No One Should “Have It All”

The internet is on fire with reaction to the Atlantic’s cover story. Rather than try to explain what all the hub-bub is about, I’ll let someone else do it:

The whole how-can-women-work-and-parent-well-at-the-same-time is not exactly a new conundrum, but clearly something about this piece, written by former State Department official and current Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, and the magazine’s cover (a toddler stuffed in a briefcase), struck a chord with The Internet.

A lot of the negative reaction to the piece is aimed at Slaughter’s contention that feminism sold her a bill of goods. That she was raised to think that she could “have it all,” but that, actually, it’s not so easy.

Oh, you mean having the equivalent of two full-time jobs isn’t easy? Ya don’t say…

I couldn’t help but see this latest uproar as part of an extension of last month’s controversy,  you know, the one about attachment parenting and its demands on mothers (which got special attention thanks to a Time cover that depicted some hippie chick breast-feeding what appeared to be her tween-aged son). Yes, it was just last month that we couldn’t stop talking about all the extreme forms of parenting that put pressure on moms. So is it any surprise that this month we’re talking about how being a mother and a successful woman is…well…hard.

Now, there are a lot of reasons that Slaughter’s article is a bit absurd, if not completely irrelevant to most women. First, there’s this:

On a Wednesday evening, President and Mrs. Obama hosted a glamorous reception at the American Museum of Natural History. I sipped champagne, greeted foreign dignitaries, and mingled. But I could not stop thinking about my 14-year-old son, who had started eighth grade three weeks earlier and was already resuming what had become his pattern of skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him.

Slaughter also happens to work in Washington, D.C. while her sons lives in Princeton, N.J. This is, to say the least, not an average situation.

But to tell the truth, it’s not the complete disconnect that I see between Slaughter’s experience and that of most working mothers that bugs me. It’s the idea that anyone — male or female — ever gets to “have it all.” Any well-adjusted human being knows that life is full of compromises. Sometimes it means getting passed over for a promotion because you can’t put in the extra hours at the office because of your kids, and other times it means making less money to ensure that your work-life balance doesn’t get out of whack. Sometimes it means having to move across the country so your spouse can follow her dreams. And sometimes, it just means letting your hubby put that butt-ugly recliner in your chic living room.

Nothing in life turns out exactly as we planned. And if there’s one way to find yourself truly unhappy, it’s to expect to get everything you ever wanted.

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