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Is “having it all” a feminist fiction?

Is it possible to have it all?

It’s a question that is constantly asked of modern moms, and for good reason. Motherhood is hard work, but today’s moms face expectations and demands that are often far beyond what is realistic for one human being to do.  The pressure to be perfect and to “do it all” can sometimes be overwhelming.  Many women enter motherhood believing that they can successfully balance their roles as wife, mother, homemaker, and employee, only to discover that the juggling act often means that one or more roles suffer.

As a working mom, I usually have more on my plate than is probably realistic with four children.  I work as a college professor, I write for a number of websites, and I edit and manage a staff of writers for another.  On paper, it may appear that I have it all.  In reality, I’m exhausted.  If everything worked out exactly as planned in any given day, I still probably wouldn’t have enough time to do everything.  My life is a daily renegotiation of how I think the week will go, and how it actually goes.  And for working moms, it’s knowing that no matter what commitments you make or how professional you are trying to present yourself, it is all subject to change without notice, based on a sick kid or a school function or a diaper blow-out as you are walking out the door.

I love being a mom, and I love having a career, but I can’t help feeling like somewhere along the lines I was sold a bill of goods that anyone could adequately do them both. Someone is going to lose, and sometimes it feels like we are all losing.  I’m working non-stop, foregoing sleep, and just wondering what new thing will crop up tomorrow to keep me from finishing the deadlines I needed to make yesterday, before my time got way-laid.  I’m often tired and grumpy.  I don’t get enough sleep, and I don’t feel like I have time to hit the gym most days.  I am modeling a lifestyle of stress to my children and I am disappointing people right and left because I just need 10 more hours in each day to do everything I need to do.

And I really don’t think I’m alone.  I think I’m describing every working mom, on some level.

Mothers are bombarded with media-created prototypes of supermoms who are seemingly able to do it all with ease.  Sitcom moms, from Claire Huxtable to Claire Dunphy, are able to juggle work, multiple children, and impeccably clean houses without breaking a sweat, all while maintaining a svelte figure and perfectly coiffed hair.  But if TV and film supermoms weren’t enough, we’ve now entered the age of blogging, where carefully staged photos and well-crafted stories give the illusion that regular moms are living out their days in a dreamy haze of crafts, homeschooling, organic gardening, and impeccable design.  Pinterest now acts as a virtual show-and-tell, a place for inspiration but also another potential message that moms should be doing more. We’re comparing ourselves to everyone else’s highlight reel.

It isn’t just the media that perpetuates the myth of the moms having it all. Competition and comparison between moms can be just as dangerous.  In the age of the mommy wars, judgments about parenting abound.  From cloth diapering to co-sleeping, from homeschooling to organic cooking, moms face incredible pressure to do things “right”.  In an environment where working moms and stay-at-home moms are pitted against each other, many moms are left feeling guilty for wherever they fall on that spectrum.

In addition to the pressures of perfection placed on moms, women today also have to contend with the performance pressures on their children as well.  The trend of overscheduled kids continues, with demands of sports leagues, dance teams, or music lessons starting younger and younger. Moms are often taking on the role of taxi-driver in between practices and lessons.  Add that in with the inevitable tedium of motherhood: cleaning, laundry, errands, homework coaching, and meal prep, and it’s no wonder balance seems unattainable.

Feminism gave us the gift of being able to choose who we want to be.  As women, we can choose the role of the corporate careerist, the toned, tanned and manicured trophy wife, the co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding attachment parent, the PTA president, the at-home entrepreneur, or the domestic goddess with a perfect home.  It’s a blessing to live in a time when women can choose who we want to be.  But it is a myth to assume that we can play all of these roles at once.

So if the “having it all” idea is a myth, how can moms stay sane in the midst of today’s overwhelming demands?  My friend Ciaran Blumenfeld offers the following wise advice: “At the end of the day the only ones who decide whether we are supermoms are our own kids. I don’t think they are as concerned with appearances and having a mom who does it all. To them, family is not a competition where the shiniest mom with the best party favors wins.”

 

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