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having it all.

June 26, 2012

The Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” has been making the rounds this past month.It’s interesting – and long. The first half discusses myths about how women can have it all, while the second half goes into what’s needed to make this change.

The first half of this article is great because it points out that not being able to hold down a high level career and be a very present parent is not because women aren’t trying hard enough. Obviously, you need to have some ambition to get to the top and you need a supportive spouse and you need to do some life planning. But there’s no magic formula. That’s huge – that women realize it’s not just that we’re not working hard enough to make it work.

But what I wish is that the article addressed that “having it all” as defined by work-life balance isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s mentioned, on the last page, only briefly that men are starting to be in the same boat. That it’ll be easier for women to balance work and family if top level men are doing the same. But why aren’t there articles about men having it all – or not? Because we still expect women to have families and be the primary caregiver, and it’s ok that fathers work long hours and miss a few school performances and are rarely home. Men in top positions are making similar choices between work and family – women need to start feeling that it’s ok for them to make those choices too.

Perhaps that’s why so many women in high powered positions don’t have a family. The NY Times had an interesting opinion piece on the decision to have children having a much broader impact than the immediate family.

In fact, people are still expected to provide reasons not to have children, but no reasons are required to have them. It’s assumed that if individuals do not have children it is because they are infertile, too selfish or have just not yet gotten around to it. In any case, they owe their interlocutor an explanation. On the other hand, no one says to the proud parents of a newborn, Why did you choose to have that child? What are your reasons? The choice to procreate is not regarded as needing any thought or justification.

For women who work long into the night and even on weekends and are fast-tracking up the ladder of success – do children need to factor into your game plan? I know there are people out there who refuse to get a pet because they’re never home and they would feel bad. Having a child is a similar, though much more important, decision. If you do not have time for a pet, you do not have time for a child. Being pregnant for 9 months and, often, breast-feeding for 6 months, women are going to feel an impact on their work – even if after the child is born, they are willing to have 24-hr nannies and day care and a stay at home husband. So in my mind, it makes a lot of sense for the women at the top to choose not to have kids. And that doesn’t mean they don’t have everything they want.

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2 comments

  1. Typically men aren’t trying to have it all. If a guy is going to be the head of a company or something I don’t think they are expecting to spend lots of time with kids and maybe not even that much time with a spouse.


    • Exactly – I don’t think men who “have it all” are expected to spend time with their families. “Having it all” defined for men basically ignores family. Though I would say that having a family (no matter how much on the sidelines) is a positive for successful men. But I think career focused women who don’t spend time with their family are considered “bad mothers” and those who give up a career because of family are looked down on because you’re giving up what so many women have fought to have. Or having a family negatively impacts the perception of females in the work world. That’s why I think it’s just a perception change in what counts as “all”



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