Having It All Means Asking for It

jobinterviewThe media is obsessed with examining the pursuit of women trying to “have it all,” almost always blaming feminism. But I just experienced what that ideal really means, at least to me.

I had a phone interview with a prospective employer. She was impressed by my credentials, I was attracted to the job. We discussed pay, logistics, etc. and then I didn’t hesitate to mention my son, who is now two. “Finding a job that values its employees’ commitment to their own lives, particularly their children, is paramount in my decision,” I told her. “I don’t want to apologize for sick days, or pretend that I’m not a mother.”

I waited.

Her response: “I feel you. When I first started working I was one of the first faculty hired and no one was having babies, certainly not talking about wanting them. Things have changed so much, at least around here, that I now stock kids’ toys in my desk’s bottom drawer in case someone needs to bring her child to work.”

I got the job. I was hired because I am qualified and enthusiastic. I took the job because I will be valued for those skills and not devalued for being a mother. I feel so much better knowing this going in rather than wading in the waters to figure out the climate of my new workplace.

My scenario exists in the slightly more flexible world of academia. I am taking a part-time teaching job at a local college while I continue to work on books and articles at home, while raising—and prioritizing—my child. But my experience is something all working mothers (and that’s each and every one of us) should think about. We need to put our wants and desires above those prescribed for us by everyone else.

The only reason we have the FMLA, flex-time, job sharing, or any semblance of prioritizing women and mothers in the workplace is because some of those very mothers demanded it. Women like my new boss benefitted from it and now she’s in a position to make sure others can as well. We still have a long way to go before women are forced to feel torn between career and motherhood, but we’re not going to get there unless we keep talking. Feminism has given us this opportunity; the lesson is that having it all is possible if you speak up for what you want to have.

For more on motherhood and feminism, visit Sexy Feminist’s sister site, feministmommy.com

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.

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