Why No One Can Have it All

A few times this summer I have come to think about the challenging  job of raising children and how parents share that work and balance it with the demands of paid work.  As I  noted in an earlier post, I attended a college reunion earlier this summer.  Most of my classmates have grown children by this time.  A  couple of conversations turned to the complications of sharing child rearing.  One woman professional remembered that her husband was totally unwilling to leave work when a child got sick at school or day care.  This happened despite the fact that it appeared that his schedule was more flexible.  (Of course, in the interests of full disclosure, I need to say that I have not talked to him about this.) Others had similar stories.  I realized again how fortunate I was that my husband was a teacher who was willing to take over child care when he got home in the afternoon so that I could continue my practice which tended to run into the early evening a few days a week.

The issue came up again when The Atlantic magazine published an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, entitled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”  She described her time working for the State Department under Hillary Clinton and commuting on weekends to her home in Princeton, NJ to be with her two teenage sons and her husband.  Eventually she found that a job that made a 24/7 claim on her life was incompatible with being the kind of mother she wanted to be to her sons, especially one who was having a difficult time adjusting to high school.  My response was something like, “Duh.”

If having it all means being able to compete in a job that has to come first in your life,  then I don’t believe that women or men can have it all.  They cannot compete successfully in such a job and have a rewarding family life.  Life becomes one-dimensional, mostly about work.  In our society it is still more acceptable for men to have such jobs and make such choices.  It seems that Anne-Marie Slaughter came to a place that she was unhappy with this one-dimensional life.  I have worked with many families in which fathers were unavailable because they had committed to such demanding work.  The mothers and the children in these families suffered from the father’s relative absence.  And I believe that he missed out as well.  I do not mean to imply that these men were less concerned with family, though perhaps some were.  They simply had bought into the assumption that work came first.

So far I have talked about two-parent  families.  Let me hasten to add that it is that much more complicated for single parents to achieve some balance.  Some single parents have to work long hours because there is no other income to support the family.  The single parents that I know  who are doing well have good supports in family and friends who help them out when they cannot clone themselves.

Ultimately, I think that it is a problem in our society that the jobs that are seen to be most prestigious are incompatible with a good family life.  Outside of those extreme demands parents have to make delicate deliberations all the time about sharing the work of parenting.  With children who have special needs the demands are even greater.  Will there be enough emphasis in the years to come on the need for the workplace to be family friendly?  Will women (or men) who want the flexibility to be available for their children need to accept the “Mommy track?”

I would be very interested to hear how others have negotiated this path, especially in light of the needs of a child with special needs.


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Photo Credits:  Greg Smith on Flickr


11 Responses to “Why No One Can Have it All”
  1. Hi Carolyn – Glad you addressed this issue in light of the Slaughter article. I’ve been wanting to write a blog abt this. I really didn’t work much while my son was young, it was impossible to do so and to keep my inner feelings abt how I (we) wanted to parent. I work alot now, but I have a flexible schedule, as I work f or myself. So I see my son alot on vacations & in the summer I like it that way. I am fortunate to be married to a great person who happens to have a good job too. I think it is heart breaking to be a single mom (parent) and be trying to fit it all in…it is very difficult. Maybe there will be some societal changes to help families out.

  2. Carolyn,

    I think that you cut to the heart of the issue. As long as our culture places such a huge value on all-consuming work commitments, it will be very challenging for men or women to find balance. Like Kathy, I am self-employed, so while my kids have been young, I have been able to work a reduced schedule. My husband works a non-traditional schedule, so my kids get to alternate between mommy days and daddy days. It’s been wonderful, but I have the more flexible schedule, so I’m the one who is more likely to be racing around like a chicken with my head cut off to meet school & work commitments.

    Thanks for the perspective.


  3. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Kathy,
    Thanks for your comment. Yes, those of us in the helping professions can be flexible in our work. A regular 9-5 job even without extra work demands already makes life quite stressful for parents. Those of us who are well-educated have better choices. Hard to know where to start.

  4. Thank you for taking on this very important issue. I see many women (and some men) struggling with creating a work-family balance that has some sanity to it. I think the expectations on women especially create a lot of pressure and a no win situation. We feel guilty no matter what we do… and the institutional structures do not support family centric life. When you put a special needs into the mix, well, there is a lot to juggle. Sometimes, there is really no choice but to be on a mommy track.

    Warmly, Allison

  5. dr.cstone says:

    Dear Ann,
    Thanks for your comment. Evidently, the opportunity to juggle can lead to great demands to juggle! I’m not sure how the societal change will happen. Business, government, and the practice of law are very demanding.

  6. Dear Carolyn,

    When I first moved to New Jersey, I took a job that had longer hours than I originally anticipated. My daughter was adjusting to a new home and a new school and she needed me, so that was one factor in my leaving that job and looking for a more flexible position. Several years later, my husband was the one with the flexible schedule and I took a position that had longer hours. I didn’t want to work more hours but at the time we needed the income and it was a good opportunity.

    I agree that our children are the ones who lose out when we try to have it all. Thanks for addressing this important topic.


  7. This is a tricky topic indeed! I chose my self-employed music therapist life so that I could be a mom, too. I am so grateful that I can make this choice. Honestly, I think more women and men coming out of college now are demanding a better work-life balance, so maybe this will filter up the ladder in the years to come.

  8. JoAnn Jordan says:

    We have generally flexed the childcare issues according to our schedules. That said, as my daughter entered high school I decided to return to private practice so I could set my hours to better meet her needs.

    Fact is, there is no “one size fits all” solution for parents or child. I also think of those who are caregivers for parents. Makes me wonder if employers are as flexible with those needs as with childcare.

  9. dr.cstone says:

    Hi JoAnn,
    It’s true. There’s no “one size fits all.” And I think that some industries can adapt more easily to flextime than others. All the same, I wonder whether overall productivity isn’t better when employees feel good about their work/family balance.

  10. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Andrea,
    Thanks for your thoughts. It’s an issue that affects anyone with a family. And for people who have invested time and money in education for a career they care about deeply, it can present a dilemma. I’m glad you could make a change that suited you and your daughter and that you and your husband can change the balance as needed.

  11. dr.cstone says:

    Dear Allison,
    Thanks for your comment. I agree–sometimes there’s no other choice. It can be costly and painful, but being at work and feeling your child is not well cared for is also painful. And I think it’s still hardest on mothers. Thanks for your thoughts.