I remember when I was 25 and it was the year 2000. That birthday was hard for me, because I remembered 10 years prior, when I was 15 years old thinking of all things that I wanted for myself when I was 25. I thought I would have it all. I would definitely be married, have at least one child, have gone to college and had an awesome job. I grew up hearing I could be anything I wanted and I believed it! So, at 15 years old thinking of 10 years down the road; I couldn't wait for the new mellenium and my 25th birthday. I would be happy beyond my wildest dreams. So, when 25 rolled around, I had an associates degree in a field I didn't like anymore, I had been in a so-so relationship for 8 years with no engagement ring, no children and was just completely lost. What happened to having it all? Kids, marriage, career? I longed for it because I just knew it was the golden ring to my happiness.
Nine years later I have the great marriage, two beautiful children, the college degree in a field I love and my career is just within reach. This is it! Right? Then why do I lay in bed each night, thinking and feeling guilty about having both? If I put my kids in daycare to work on a career that I love, I miss out on them. If I give up the career to stay home with my kids I miss out on doing something amazing that I know will leave a positive mark on others. If I do both part time I run the risk of making myself crazy which in turn bleeds onto my kids and my husband. A couple of weeks ago as I told this to one of my girlfriends on the phone, I said, “If this means ‘having it all', then I don't want it.”
And how dare I say that! With all the opportunities I have. A fantastic education, the gift of fertility and healthy children, and a hard-working husband who is an amazing father. Women would give their right arm to have some of the things I have, if not all! But here's the thing: As women who grew up hearing “you can be anything you want” topped with society's pressure of doing it all well, the overwhelmingness of it all can be unbearable.
“The truth is that modern women can't have it all. They may succeed in their careers and they may succeed as mothers, but to do both at the same time? No, that is not possible without making huge sacrifices which many will find simply too much.
The fact is that life is not a level playing field. Men and women may finally have equal opportunities, but that doesn't mean women should make the same choices as men. The sexes are different.
Most women want children and they want to be the principal carer. Encouraging young women to aim for the top at the same time as raising a family is unrealistic and, I would argue, damaging.”
I have to agree with Ms. Berry here. But what do we teach young women? I can't imagine telling my daughter, “Honey, let's be realistic. You just can't do both. Choose one. Go to college, but don't go for your dream job because you'll just end up wanting to leave it anyway when you have children. Or, don't bother having kids, they'll just get in the way of your awesome career.”
What kind of empowering advice would that be!?
When I had children, I finally understood what it meant to want to give them the world. They smile, and I want to hand it over. But has a disservice been made to my generation? Courtney Martin talks about the “feminists unintended side effect” in that women who were told they could be anything grew up feeling like that had to do so and do it perfectly. Our mothers only wanted the best for us- better than what they had. But they had no idea that they may have been setting us up for disaster.
I am the first person in my family to graduate from college. I'm so proud of that. And I have always wanted to go to grad school and am encouraged by my fellow girlfriends, most of them mothers. But when I really sit down and think about it, it sounds absurd. Grad school, 2 toddlers, a career, a marriage…with a side order of cranial lobotomy, please. When my son turned one, I went back to school to finish my degree. I bought a ticket for the crazy train and took 21 units. That was the hardest 16 weeks of my life. Regardless of how the gap of parental roles has closed (somewhat), mothers are still the primary caregiver. It was difficult to leave him to go to school, study, write papers, be a wife and a mom to a toddler. I have a hard time believing women who say they don't feel guilty leaving their children 40 hours a week. I feel like they are either lying to me, or themselves. Or both.
So, what's your take? I'm curious what other moms think, or even if you're not a mom, do you feel like you were pressured to do one or the other? Or perhaps you have spent so many years on your education or career, now your biological clock is quietly whispering to you?