, that turned out to be a fantasy. I had to reassess at some point, because the needs of my daughter changed and those needs were challenging at times. Like Slaughter, I became a mother later in life as a result of spending time pursuing my education and career. I thought if I survived the baby and toddler years, I could figure out how to find my way back to professional fulfillment, knowing that the heavy lifting of motherhood was done.
But adolescence is tough and it just might be more important to take a step off the professional track when our children are in that phase of life than when they are toddlers, and that can throw a real monkey wrench into a professional career. Slaughter writes about the worries she had about her middle school son while she was attending a high-profile professional engagement as one of the moments that prompted her to take a small step back in order to create a life that would allow her to focus more on the needs of her children.
While this is a discussion worth having, the one question we rarely debate is about whether or not men have it all. Do they want it all? Do they care? And how do we create a society where the questions about tackling the issues of parenting are ones that are shared equally by mothers and fathers?
I gave up the world of crazy billable hours and nice-sounding titles to work as a writer from a home office so I could have the flexibility to do the "mom thing." I know there are many people who say that makes me a traitor to the sisterhood, but in the end it was a good decision for everyone, especially our daughter, who had a challenging few years with night terrors and attachment issues that required a lot of attention. As we head into the teen years, I can see that some of those issues may be coming up again. And it will take a completely different approach and amount of time to work through them with a seventh grader than it did with a preschooler.
You might say, "Well, what about your husband?" Parenting is a team sport, no doubt. And he has definitely done his share of all sorts of parenting duties. But someone needs to stay in a job with insurance benefits and that has a salary to pay the bills. And, yes, that could have been me if I'd stayed on the professional path and he'd been the one to step off. But we made a decision that worked for us, without me realizing that there would be a whole lot of judgment going on in the world of moms and the media.
I'm just glad I've gotten to the point where I don't take it to heart (much) anymore when others share their disappointment over our personal decisions. And as for the "dad" discussion -- let's have an article on that next time.
Joanne Bamberger is the author of the Amazon.com bestseller, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America. Joanne, a Washington, D.C.-based writer and political/media analyst, is the founder of the political blog, PunditMom, as well as the group site, The Broad Side.
Follow Joanne Bamberger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JLCBamberger