Is Having It All a Thing of the Past?

stressed working mother with babyAs a young woman in the workforce, I am bombarded with media stories about the “Mommy Wars” between working mothers and stay-at-home moms and the “off-ramping/on-ramping” a woman’s career takes if she decides take an off-ramp from the freeway of corporate life to raise children. How to best approach working motherhood seems to be a loaded question, soliciting the harshest critics on either side with no sign of agreement in sight.

Is it possible for women to have it all—a career, a husband and a family?

In the Go-Go 80s, women were told and encouraged to have it all. Films like Baby Boom, Working Girl and even Mr. Mom all showed that women could have successful, high-powered careers as well as fulfilling personal lives—even if it took some creative arrangements to get there.

A generation later, the tides seem to be turning, with a flood of personal stories saying exactly the opposite—having a full-time career cannot be combined with full-time motherhood.

Brazen Careerist, Penelope Trunk, recently shared her story about hiring house manager to help run her household in addition to a nanny and a personal assistant. She argues that a stay-at-home spouse (or hired equivalent) is a necessity in an age where a high-powered career requires 24/7 focus.

“So I want you to know what it’s really like to be a woman competing with the men who have stay-at-home wives: Expensive. There are jokes about the hyperbole of the annual study that says that housewives are worth six-figures. I think it is not hyperbole. Those men are getting not just a house manager, but someone who adores his kids, is there all the time, and someone who is willing to have some sort of regular sex life. For all that, the estimate of $100,000 a year seems very low.”

“So here’s my advice to women who want a big career and a stable family: You need to earn a lot of money to make that happen. I don’t know a stay-at-home dad who is seriously taking care of kids full-time, over the course of five-to-seven years, without a lot of money in the bank. And I don’t know a woman who has a huge career without money to support a bunch of people to take care of things at home.”

The Wall Street Journal supports Penelope’s advice by showcasing words of wisdom from top executives who don’t apologize for putting their careers first:

“For years, many ambitious women were ducking criticism that a high-powered job meant they cared only about their careers and would never have a family — or have one that was neglected. Now, women who have climbed high up the corporate ladder are asserting that they have a lot to celebrate and nothing to apologize for.”

“After all, plenty of women toil at much lower-level jobs and work just as hard, but don’t get the big rewards of their high-placed counterparts — from substantial compensation to the chance to make decisions instead of just following them.”

It seems as if women are almost forced to choose between family and a career.

Should you work long hours or spend more time with your kids? Will your kids be better off having memories of playing catch or with a fully-paid college fund? What kind of lifestyle will make you happiest? Summers at the beach? Or networking with international titans?

These are the types of decisions that everyone with a family has had to make at some point in their lives, regardless of their gender. Only the individual can truly asses what values they have and what type of lifestyle they want and can afford. I worry that I won’t make enough money to quit my job should I want to stay-at-home with my future children and that I would be robbed of a choice at all.

Ultimately, I think women should feel lucky to even have choices and stop struggling with what others think of their decisions.
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14 responses »

  1. All of us have choices to make, every day and of every kind. Much of the advice above seems silly. The truth, as M. P. Dunleavy articulately wrote (, is that there are always trade-offs. My wife spent some time at home full-time, some part-time, and only recently is getting back into the workforce full-time. We struggled, but the benefits outweighed the costs. You don’t need to build up some enormous pot of money to make this work. At the same time, nobody ever really gets “it all.”

  2. It’s a personal choice that two must make. It involves both parties doing their part and sharing responsibilities once thought to be “women’s work”. My personal thought, Children go to school. Should it make a difference if they start earlier than age five? My child is being stimulated through out the day by some thing other than a TV. My point being, it’s not always the quantity of time spent but the quality of time that defines you as a parent. My mom stayed home and I don’t recall the amount of time she spent with us I recall the special moments we had together and things she taught me.

  3. I’ve learned that all women do is to wath the kids and be at home working. I think you have get advice for youg woman like me. So Thanks! 😉

  4. Pingback: mommy and me nh

  5. From my experience it IS very difficult for a woman to have it all. I am a working mother, in one of those high power careers that you speak of. I am a lawyer by profession, and I had a baby in September 2007. It has been exteremely difficult to combine the two, and I find myself longing to be at home with my daughter, because I don’t want her to be raised by someone else. I have missed out on alot in her life, and I will continue to miss out as long as I continue to work. The reality is that I have to put in long hours, and work very hard to be sucessful, and ofcourse that means sacrificing time with my daughter and being too tired and preoccupied when I am am at home with her. It means that I will be unavailable when she needs me, and that is a depressing thought.
    Read my post Successful Career, Happy Family, Can a Woman Have Both?

  6. Having “it all” is a myth that too many people spend chasing.

    You have to look at what really matters. Does money and stuff matter? My grandpa used to say that “Money and things don’t matter. It’s people and time that can’t be replaced.”

    There will always be more money and things out there. If you lost every *thing* today, you may be upset, but the sun will still shine tomorrow. If you lost your son or daughter, parent or spouse, however … then what? Can you replace them?

    Seems to me that we, as a society, need to get back to what’s important. Sure, it’s nice to have nice things. But wouldn’t you rather love and be loved? Wouldn’t you rather be there for your kids?


  7. It is difficult to be a mom, whether working in or outside of the home. Working mothers often feel guilty about leaving there kids (I know I struggle with this sometimes). I make sure to spend plenty of time with them in the evening when I get them from daycare and during the weekends. But I also plan time for myself (every woman needs this). To work outside of the home is not necessarily selfish. I am working to help care for my kids, to provide food, clothing, shelter, and to save for their education. This is all a part of taking care of children.

  8. Pingback: Get Rid of the Frazzled Working Mom « The Mama Bee

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