What you give up in order to “have it all”

You know the biggest problem with the “have it all” myth?   It sells people the false idea that you’ll never have to prioritize; that all things in your life will be equal and will receive equal attention.   “All things” usually means career, children and marriage (or your relationship with one significant other, in whatever form it takes).   You’ll be able to be a great parent, have a wildly successful career and an ever dynamic, satisfying relationship.   Nothing will need be put on the back burner, no one will receive less than your full and rapt attention and interests will never conflict.

This is, of course, total bulls*%t.

Someone is going to get the short straw.

Often it is the kids.

In order to “have it all” your kids must go to school.  Or you must be able to hire a lot of people to hang out with them.   Or both.  Parents (and educators) get really pissed off when you tell them that school functions primarily as childcare for working parents, but it does.  How else can a parent “have it all”?    I read an article in today’s Times by  Rachel L. Swarns titled “For Parents Juggling Work, A Snow Day is No Holiday.”   The article is nothing new.  This topic comes up every year in the winter when someone calls a snow day.  Parents scramble for what?   Daycare.   Parents are driven “crazy” by what?  Having their kids at home.     Kids in the have it all scenario aren’t welcome except after hours and on weekends.

Which means that during the week, kids aren’t the priority.   School makes this convenient to gloss over, because, you know, it’s mandatory and therefore it’s not a matter of prioritizing work over kids.  (Except when things like pesky snow days and summer vacation rear their ugly heads.)  Parents sometimes feel guilty about this – even though they are SO not prioritizing their work over their kids –  and then get into a situation where they demand that the family spend “quality time” together.   But coercion is never an ingredient of quality – not in education or in time with family – so that usually backfires, leaving everyone frustrated.

Despite all this, our society remains hell bent on having it all; so much so that those who choose to prioritize become targets for derision.

No matter what the priority is.

If you choose to be with your kids over pursuing a career, you are somehow selling yourself short and throwing away your life.

If you choose to have a career and forego having kids, you must be cold and unfeeling (this is only true for women, however).

The tragedy of feminism seems to be that instead of giving us the ability to choose how we spend our lives, we are now expected to do it all.

Talk about setting yourself up for a lifetime of disappointment.

Having it all is a myth.  You’re going to cut corners somewhere.   Usually those corners involve your kids.  (Because your kids can’t fire you but your boss can.)

I’m not saying that everyone should immediately ditch their careers or, alternately,  stop having children.   I am saying we need to start being realistic.   Prioritize.  Realize that you give up a lot to “have it all”.   Start thinking about what’s most important and start nudging that up on the time and priority list.  (I won’t lie – for those with spouse and children –  I hope they top that list.)

It’s the first step toward a more meaningful, satisfying life.    By letting go of the idea of having it all, we’ll gain a lot more than we lose.



I feel compelled to add that this post is not directed at those parents whose economic situation makes it impossible for them to do anything but send their kids to public school and work full time in whatever job they can get.   That is an entirely different, if equally as troubling, problem in our society.



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