On “Having It All”

On “Having It All”

On (Still Not) Being Able to “Have It All”: Tired But Happy Mom’s Take on the (Still Impossible) Promise to Mothers

 

When the July/August issue of The Atlantic landed in her mailbox, Tired But Happy Mom couldn’t have been more pleased. The cover story was entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” and those words alone said it all. Tired But Happy Mom’s first thought was: Why did it take so long for someone to write the darned thing?

Apparently, it struck a resonant chime for many other people, too. A week after the issue hit the newsstands, the article—written by former high-ranking Obama staffer Anne-Marie Slaughter—had received more than 1.1 million online views and nearly 170,000 Facebook likes, not to mention thousands of responses in the blogosphere and tons in traditional media. Finally, a bona fide superwoman had said it out loud: There is just no way for mothers to have it all.

In Tired But Happy Mom’s view, it was important that a superwoman like Slaughter—with a super-husband who’s a Princeton professor, hands-on dad, and extremely supportive spouse—write this story because most of us are not like her. Most of us don’t have the exceptional career, financial, or spousal support that she has. If Slaughter can’t pull it off, come on: No mom can.

Fact: Most moms have to earn an income, and most have to work full-time. Try telling a mom who has to work 10 hours a day to support her family–hardly unusual in this economy–that it is possible to be available to her children in the ways that she would prefer to be, and you will, at best, be treated to a stern, aggrieved look. Tired But Happy Mom, for one, has missed plays, teacher conferences, sporting events–failed to chaperone homework assignments adequately–because she has to make a living. She has felt awful for her children and like a miserable failure as a mother.

But the alternative is equally awful, if not worse. The house could conceivably fall into foreclosure. The lights could be turned off. Food could fail to materialize on the table. These aren’t the concerns of a worrywart mom (though Tired But Happy Mom has plenty of those, too). These are realities that Tired But Happy Mom has actually experienced and has no wish to do so ever again.

If there’s anything worse than missing the school play for which one’s child has worked so hard—mostly, for the purpose and delight of performing it for her parents—it’s having the electricity cut off for inability to pay bills. The issue is not inconvenience; it’s that children feel legitimately unsafe, scared, and anxious. When this did happen, all Tired But Happy Mom could do to reassure her beloveds was that many families live through worse every day. It was not very reassuring. But it was true: This is not Fallujah.

Tired But Happy Mom often reflects on the reality that the majority of the world’s moms have it a lot tougher than she does. She also bets that concerns about “work-family balance” and “having it all” don’t come up all that often; there just isn’t the time, there aren’t the resources for such questions. Most of the world’s moms are content if they can raise healthy, happy children who will have better options than the previous generation.

Now, Tired But Happy Mom would happily cut off her right arm (or sell a kidney—don’t think it hasn’t occurred to her) to provide more than this for her crew. But in this economic climate, that may as good as it gets. Tired But Happy Mom has made an uneasy peace with it, and in the process, she has deleted a lot of personal sturm and drang about “finding balance.” Privately, she always suspected that “balance” was a bourgeois illusion. Now that a member of the super elite has written that it doesn’t exist, Tired But Happy Mom knows for sure.

What she does wonder is, what is “having it all” anyway? At the end of the day, Tired But Happy Mom is grateful to still be paid for work she loves, that bills are now usually paid on time, and for the love, health, and ebullient minds of her children. If she can have a dinner out with Awesome Dad or a friend every now and then, fabulous. If this isn’t “having it all,” maybe Tired But Happy Mom is missing something. Or maybe she isn’t.

 

 

Tired But Happy Mom is also known as Susan Gregory Thomas, author of In Spite of Everything: A Memoir (Random House: July, 2011) and Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds (Houghton Mifflin: May, 2007). Thomas writes for The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, Marie ClaireParents, and others. She lives with her family in Philadelphia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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