with author Jackie Morgan MacDougall
you may already "have it all"
Since the July/August issue of The Atlantic was released last week, no opinion has been left unheard over Anne-Marie Slaughter's article titled, Why Women Still Can't Have it All. In it, Slaughter writes of her choice to accept her role as first woman director of policy planning at the State Department and, two years later, her choice to walk away from it all -- all in the name of family balance. While parents -- both men and women -- make the same tough choices every day, Slaughter's article sparked the newest debate between those who feel her decision was a blow to feminism and those who find her struggles to be elitist and far from the reality of nearly 59 percent of dual-income American families, many of whom depend on both salaries just to keep their heads above water.
While many have read the article with a fine-tooth comb, using every line as an opportunity to fuel the "Mommy War" firestorm, I have a different perspective on the topic. In fact, it's baffling to me that strong, empowered and evolved human beings are still allowing "society" to determine our personal success. Because the last time I looked, society isn't riding shotgun as we inch through rush hour traffic on the way to work, using the rare quiet time to schedule doctor appointments and car repairs. Society is certainly not there when we rub the backs of vomiting kids and I don't see them helping to change the sheets in the middle of the night. And, strangely enough, society is no where to be found when our kids enter puberty, stumble on final exams after studying for weeks, or struggle with body image, self esteem or peer pressure. Yet there society stands, ready to point the finger and judge, the second it decides we've made a bad decision.
And what is "having it all" anyway? Let's play a little game here and replace the term "having it all" with a term that can actually be defined -- "fulfillment." The dictionary's meaning of fulfillment is gaining "happiness or satisfaction by fully achieving one's potential."
And who gets to determine our own personal potential? WE DO.
Yet we spend our lives trying to live up to what someone else -- a neighbor, spouse, mother-in-law, stranger, or even the writer of an article -- has deemed success. And then there are those who use 'feminism' as an excuse to judge a woman who opts for personal growth over professional opportunity. Excuse me but wasn't feminism created to fight for women's "rights," not dictate what is right for each of us.
Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, who's no stranger to the inner struggle created by such articles, nails it on the head. "It's such a huge sore spot for a lot of women. We're always being scrutinized by this fake 'Mommy War' that's being propagated. It's the perfect plan, get all the women fighting so they can't band together to make real positive impact."
But still, Dr. Suzanne, the primary breadwinner in her family, feels strongly that 'having it all' is an idea that's anything but possible. "The number of people who can make a choice of whether or not to work is dwindling. The topic touches a painful place for me. I have a huge amount of conflict and guilt." Much of that guilt stems from her early days as a mom, juggling residency with pregnancy and her son's infancy. "I spent 100 hour work weeks and was hardly around. I was breastfeeding like crazy when I could but it was very hard on me and very hard on my baby."
That baby is now 14 and working a summer job in his mom's office. Dr. Suzanne unknowingly perks up when she describes life today, "My kids know how much I love them. I'm present when I'm there. The fact that my son will come work in my office and hang out with me for a few minutes and that my daughter will still share her problems, we have a healthy intimacy." And the OB/GYN has also learned how to create boundaries. "I feel close to my patients, and take my job very seriously. But I also try to be very clear. If it's my daughter's birthday and, like last week, my son's graduation, one of my partners is on call if a patient goes into labor."
When I mentioned that, to me, it sounds a lot like having it all, I could hear her stop and ask herself if that was true. Even for those of us who feel good about our choices and are doing the best we can, we are still programmed that 'having it all' means no stress, sacrifice or compromise -- another bogus misconception.
One woman has always followed her gut when it comes to work/life balance, The Ricki Lake Show Executive Producer, Lisa Kridos. A born leader with a direct, no-nonsense approach, Lisa is the first to point out that her life is her own and would never begin to determine what's right for someone else. "I hate when women judge each other. We all deal with our own challenges."
Playwright T.S. Eliot said "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go." For Lisa, you could say her career was defined by the risks she took, the first being over 20 years ago when she was offered a job at a start-up talk show, which the young mom accepted with only one condition -- "I'll take it if you build us a nursery." While some would ask for money or title, Lisa negotiated for an on-site childcare, which not only benefited her family but several families on the show.
That moment was just the first of many family/work negotiations. There was the time she told another boss she needed to attend her child's kindergarten graduation and was met with resistance. "You can fire me, but I can't miss it," Lisa recalls telling him. Fortunately, for her, her job was still there the next day. In hindsight, Lisa considers herself lucky that he didn't call her bluff. "If he actually fired me, I would have freaked out. But I felt so strongly, I wasn't really thinking about what could happen."
So, in 1997, when Lisa was offered the chance to become executive producer of Good Day LA, leaving the house at 4:00 a.m. and returning home before the kids got home from school, she jumped at the chance. "My goal was to stay for one year," she recalls. But one year turned into 15 and Lisa found herself fulfilled professionally running the three hour live show, while being able to juggle life as 'room mom' at school. "I caught an incredible 'mom job,' Lisa admits. "I loved the work and how it fit my life and quickly made the very definite decision to stay until the kids go to college."
Now, with both kids in college, Lisa calls the opportunity to work with Ricki on The Ricki Lake Show, a 'fantasy,' and looks back fondly at over two decades of steps it took to get here.
"There are no real answers," Lisa adds. "For me, this worked and I don't have any regrets. But I believe every mother has to figure out what works for her and not worry about what anybody else thinks."
P.S. Not everyone in the world considers having children the end-all-be-all. Plenty of people are fulfilled professionally and personally without ever appearing at a parent/teacher conference. Why are those who've decided to procreate the only ones eligible to obtain "having it all" status?
What's your definition of "having it all" and what steps do you need to make it your reality?