Back in March, I wrote a very tongue in cheek, yet very true, post titled 50 Years After the Feminine Mystique, I (Heart) My Kids. In it I say that despite the difficulties of going from being a full-time professional to being a mostly stay-at-home mom, and despite how crappy some days are as a stay-at-home parent, it’s all worth it because I love my kids.
That’s definitely true. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that explanation was a bit disingenuous. It certainly didn’t get to the heart of why I have made the choice to be a 99% SAHM instead of continuing to practice law full time.
The heart of it is: I can’t do it all.
For me the question isn’t can I have it all. Of course I can have it all! A dual income family can afford more outside help, the house is neater because no one is home all day, I’d actually be excited to see my kids at 7pm, and I could run errands during my lunch break or while my boss is under the impression I’m at court. (shhh!) I say this from experience because that’s how it used to be when I worked full time.*
All that said, even with a housekeeper twice a month, I still felt like I spent all weekend washing clothes and cleaning toilets. On the weekends, we ran around so much going to baseball tournaments and practices that it felt like I was either in a car or on a bleacher all the time. And if I was at home, I was scrubbing something. We couldn’t ever go to church, and family time (other than baseball games) was either non-existent or strained by the problems that presented themselves once we became a latch key family.
I couldn’t pick my son up from school, and he started “hanging out,” which, let me tell you, is the root of all evil. Other things started happening that I couldn’t take care of because I was 30 minutes away from home and had clients depending on me to be at work taking care of them. I got important personal calls at my desk all the time, many of which were urgent requests to be somewhere other than at work, and if my flex time was all flexed out, I was out of luck or I had to sneak out while my boss wasn’t looking.
So I quit.
I didn’t “want” to quit, but there was also nothing that I wanted more. It took me at least a year to stop thinking about my old co-workers, commenting on their Facebook statuses about their latest trial, or reading the emails from my boss (she forgot to remove me from the list).
But I had to do it.
I had to do it: 1) for my family, and 2) for me.
I think the reasons my family needed me are obvious. It wasn’t to keep the toilets clean or the colors bright. It wasn’t even to make sure we ate healthy home cooked meals, or so I could go to all my son’s baseball games. It was because we needed someone to be “home base.” Someone to grab on to and yell “olly olly oxen free!” Whole books can be and are written about why it’s beneficial to have at least one parent (mom or dad) at home, so there’s no real need to go into that here.
The reasons I had to do it for me are less talked about.
I’m a perfectionist. I had to give either 100% to my work or 100% to my family. I couldn’t find a way to give 60/40 or 30/70 or whatever was needed at any given time. Despite a laundry service, a housekeeper, ordering takeout, a great husband, good kids, and all the other amenities that make working-mom life easier, I was a complete and utter failure at finding the balance between work and home.
Part of this was because the only part-time option offered at my work was a 3-day workweek, and I wanted a 2-day workweek. My husband and I could have worked out something 2 days a week for afterschool pickups, but as hard as we tried, we couldn’t work out something for 3 days a week. And that one off day was so important to us (remember: hanging out is the ROOT OF ALL EVIL) that we saw no other option. I was also pregnant, and very much wanted to be at home for our then-unborn child.
But really, the main reason is all because of me and my inability to do it all. I am not supermom. I cannot BE supermom. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, trying to both work and parent. On any given day, if someone were to ask me why I quit the job I had always wanted, I could give any number of answers, all of which would be true. But it is important for me to say, because it needs to be said, that the biggest reason of all is that I could not do it all.
But you know what? That’s okay. And that is what this post is really all about. It isn’t some therapeutic rant for me; it’s about one woman, one family, saying “I can’t do this,” hoping that some other woman will read it and not feel like she has failed because she can’t balance work and home. Some women can, some women can’t, and some women do it because they have no other choice. Women need to feel honored for their choices, no matter what those choices are, instead of being made to feel like failures if they can’t “lean in,” or always work at the office, or not have spit up on their suit. Sometimes, perhaps even oftentimes, where we really need to “lean in” is at home.
Which is what the next post will be about.
* (I want to acknowledge that much of what I’m saying isn’t true for many women: I am speaking from my experience as an attorney, which is completely different than the experience I had, say, when I was waiting tables or cleaning houses and single parenting my son.)
5 thoughts on “50 Years After the Feminine Mystique, I Just Can’t Do it All.”
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Thank you! I’m a 100% or nothing person too. Trying not to be and feeling I am a failure at both jobs has been horrible for me. I’m currently at home full time and doing a PhD part time and still feel that I can’t do both well. I think I would be better off getting therapy to help me accept the compromises and be happy rather than trying to “lean in” and do it all. We all know that there is an “all or nothing” culture in many workplaces and it gets worse the more senior you get. What I think I have failed to acknowledge is how working in that culture for 20 years has shaped how I evaluate myself. It’s made me a “100% or worthless” person. Time to deal with that maybe. Definitely a first world problem though. I supported my husband for 10 years as he went through school, but now he earns enough for me to stay home.
I love this post. Doing it all is the mystique… My husband and I lived and worked 15 miles from NYC when 9/11 changed everything. We decided to leave the NE and head back to the NW when my first daughter was conceived and all came to fruition after she was born. We moved back to Washington into the Suburbs and away from my job as a marketing director. I interviewed for several jobs when she was between 6 months and a year old but my heart was with her. Never before had I let my intuition rule my actions and I knew, beyond any doubt, that I could not do it all. I could no longer spend 10 hours a day sitting in my office, traveling the country while my baby was at home with an unknown caregiver. Had we stayed in the NE, I would have gone back to work after my maternity leave and my understanding that I couldn’t do it all delayed. We need a new paradigm that says to Lean In to a life of authenticity, to who we are as women, to look for an environment that is conducive to our whole selves. ❤
Bravo, Janna! You’ve said exactly what has been going on in my head for years – and I don’t even have children. I want to live a life that gives me what I need while also allows me to be who I truly am. Thanks for reiterating what Jamie has done here – reaffirming that each of us is not alone in whatever we decide to do with our lives. Thanks! Lauren