Recently The Atlantic featured an article by professor Annie-Marie Slaughter about how women cannot have it all – if all means career and family.
Quite a few folks have chimed in on the subject, including my friend Keli Goff, who agreed with the premise, but felt there was a missed opportunity.
From The Huffington Post:
Yet again, a powerful, influential woman had a platform to talk about the issue of choice when it comes to women, parenthood, and power and chose not to discuss one of the most undervalued choices of all: the choice not to become a parent.
To be clear, Slaughter did discuss women who do not have children in her piece. But she discussed these women as cautionary tales, the ultimate proof of the grueling sacrifices highly successful women must make in order to make it all the way to the top.
This was the same point that stood out to me. That “either/or” for women, where success is a great career and a family, and there is no way to have that thing (or accept other definitions of “success”). Yet, I wondered, how was it that for years men had managed to “have it all” by having their families and their careers, too, and I feel that’s really the crux of it.
You can have both, but our society isn’t set up to accommodate that (let alone recognize that having a gaggle of kids and a husband isn’t the end all, be all to a woman’s life).
There is a way to “have it all” by the hackneyed definition of it, and the standard has already been set by the men who were primary breadwinners and had stay-at-home wives.
And that way is to have my father’s life.
When I turned 33, I realized that’s whose life I wanted. His. I wanted to be able to pursue my career wholeheartedly, and also have a partner to share the brunt of child-rearing duties. Sure, I’d still be Mom; I just wanted a dad level of responsibility after the kid got old enough to chew solid food.
My father taught me how to ride a bike, encouraged my love of art, told me stories, and taught me how to punt a football. He was strict, but he was loving, too. He would carry me to my room to tuck me in the bed at night when I fell asleep on the couch watching TV. Once I realized he did this, I started faking asleep more often so I could actually enjoy him parenting me. (My father was the ultimate stealth affection parent; he wasn’t big on mushy displays of affection unless you were unconscious. Something about his fear of us getting “big headed.”)
He was great. He just didn’t have time for some of that other day-to-day, “melt the half-of-aspirin on a spoon when Danielle is sick because she can’t swallow pills yet” and “wash insane amounts of laundry” drudgery that was my mom’s job.
But I doubt I will be able to finagle the same deal my dad got.
I believe I always wanted my dad’s marriage, and not my mother’s. Not that she has a “bad” deal. The woman hasn’t had to worry about a bill since 1973 and deals with everyone and everything on her own terms. Of all the people in the world to feel sorry for, she’s about the most difficult with her complaints of, “Your father left cracker crumbs on the counter” and that being the No. 1, stop everything and pay attention, knock-down, drag-out problem of the day.
If only that was the biggest problem some women had with their husbands. Crumbs. Not infidelities and bankruptcies, but crap like, “You father tracked grass into the garage.”
And annoying, if you’re like me, and you live in the real world and you know how hard romantic and financial stability is to come by.
But still, I didn’t want “her” marriage because my mother – while she enjoyed being a teacher – was not particularly ambitious outside of her desire to have the cleanest house and children in the world. She was built for being a stay-at-home mom with her pathological obsession with order and her love of mothering the crap out of something or someone.
While I’d like to believe I could be satisfied with a life that revolves around “what do you want for dinner tonight?” I’m much too complicated and selfish for that to be the sum total of my being. I could probably do it for a few years, and then I would start making people miserable just so something would happen each day to make it different from the day before.
But I’m not likely to get either of my parents’ marriage in the long-run, thanks to this horrible economy slowly shifting gender norms and societal expectations.
I wish I could have kids, love them, help raise them, nurture them, and then have some dude actually play my mom’s role of the less ambitious helpmate who puts family first. The problem is society isn’t very accepting of the “house husband” concept. And when you meet a guy who actually wants this role, he’s met with suspicion. But I’ve met quite a few men, who like women, are utterly miserable over the path society chose for them and would probably like taking on fewer financial duties to stay home to be the primary caretaker of the kids.
But just as women feel a lot of pressure to do gender normative things, men most suited for this know it’s not what’s expected. They find women write them off because they don’t have ideal breadwinner traits. They’re more nurturer/supporter types. And although society is slowly coming around, it might not come around fast enough for someone like me, someone who’s starting to worry about my fertility at 34, wondering what’s going to happen if I don’t meet the right guy in the next three to four years, afraid I’ll have to sacrifice family for my career, and staring at my father, wishing I could have both — like he did.