Having It All: Myth or Reality?

As I sit down to write this, my infant son is strapped to my chest, snoozing (the miracles of a Moby wrap). I look at the clock, knowing I may only have 15 minutes, 20 if I’m lucky. And that’s how my day breaks down: My baby takes all my attention for feeding, changing, playing and holding, save for a few short naps that last on average about 20 minutes. These tiny windows of time present a Sophie’s Choice of needs: Do I shower or eat? Can I glance at my emails, write a blog for my website or pay a bill? Dare I take a catnap? And, yes, I only get to pick one.

I knew this would be my life when I signed up for Mommyhood. And my son deserves—and gets—to prioritize my time and attention. He’s new to this world and he needs all of me right now. But I can’t help but want me for myself too. I miss the ability to make decisions on a whim and spend most of my day doing, well, whatever the hell I want. I’ve been at this for only a few weeks now, and already I’m worrying about the reality most new mothers face: Returning to work full time (not to mention running a website and writing a book) and balancing a career and a family (hi, husband, remember me?).

Success at all of this two is dubbed “having it all,” and women are constantly told they just can’t do it. Whether it’s the notion that successful, educated women are too intimidating to snag a man (and therefore produce a child) or the expectation that mothers can’t also be career women and keep their family in tact, we’ve been told for decades that it’s an either/or decision, never both. Of course I raise my nose—and a certain finger—at that notion, but it’s not a total farce.

Barbara Walters famously declared that having it all is impossible for a working woman. She’s written extensively about her decision to neglect her daughter in pursuit of her broadcasting career. Stevie Nicks and Oprah Winfrey have echoed this sentiment on many occasions, claiming they’d never have reached superstardom if they had children. And I believe them. To be a rock star, one of the most powerful women in media or, well, Oprah, it takes 100 percent of a person’s time, even more if you’re a woman going against the male-dominated grain.

But what if you’re not trying to be Oprah or Barbara Walters? Can a slightly less super woman have it all these days?

Just one seat over from Walters on “The View” sits Elisabeth Hasselbeck. She’s a woman of my generation with three kids, an intact marriage, a demanding career and enough focus and energy to maintain her ridiculously fit physique and show up at conservative rallies to say things that infuriate me. I don’t agree with the woman’s political beliefs, but I admire the hell out of the way she’s making it all work.

Of course she has access to help most of us can’t afford—nannies, chefs, personal trainers and the like—but she’s a good representation of how times have changed for working mothers (though affordable, dependable child care is still the most essential–and hard to find–component of making this work). And then there’s Tina Fey—who falls somewhere between Hasselbeck and Oprah on the super-success scale. Fey, a personal hero, is a mom, a mogul and an activist feminist. She discusses the “juggle” in her book, “Bossypants.” She declares that the rudest question you can ask a woman isn’t “how much do you weigh?” or “how old are you?” but “how do you juggle it all,” followed by, “are you going to have more kids?”

Fey takes offense because the question “how do you do it?” implies that it’s out of the ordinary or that there must be some secret to a woman’s success at the juggle—or perhaps they’re just prodding for proof of failure.

In the book (get it), Fey weighs the decision to have a second child. She’s torn between her work (which is more than just showbiz fun; she’s deliberately helping advance the industry for women) and another kid. And at the end of the day, there is no clear answer: “I can’t possibly take time off for a second baby, unless I do, in which case that is nobody’s business and I’ll never regret it for a moment unless it ruins my life.”

And there you have it. There’s no answer to whether or not having children is a good or a bad thing for a career—and even if mastering the two is even possible (Fey is pregnant with her second child, to which I say: yay, Tina!). But I also believe that we can have it all—at least our version of it. It takes making deliberate choices and reaching reasonable compromise with ourselves.

As I sit here finishing this blog post during a separate 15-minute window a day later (compromise #1: understand some things will take longer than usual) I’m thrilled with the peace and quiet to work alone (compromise #2: daddy watches baby on his day off so mommy can work). But I also feel guilty. I haven’t even left the house for a full day yet, but even a little time away from the little person who physically needs me hurts. Having it all is hard.

I don’t yet know how successful my attempt at juggling will be and whether my “all” will be achieved, but I’m going to give it my best shot.


PG

Author: Heather Wood Rudulph

Heather Wood Rudúlph is the co-founder of SexyFeminist.com and recently FeministMommy.com. She's a seasoned editor and writer, most recently for The Huffington Post, AOL, DAYSPA magazine and Movies.com. She’s written and edited stories about entertainment, beauty, healthcare, fashion, travel, teens, spirituality, women's rights, civil rights and environmental practices. Her work has also appeared in Seventeen, Elle, Details.com and The Los Angeles Daily News. She teaches nonfiction writing for Gotham Writers Workshop and is co-author of the book, SEXY FEMINISM, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March, 2013. She has a journalism degree with a sociology minor from Syracuse University and lives in California with her husband and son.
About Heather Wood Rudulph

Heather Wood Rudúlph is the co-founder of SexyFeminist.com and recently FeministMommy.com. She's a seasoned editor and writer, most recently for The Huffington Post, AOL, DAYSPA magazine and Movies.com. She’s written and edited stories about entertainment, beauty, healthcare, fashion, travel, teens, spirituality, women's rights, civil rights and environmental practices. Her work has also appeared in Seventeen, Elle, Details.com and The Los Angeles Daily News. She teaches nonfiction writing for Gotham Writers Workshop and is co-author of the book, SEXY FEMINISM, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March, 2013. She has a journalism degree with a sociology minor from Syracuse University and lives in California with her husband and son.

Comments

  1. Lex Lawson says:

    I commend your desire to embrace all the things you want out of life, career, motherhood, marriage, and to push through and say you will make it work. Of course hard work and sacrifice is key to any success, but your disregard for the amount of help it will take along the way seems irresponsible to the feminist cause. By barely acknowledging the help Elisabeth Hasselbeck has: “Of course she has access to help most of us can’t afford—nannies, chefs, personal trainers and the like—but she’s a good representation of how times have changed for working mothers” you are setting the bar only for those with an immense amount of financial i.e. social privilege that most ‘working mothers’ can in no feasible way achieve. I am not saying that women have to choose between motherhood and careers, but without affordable childcare and shared household responsibilities (repeated research studies report women do the majority), the superwoman stereotype of the 1980s post-feminist myth is being repeated. The most important thing to acknowledge here is that while the ‘having it all mother’ is pursuing the career of their dreams, tucking in their children and loving their partner, someone else is cleaning up the mess and making barely enough to pay their bills.

    • Heather Wood Rudúlph says:

      Lex, you’re absolutely right about the need for affordable, solid child care, and thank you for bringing that up here. It’s, of course, a key issue for all mothers and our policies are in desperate need of reform. The topic sparked a tangent as I wrote this, in fact, but in this blog, I wanted to explore the idea of “having it all” and what that means to me. Using the implausible examples of celebrities shows that it’s clearly different for us all, regardless of ambition or access.

  2. Iva-Marie Palmer says:

    As a new mother going through all of this and looking to role models like Fey to make me feel halfway sane, I thank you for this! I couldn’t have said it better myself. (So thank you for saving me the time I may have spent trying…Now I have that much more time to write a spurt of words for the chapter I’m working on after my little boy goes to bed!)

  3. dara says:

    Sister! GREAT POST. My thoughts have swirled around and around this very topic also. I feel compelled to communicate some things about the world AND have a family. In fact, I believe I would not have heard my calling had I not had my family. And it is one hell of “juggle” that has forced me to be laser about my ambitions. My second child is about to be two and my first just turned five and I finally see that I will have it all. Though motherhood is divinely eternal, the practicalities are a pitstop, not a life sentence. You are in the thick of it and will be for a few years. Through some major surrender, patience and the eventual independence of my littles, my creativity is climbing back on top and is all the more crystal because I have dared to be a mom. I am cheering you on! Thanks for writing about such an important topic. It is my pleasure to share it.

    • Heather Wood Rudúlph says:

      Thanks so much for the vote of confidence, Dara, and congrats to your version of Having It All! I think you nailed it with “it is one hell of a juggle that has forced me to be laser about my ambitions.” Great advice to all super moms!

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