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What “Having It All” Really Feels Like

having it all
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I’d like to meet the person who said women can “have it all.”

I’d like to ask them what exactly that’s supposed to feel like. If it’s having a career and being financially independent, while managing to raise kids in a happy marriage, there are a lot of us out there who fit the bill.

But no one tells you how unrewarding it can feel at times — that you can reach the pinnacle of your career and still spend nights sobbing uncontrollably in your bathroom because you have almost nothing left to give.

I’ve been working since my early teens. Hard work is something that’s been ingrained in me since childhood. My parents worked tirelessly for everything we had. I don’t remember either of them calling in sick to work — not once.

By some stroke of luck, this work ethic rubbed off on me. I started my career and quickly realized I liked making money and the independence and control it afforded me. I got married and started a family, never once considering leaving the working world to stay home with my kids. I secretly felt sorry for my stay-at-home mom friends. “What a waste,” I thought to myself.

But no one told me there would be days — months even — where the delicate balance I’d tried so hard to create would feel like it’s falling apart. Like I’m hanging onto a rope fraying at both ends and I don’t know which side to let go of first — which end will cause the least damage when it eventually unravels.

No one talks about all the balls you’ll drop or that you’ll be shamed for leaving the office early twice in one week to attend after-school activities that no one ever in the history of scheduling planned with a working parent in mind. So you make it to the school and spend every second your child isn’t intently watching by staring wide-eyed at your phone as emails pile up.

You’ll be bitter about all the time you spent working towards something you don’t love — and then feel guilty that you sometimes wonder how far you’d have gotten if you didn’t have kids at all.
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They don’t talk about the humiliation you feel when you’re finally able to volunteer as the Surprise Reader of the Day at your kid’s elementary school and have to ask where your child’s classroom is. Or that you’ll walk into a meeting with colleagues and they’ll be laughing about what happened at happy hour, inside jokes piling up that you’ll never be a part of. It won’t bother you until you work in an office of all men and it finally dawns on you that this is where the decisions are being made.

No one confesses that one day you’ll want to give up. You’ll begin to put in less effort at work because the investment you’ve made all these years doesn’t mean what you thought it would. Then, you let yourself admit, again, that staying home with your children wouldn’t have fulfilled you either.

No one told me about the heaviness of it all.

That all the years spent trying to have the life you’d envisioned for yourself at 20 will weigh you down in a way you didn’t anticipate. You’ll be bitter about all the time you spent working towards something you don’t love — and then feel guilty that you sometimes wonder how far you’d have gotten if you didn’t have kids at all.

You’ll eventually be comforted to find out that all those people who made the opposite choice as you did sometimes feel the exact same way.

I want to tell my daughter she can do anything — and she can. But I also want her to know that for every single thing she chooses, she will sacrifice something on the other end. I want her to embrace that sacrifice instead of wondering why she feels like a failure when life doesn’t feel like she thought it would. I want her to define what “having it all” means for her and to be kind to herself if that version changes.

And then changes, yet again.

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