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Motherhood and the Myth of Having it All

Having it AllSince I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece Why Women Still Can’t Have it All last week I’ve been pondering the idea of what it means to truly “have it all.”

I’m not new at this mommy gig. With a nine-year-old, an almost-five-year old, and a three-year-old, I’m in the trenches, so to speak, but I have a few years of parenting under my belt.

This adds up, roughly, to: 700 time outs, 4,000 spilled sippy cups, 20 car seat installations, and 1,456,792 poopy diapers.

Nevertheless, I know better than to say that I know what I’m doing.

We’ve been through a lot as a family. At least once a week I marvel at the fact that I’ve been able so far to keep the wheels on this bus moving forward and cling to my sanity at the same time. As a mom, I’ve worked full time and part time outside the home. For two years I was a stay-at-home mom with no job, and if you’d asked me back then I’d have told you it was going to stay that way. Then suddenly I found myself working again, very part-time teaching one night a week. And now I’m home full time but also working. Full time? Part time? I haven’t done the math.

All I know is this: in each of these arrangements I’ve failed to achieve it “all.” If it exists, it has eluded me these past nine years. Here’s the thing, though. I’ve never gone out seeking “it all.” It’s a myth, like the American Dream or the perfect bra or a brand of nonfat ranch dressing that still tastes good.

There is no such thing as “it all.”

In Slaughter’s article she describes leaving her position at the State Department in search of that elusive work-family balance, her “desire to be with my family and my conclusion that juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible.”

I’ve never been a high-level government official. I’ve never even been a low-level government official. Come to think of it, I’ve never been any kind of official (unless you count that time I got to hold the flag at the Girl Scouts regional meeting in 5th grade) but do have an understanding about what it means to work hard and do the best by your family at the same time. I don’t think this is an issue that we can isolate to the ranks of the power elite. I know women who work in insurance offices and hospitals and in elementary school libraries who struggle with these same issues.

Across the country there are clerks at Dollar Generals and cashiers at Krogers who fight the rough waters of work and home harmony and who go under every day.

We’re not doing women any favors by promoting this myth that it’s possible to “have it all.” Can someone please tell me what that even means? My suspicion is that the headline of the article (which was a fascinating and well-written and thought-provoking read) was intended to bait women into another tussle in the Mommy Wars. The cover photo on the issue of The Atlantic in which the article appears depicts a toddler in a briefcase like a cast-off file folder, a minor inconvenience, or the working woman’s latest must-have accessory.

I’ve yet to meet a working mom who regards her child in that way.

I’d be happy if we could stop promoting myths like “having it all” as a mom because it ends up making us all feel like failures if we don’t measure up. For me, though, for now, a forward-moving bus driven by a mother who’s clinging to her sanity is the best I can do.

I’m not in pursuit of “having it all,” and maybe that’s why I’m happy with what I have.

Photo Credit: Kate Hiscock/Flickr

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

More by Mary Lauren:

Why Putting Yourself First is Impossible

The Measure of a Mom

Giving My Daughter the Gift of Time

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