Breaking News: Women Still Can’t Have it All. Guess What? No One Can.
Anne-Marie Slaughter was, until recently, the first female director of policy planning at the State Department. She left her post to return to her tenured position at Princeton and to spend more time with her family — she has two teenage sons. She wrote about her decision in the Atlantic, boldly proclaiming that “Women Still Can’t Have it All.” It was supposed to speak to me. She admits her arguments are about women like her — highly educated career professionals. That sounds like me. And like Anne-Marie Slaughter, I worked in politics, and at a pretty senior level. Many of my cohorts — even kids who interned for me — have gone on to work in the White House and on high-profile national campaigns. I should feel a kindred spirit with Ms. Slaughter. Instead her article makes me want to slaughter her. I’m not entirely sure why, but here are a few of the reasons I think play a role:
- First, she seems kind of late to the game — as if she was the first to discover that it’s tough to balance work and family and do both well.
- She seems prepared to suggest changes in national policy to suit the needs of a certain type of working mother. For instance, she suggests changing the school day to match the work day. That’s awesome! I love it! School that ran from 8:30 to 5:30 would be great for working working moms and for kids. But, oh, wait, what about the nurse who works the overnight shift? Or the medical resident who works 50 consecutive hours and then has the rest of the week off, or the CIA operative who does lord knows what at who knows what time? They’re all highly educated career professionals, aren’t they?
- She seems to feel like women are the only ones who get the raw end of the stick, and generally, I agree. But men don’t have it all either. Maybe they’ve been better socialized to deal with the sacrifices many of them make on the family side in order to pursue careers that keep them away from home so much. But it doesn’t mean they have it all.
- And really, why are we supposed to be able to have it all? We teach our kids they can’t have every toy in the store, or every cookie in the jar or every privilege in the world, and yet we don’t seem to understand it’s about making choices for ourselves.
You can have a wildly successful career and be a wildly successful parent. Employers can make changes that will make that easier for parents, and they’ll find that it helps their bottom line too. Many great companies, universities and other organizations already have, and many more should. But the fact will always remain that certain jobs and certain employers are inconsistent with a certain style of parenting. No one can have it all. You can’t be President of the United States and President of the PTA. You can’t eat to your heart’s desire and be a supermodel. You can’t travel the world for your job and be home every time your kids need you. Despite all the technology in the world, you can’t really be in two places at once, live a guilt-free life, or buy some guarantee that if you make all the right choices and all the right sacrifices, your kids will turn out to be perfect people who appreciate all you’ve done for them. That’s life — for women and for men.