No one can 'have it all'

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

I have been eager to discuss Anne-Marie Slaughter's provocative essay in the July/August issue of The Atlantic titled, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," with some young working mothers, but they have been too busy to read the rather lengthy piece.

Ms. Slaughter bemoans how difficult it was for her to be a mother to her 14- and 12-year-old boys and to do her job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department. In fact it was so stressful that after a couple of years, Ms. Slaughter quit the job and the Princeton-to-D.C. commute to return to her job as a tenured professor at Princeton University.

Poor woman.

Lest I be accused of insensitivity, I do get it that working moms have it tougher than working dads. For most of history, women have had the primary responsibility for child care. Birthing and nursing still exert a powerful biological imperative. But even more than the 20th-century's revolution in the status of African Americans, the improvement in the status of women has been truly remarkable. Remember that less than 100 years ago, women couldn't even vote. Today women make up more than half of university and college students. Many women make more than their husbands.

Yet even today, if one parent is to stay home with the sick kid, it will most likely be mom, not dad. I agree with Ms. Slaughter that the workplace should be more accommodating and easier for a woman to be a productive worker and a good mom. No doubt the working environment for women can and will improve.

But I really disagree with the basic premise that somehow women should be able to have it all. No one gets it all — men or women. Almost every parent I know has to make choices balancing on the work-life teeter-totter. Most everyone works it out, and hardly anyone doesn't make compromises.

You cut back on travel to be home with the kids. You turn down the promotion in another city so your family doesn't have to move. You leave work early so you can coach T-ball. Some jobs demand 70 hours a week, and your family will bear the consequences. This is true whether you are a mom or a dad. Maybe moms complain more. Maybe dads don't care as much about their kids. But nobody gets their dream job, and the dream family. Unless it's a 1950s sitcom. Or the Romneys.

I also disagree that climbing the rungs on the corporate ladder is very important. Who really cares whether you are the assistant vice president or the vice president, the chairman of the department or the provost? Talk to moms and dads who work for minimum wage or don't have a job. I never made it to the top of the legal world, but I don't think the view was all that great. Meanwhile, I coached Field Center's 5th /6th grade boys basketball team to a village championship. You can look it up.

So I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but sorry, women, you can't have it all. If it helps, just remember that there were lots of little girls who wanted a pony for their birthday or Christmas but didn't get one. Even Hillary Clinton didn't get to be president.

Just remember: You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

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