Having it All, Part II (Is having it all a first world problem?)

Is having it all a first world problem?

This is one of the things that NPR was discussing when discussing the Slaughter article. And it’s an interesting point. The author of the article was a professor at Princeton and took a 2-year gig in DC. That, in itself, should indicate that her experiences are not the norm. To make a career choice that makes your life complicated and difficult, and then conclude that balancing families and high-powered careers, is impossible, is not entirely fair. Or as Meg says, if you get to work for Hilary Clinton, you don’t get to complain that you missed soccer. But while the anecdata that Slaughter uses might be elite, her conclusions are nonetheless mostly correct – it is difficult to balance work life and home life.

One of my favorite points that a commenter made on NPR was, "The rhetoric that this is a problem only faced or thought about by rich white women has been used for generations to keep women down." Which is so true. It was true of suffrage, which was seen as a problem that only bothered rich, bored, white, upper-class women who didn’t have anything to do at home. Brushing off a problem as "that’s only a problem for elite women with high powered careers who try to have it all" discredits the thousands of working moms who have to work, rather than choose to work, but would like to have more options. The point isn’t that rich white women can’t balance work and career, the problem is that not even rich white women feel like they can balance work and career.

Most of my clients have children, and many of them do not have jobs, or have low-paying jobs. They have come up with systems for childcare and try really hard to make it work and to make ends meet. They are not even trying to have "it all", in the way we, as upper middle class white women, think about it. They are simply trying to have somethinganything – food on the table, a partner who doesn’t hit them, health insurance, the ability to take their kids to the doctors. They don’t obsess about how to balance work and motherhood, they just go out and make it work. Sometimes it falls into place and sometimes they lose their jobs because of a situation with their children.

So maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is whether we are embracing an appropriate definition of "it all"? If maybe elite women are asking for too much when they ask for "it all"? I have clients everyday who want things they can’t have. They want alimony, they want child support, they want their mortgage to be paid and they want it all to happen when their opposing party doesn’t even have a job. And I get to tell them that they are asking for too much, that they are being unreasonable. You can’t get blood from a stone, and there are 24 hours in a day.

What do you define as "having it all"? What is a reasonable amount of "all" to ask for?



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2 responses to “Having it All, Part II (Is having it all a first world problem?)

  1. kc

    “The point isn’t that rich white women can’t balance work and career, the problem is that not even rich white women feel like they can balance work and career.”

    I’ve been trying to put into words my feelings over this article and this sums up a lot of it.

    “It all” to me I think is a good balance of interesting work, family time and alone time. It’s a constant juggle, but I’ve been lucky in that my career affords me some flexibility and I work for pretty awesome people. Of course we don’t have kids so who knows how that will all change.

  2. Margaret

    Great series of posts! I do find one major flaw in your interpretation of the article and that is that the author made the “choice” to take a difficult job in DC and balance family and work. While I don’t claim to know the situation for the author, I do know that many times the choice you have is either to advance your career by taking a difficult job or not. Not between a difficult job and an equally career advancing easy job. There are many careers where the only option to advance is to take a job in a new city or take a job which requires lots of traveling. Many times you don’t know this when you start the career, but once you are ready to advance you realize how limited the options are.

    Unfortunately with the current economy most people don’t get to be picky with their job requirements…so more jobs are requiring more from each employee, because that is cheaper than hiring two people. But that makes it much harder on people with families of all income levels.

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