Wednesday, October 8, 2014

No, You CAN'T Have It All

A few minutes ago, while scanning my Facebook newsfeed, I clicked on an article titled, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." I'm not sure why I did; such articles usually annoy me. And I haven't finished reading the article yet (it's thirteen pages . . . yeesh), so I don't know exactly what conclusions the author is headed toward. But the beginning is rather interesting.

The author is a woman who works at Princeton, I believe (like I said, I haven't finished or read really closely yet) and who spent a couple years in Washington in a high-profile, highly influential position -- the job of her dreams. Yet she gave that job up after two years to go home and spend more time with her family, realizing that her "dream job" simply wasn't worth the sacrifices she was making.

She talks about how choosing to leave your job and "spend more time with your family" has become a euphemism in Washington for being fired. How crazy would it be for someone to actually make that choice of their own volition! Who would give up this kind of power and prestige to devote more energy to being a spouse and raising your kids? Nobody, of course.

But she did. And now she's speaking out, taking back the lies that she used to tell young women in her speaking engagements -- that you can have a high-profile, powerful job and never sacrifice anything in your family life.

Reading this reminded me of a seminal moment in my life. A couple of them, actually.

The first was during my first year of teaching, which was my second year of marriage. I was busting my butt trying to be a good teacher -- and for those of you who don't know, being a good teacher is hard work. Long hours. And for me, constant thinking about students and how to help them and how to get through to them. I was also trying to figure out this wife business -- how to give my husband the attention and support he needed, cook meals, maintain the house, all that.

Then one day, I had a sudden scare that I might be pregnant. I literally was so emotionally distraught, I had to call in sick. The idea of adding a baby to this mix was inconceivable to me.

The reality was, I was too much of a perfectionist. I wanted to be Perfect Wife, Perfect Teacher, and eventually Perfect Mom . . . and I was now coming to the painful reality that this was not possible. And I spent a week or two fuming about this. FUMING at the fact that I had been told all of my life that I could be anything I wanted to be -- and I had been lied to.

The second seminal moment was when hubby and I started talking about having children. I had been teaching for a few years at that point; I was juggling Wife and Teacher fairly well. But I sat and considered seriously the prospect of having a baby and realized I didn't know how to do add a Mother ball to my juggle. And the reason I didn't know is because I had not seen anybody do it well yet.

I knew three kinds of teachers. 1) Lousy teachers, who put minimal effort into their job and got minimal results. 2) Teachers whose lives were completely centered around their jobs -- most of them were single, or childless, or with grown children, and/or their spouses worked for the school system, too. And 3) good teachers who had lives outside of school but who were literally making themselves crazy or sick -- most of them seemed to burn out after a few years.

I had no role model for how to be a good teacher, a good wife, AND a good parent, all at the same time. It was easy to assume that it couldn't be done.

I'm now trying to do all three for the first time in my life. So far, so good, but it is definitely a challenge.

In any case, I'm stunned by women -- and men -- who throw themselves into high-pressure careers and somehow think their families aren't affected by this. I suspect they are in denial; I suspect they know that their families are adversely affected -- they just don't want to acknowledge it. Why?

I probably shouldn't go there . . . maybe another day . . .

No comments: