More On “Having it All” But Not “Doing It All”

I forgot to write about a important underlying premise of my post about why one cannot “do it all” – career and parent and house-keep. I mean, you “can,” but you’re not going to excel in one or more areas. You are not going to succeed as Julia Child (cooking), Martha Stewart (decorating), Ruth Bader Ginsberg (working), and Mary Poppins (parenting). While the reason – lack of time – may seem fairly obvious, a more interesting question might be: Why do women feel the need to “do it all?”

Maybe it is just me, and this is not a cultural phenomenon. But I don’t think so. I have had to learn that I don’t need to be Julia, Martha, Ruth,and Mary. I don’t expect non-lawyers to draft and edit a solid appellate brief. So, why would anyone expect me to perfectly frost a 3-layer cake? Or look like Heidi Klum? (I probably should have also inserted Heidi above, because there is also an expectation that women look like Sex Goddesses while cooking, decorating, working, and parenting, too.)

The author and blogger, Jen Hatmaker, wrote about these expectations in her book, “For the Love,” in her opening essay, “Worst Beam Ever.” Read her full passage here. Favorite portion of the passage: “…[She] completes one million domestic chores that multiply like gremlins…” while doing everything else (working, caretaking) and still feels like a failure.

As I keep reading her “Worst Beam Ever” essay, I am realizing that Jen already wrote this post and the aforementioned one, as well. I read her book about one and a half years ago. Maybe it’s taken me all this time to fully digest it. Regardless, I agree with her 100%. And I remember now, when I read it the first time, mentally going through my own “on the beam” and “off the beam” checklist. My “on the beam” activities are pretty much all my “have tos” — working and parenting. I have tried adding singing and exercising onto my beam this fall, and it’s been really challenging. Some days/weeks, it feels like too much. But I also believe both activities to be nourishing and life-sustaining. For too many years – and I mean years – I had no outlets to keep myself in balance. Anyway, since I can barely even keep singing and exercising on my beam — two things I actually like and want to do — here are some things that I keep with absolute certainty off of it: Classroom parent? Off the beam. PTO? Off the beam. Homework? Off the beam. (If they can’t do it on their own, then it shouldn’t be assigned.) Baking? Off the beam.

By giving myself permission to “off the beam” those activities which do not fit my lifestyle or personality, I have found greater amounts of “inner peace.” (I use quotes, because it sounds so hokey.) And if you haven’t tried it, yet, I suggest you do!

Econ-mom’s response:  Law-mom, I can tell you it is NOT just you!  I also catch myself in these double comparisons – compared to work-at-home-moms, I fall short. They do everything with and for their kids. Story time at the library, play dates at the park, home-cooked all-organic meals and snacks. Not to mention that if their child needs therapy they never have to say to the therapist, “well, I’m only available after 5,” and get a raised eyebrow in return.  And compared to my fellow grad-students, I fall short. They’re in the office until 8 pm every night, getting stellar teaching evaluations and cranking out polished papers.

This topic also came up in the 7-year-postdoc blog post when Radhika said:

We (myself included) admire the obsessively dedicated. At work we hail the person for whom science and teaching is above all else, who forgets to eat and drink while working feverously on getting the right answer, who is always there to have dinner and discussion with eager undergrads. At home we admire the parent who sacrificed everything for the sake of a better life for their children, even at great personal expense. The best scientists. The best parents. Anything less is not giving it your best.

And then I had an even more depressing epiphany. That in such a world I was destined to suck at both.”

This is exactly why I wanted to work on this blog, despite not having much time to devote to it.  Instead of the superstar moms and superstar academics being my role models, I wanted to have more examples of people who do more than one thing to look to as I forged this path.  Frankly, I didn’t have many examples. Probably because those of us trying to juggle work/school and young kids just don’t have time to be spouting off about it on the internet. And I’m not saying I want to be a role model per se, just a data point. Just one person out there showing anyone out there who wants to attempt this craziness that, “Yes, it’s OK to half-a** some mom stuff AND half-a** some school stuff.”  And your kids will still love you and you will still (probably) get a job when you finally finish school.

And Law-mom, I’m with you on the singing and exercise! OK, I don’t sing (even my kids are already telling me to stop, haha.) But I started going to jazzercize twice a week, and sometimes I feel guilty about taking that time, but it has helped me feel SO much better. That being said, I have vowed to never preach self-care without acknowledging that sometimes it is almost impossible.  There was a period in my life where I’d read an article about self-care, and I wanted to crawl through the internet and grab the author by the shoulders and scream, “Why don’t you take my kids for TWO DAYS so I can SLEEP and then talk to me about self-care?” But if you have any ability to do something for yourself, it absolutely pays for itself in terms of increased energy and patience!

Law-mom: EM, I loved everything about your response and agree with all of it! Thank you! (I especially appreciated wanting to crawl through the internet….That happened to me after I read a blog (while post-partum) by a running pregnant woman who basically said: “If you don’t run while you are pregnant, you are a lazy slob who deserves the horrible body you are stuck with after you gain 55 pounds and swell to the point of bursting.” But I guess that is a blog post – or a therapy session – for another day. Ha!)

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