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Ladies, when is having enough OK?


We still can’t escape this phrase. It’s in women’s magazines, blogs and newspapers, and I still ponder what ‘having it all’ really means.

Most smart women have learned it’s nothing but a social construct, a fantasy, a label society has created to describe a perceived utopia of modern motherhood. It’s a description for the moms who have well-kept homes, beautiful families and lucrative, satisfying careers. Mommy Wars photo: www.lesliemorgansteiner.com

In 2006, Leslie Morgan Steiner’s book, The Mommy Wars, propelled the crux of this issue into the national spotlight. Should women stay at home to raise their children or maintain their thriving and rewarding careers? Sadly, many women found themselves in often raging conflicts within themselves trying to justify whichever choice they made.

Today, the war seems almost irrelevant as many dads are taking the lead to be at home with their young children, and more people are working flexible shifts to allow additional time with family. I’ve actually found myself on both sides of the ambivalent fence. Yet, it’s often not a choice for many of us.

I choose to be an advocate for good parenting, which can happen if you’re a working parent or one, like me, who currently stays at home. But I can tell you one thing for certain. Having it all is a big misconception, one that can possibly harm our sense of worth, our relationships, and the daily expectations we make for ourselves.

Molly Fischer’s New York Magazine article, “When Will We Stop Talking About Having It All,” (Aug. 7, 2013) sums the myth up perfectly in the following passage:

“If I tried to articulate the implied expectations, it might go something like this: A job should be challenging and fulfilling, putting your talents to their best possible use and nurturing your growth while also offering the flexibility and compensation to allow a rich life beyond the office…Parenthood should reconfigure your soul, revealing new frontiers of selflessness and energy, while also producing gifted, healthy, and well-behaved children.”

Feel free to laugh out loud because I did. Fischer goes on to write that such ideas are impressive and having achieved only one would be a reason to experience incredible gratification. And despite occasionally being labeled an overachiever myself, I agree completely.

The work versus stay-at-home quandary becomes even more apparent to me each fall, when I see many of my stay-at-home mom friends put their youngest child into kindergarten. Last week, one of them even had a visibly guilty expression on her face when she announced that she wasn’t in a rush to get back to full-time work. But why should anyone who’s financially capable feel guilty for taking the time to focus on themselves or their families? It’s society that summons us to commit to the challenge of having thriving careers perfectly balanced with a swarm of healthy, well-adjusted children (insert image of Angelina Jolie here).Angelina Jolie photo: accesshollywood.com

So prior to my second child (starting full-day kindergarten earlier this month), I began to consider what it would be like to earn a regular paycheck again. Most days I’m a happily fulfilled mom of three who loves having a preschool-aged son I can cuddle with on the couch in the morning before a trip to the gym. I can plan out nice dinners each day, get my children to their after-school activities, and lend a helping hand for homework, if needed. Other days, I crave the excitement of my former life as a public relations manager, where I enjoyed the companionship of my co-workers and lunches in restaurants with real silverware. And let’s not forget about that paycheck.

But I’ve learned that the grass may sometimes seem greener regardless of the side of the fence you find yourself. Working parents inevitably get calls to pick up sick children from school, need to schedule time off to be field trip chaperones and may struggle fitting in the everyday household chores like laundry, cleaning and cooking. Non-working parents may need to tighten their family’s budgets, or, at the very least, risk having dated résumés and losing valuable career skills. I don’t see either scenario as fitting that illusory definition of “having it all.”

Fischer suggests we ditch the idea of having everything, as well as any induced grief or regret. No matter your choice, try to find happiness in just having enough. I am trying to heed that advice.

Julia Sherwin is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Chester County. She is a former college journalism instructor who enjoys running, biking, swimming, traveling and cooking.

Email her at jsherwin73@gmail.com  or follow her other parenting articles at juliasherwin.wordpress.com.

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Cartoon photo: www.marketplace.org   

Angelina Jolie photo: accesshollywood.com

Mommy Wars photo: www.lesliemorgansteiner.com