I’ve been doing a bit of reading about women and their issues (not a fan of that word) – the whole work-life balance that’s quite suddenly become the thing to talk about in living rooms, when one is done venting about the government and the weather that is. Not that I went looking for these articles in particular, but I guess it started with one article I read about women and related issues and surprise surprise suggested articles and blogs started popping up seemingly out of nowhere, but we all know how that works. Not that I care about being tracked, no really, I got bigger things to worry about.
Anyway, I digress (oh so easily). Point is, I’ve been reading stuff about how women can have it all if they do this or or if they do that (not relevant to the point I am making). It irritates me, this whole have-it-all discussion.
Who can have it all? Do men? Sure, in many homes they work and the wife looks after the family, but does that mean they have it all? I think not. Ask my husband. He’ll tell you about the grueling hours he puts in at work and only comes home to see the kids asleep – asleep when he arrives and out to school before he can say Johnny Cash, after a tornadoesque morning (three kids, two of whom are yet to be four, to get ready, feed and then drop to the bus stop by 7:20 – yeah, it’s a fun morning). He gets little time with them and does not have the moments I do with them (moments, I admit, I would now, after years of being home, trade quite happily for a teller’s job that requires standing on one leg – you can see I’ve had an eventful, tantrumy morning) But the point is, he has not had it all either. He’s missing their childhood in the aim to secure their future. He’s working his ass off, going through mid-life angst, well aware of the long road that stretches ahead of him. Not defending the men folk here before anyone accuses me of that (ironical that would be, really) but just making a point about this whole fuss about having it all.
What, by the way, is having it all? I don’t get it. Ask anyone if they have it all and you’ll get a answer in the negative. Any road to success (pecuniary success I mean) is paved with sacrifices and regrets, be it for a man or woman. Also, who says that having it all is the key to happiness? So much is in the mind. You could have it all (whatever that is) and still not be happy, or you could have some regrets in life and yet be content with the way things are. I made the choice to be at home and am living with it, angst et all. I got to do what I wanted with the kids – to bathe and dress them, to be there for the school drop and pick-up, to read to them in the afternoons, to take them to their tennis lessons – so I did. Now, I still want those things, but, my need to get out and work is higher, maybe because I’ve had enough of the domesticity and also because they’re settled in school.
I am also aware that for many women, it’s not a choice – they have to work and leave the leg-tugging baby behind. In my mind I was indispensable at home (with three girls I still think I am) and since the house did not depend on my income (though that would’ve led to less stress on the husband and thus on everyone else) I decided to stay at home with the kids. Sure they got looked after and the husband could work tirelessly without home issues clouding his analytical brain. But I too got to do what I wanted, at least initially. For many women, it’s hard because the house needs dual incomes.
What I want to say is merely this, as we were taught very early on in school – you can’t have your cake and eat it too. This little adage, for me, says a lot about the whole discussion around having it all. No one can have it all. No one. It may appear so, but it’s not true. So why the fuss?
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I don’t understand the issue at hand here. No one knows that better than me – since I’ve tried to strike that work-life balance and have, in vain, tried to get jobs that are satisfying enough and yet don’t threaten to consume you, leaving you to attend to your other full-time job of mommyhood in peace. It cannot happen. You either do some mindless work where you shut shop at five-o-clock sharp and go home, or you find something meaningful, in which case leaving at will, or at a family-conducive hour, is probably not that easy. Or you stay at home, and write (like I’ve been trying to do – yes, yes, a book is in the head). So I do get the point about how hard it is for women who want/have to work and have kids to go home to.
I guess what irritates me is a lot of hyperbole around having it all. I have a problem with the whole concept of having your cake and wanting to eat it too. Maybe it was how I was brought up, to believe that to get something you have to give up another. True, in an ideal world a woman (or a man) should be able to work and be there for the kids all at once. But, is that possible? Ask anyone who’s made it to the top. Or rather, ask the kids. If you are going to slave to get to the top of any organization, something will have to give. And that something will be your home.
Ask Enid Brighton’s daughter (or husband who she had a tumultuous marriage with) what they thought of their life with her. She wrote more than 600 books for children, but did she have time for her own? Did she have it all?