Mama Madison: You can't have it all, but that's okay

Parenting is bound to be a balancing act

I know I'm a bit late to the game when it comes to adding my two cents to the discussion generated by Anne-Marie Slaughter's recent Atlantic magazine cover article "Why Women Still Can't Have It All". I concluded that with over 2,000 comments, more than 175,000 likes on Facebook and nearly 7,000 Tweets, there really wasn't that much more to be said.

But when I read the letter signed "Ready to Have It All" in the Tell All column in last week's Isthmus, I figured maybe it was time to weigh in. To "Ready," Slaughter's article appeared to be a dire warning that "no matter how helpful (her) future husband is," and regardless of her MBA credentials and potential for a fulfilling career at a local corporation, she is "doomed to feel overburdened when (she has) children."

And as much as I hate to say it -- she probably will. She will feel that way whether she works full-time or part-time. She will feel that way even if the "man of her dreams" does all the grocery shopping, dishwasher loading and diaper changing. She will feel that way because parenting is not just physically demanding (sleepless nights, anyone?), but emotionally demanding as well. And when you add any kind of job, never mind a career as intense as Slaughter's at the State Department (no, regime change overseas cannot be scheduled around your child's strep throat), you will always end up feeling pulled in a thousand different directions.

When I was around "Ready"'s age, I began what I thought would be a career in advertising. I couldn't wait to buy a briefcase, slip on pantyhose and ride the elevator to a good corporate job in a Michigan Avenue high-rise. And it was everything I hoped it would be. I traveled to foreign countries on the company's dime. I wrote presentations and back-panel copy for cereal boxes. I met my now husband, also beginning his career in the same business, albeit at a competitive agency down the street.

We lived the ultimate late '80s/early '90s yuppie life, even getting the chance to work internationally for a few years. Then we married, bought a house, and had a baby -- it couldn't have worked out more textbook, just like "Ready to Have It All's" dream.

But when our son was seven months old, both of us were ready for a change, perhaps not so much of lifestyle -- I was enjoying my post-maternity leave promotion to a management position -- but of scenery. And we decided to move to Madison. My husband landed his job first, and I had every intention of continuing a full-time career once we got settled in.

Before we even filled out change-of-address forms, though, I was offered a part-time job as a lecturer at the UW Journalism School. And while I'd never considered part-time work before, I accepted it, thinking it would be a nice placeholder as I got to know the Madison job market a little better.

And now, 14 years of consistent, challenging, interesting -- but part-time -- work later, I totally understand the essence of Slaughter's argument. Significant job flexibility -- in our case, my job flexibility -- is how my husband and I have managed to strike a harmonious work/life chord. And I wouldn't have it any other way. No, I don't have it all. And neither does my husband.

We have three kids. One will be sick at least every other month, requiring a day off of school, both for them and for one of their parents, usually me. They are involved in a fair share of extracurricular activities, most of which require afternoon carpooling that I (usually) happily do. Inevitably someone will get lice this year, requiring hours of daily nit picking. Hours I don't have. Until I need to have them. Which means something else -- like making a decent dinner (or dinner at all) or finishing an outline for a work document -- will have to wait.

And my husband has made sacrifices, as well. He has missed school plays when traveling on business. He has found out about both achievements and bad days over the phone. He'd love to volunteer more in their classrooms, but his schedule doesn't easily permit it.

And you know what? It's okay. It's actually more than okay. As reigning queen of lowered expectations, I guess I never expected to have it all. And I am very happy.

My advice to "Ready to Have It All" is to be prepared not just to find your balance, but, with the help of a supportive partner, to actively pick your balance. And you'll end up finding you "have" an awful lot.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Yummy Sprout is a wonderful resource

After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?

Mama Madison: Tips and tricks for baby air travel

As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.

Mama Madison: Apple-picking time

The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.

Mama Madison: Baby feeding recommendations

I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?

Heartland Farm Sanctuary helps animals that help kids

Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.

Mama Madison: Back-to-school confidences

Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.

Mama Madison: Does back-to-school really mean a whole new wardrobe?

This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"

Mama Madison: Next generation of bloggers

Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.

Mama Madison: Returning to the workforce

This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.

Triathlons raise money to teach kids healthy habits

"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.

Mama Madison: Kids will find their own passions in their own ways

"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."

Vital work is being done at the Lussier Community Education Center, from community-building to STEM skills

"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."

Mama Madison: Parental dice rolls?

Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."

Mama Madison: What constitutes a keepsake?

As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.

Mama Madison: Young love

Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.

Mama Madison: What a mother fears most

All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.

Operation Fresh Start's Youth Conservation Corps helps kids, and kids help parks

Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.

Mama Madison: Summer stress solved by yoga

The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.

Mama Madison: The greatest fans of road repair

Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.

Mama Madison: The alarm sounds

As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.