Well, I can’t just not even mention that Anne-Marie Slaughter article you’re seeing everywhere, now can I? You know, that one in which a hot shot career woman declares that, no, it’s still not possible for women to “have it all.” When did she realize this? Why, after her stint at the State Department, of course.
You mean to tell me it’s hard to be a mom who works for the State Department? I had no idea. (Okay, I had some idea.)
I couldn’t just totally ignore this article given my own ongoing attempt to manage the delicate balancing act between career and family. As I explained in this post back when Flynn was four months old, I always thought I would be a working mom. Then I had a kid. Suddenly I wasn’t so sure. Flynn’s over a year old now, and while I’m feeling more and more confident that work is where I belong, I do still sometimes question that. (Confession: I get perhaps a little too excited about the thought of Andy joining the Foreign Service and me taking a few years off to follow him around.)
When Flynn was five months old, I was trying so hard to be the perfect new diplomat that I was barely seeing my son. This made me miserable, so I finally forced myself to make some changes. Although I haven’t written much about the professional/personal tug of war since then, it continues to be a daily struggle to be both the sort of employee and the sort of parent that I expect myself to be. The vast majority of the time I fall short at both.
Given my experience — and the experiences of the many wonderful mentors I’ve met along the way who have generously shared their own stories — I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with Slaughter’s conclusion. I don’t believe anyone can have it “all” — at least not when “all” is defined as both a prestigious career and a family life in which you play an active role.
This is not to say that parents can’t be happy. “All” isn’t the same for everyone. This is also not to say that parents can’t work. Of course they can. Slaughter herself admits that there are certain professions that lend themselves well to parenthood, like her primary career in academia. Even within the State Department there are paths you can take that will allow you to be home most evenings for dinner and never miss a weekend Little League game. But choosing such a path also means taking yourself out of the running for future positions of real influence.
No, I don’t believe that women can — at this time, in this society — be both change-makers and engaged parents. What I do believe is perfectly summed up by the wise words of former General Electric CEO Jack Welch: “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”
May we all make our choices wisely.