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Posts tagged ‘maternity leave’

not having it all

If you’re sick of talking about having it all, join the club. After a while, I started to think of the Anne-Marie Slaughter article from the Atlantic Monthly as an annoying land shark that follows me around and wants to hang out, totally uninvited. The article came up at dinners with friends, at the gym, at my kids’ school. It came up at work, when our forward-thinking managing partner sent around an email, inviting discussion on the subject. When I actually read Slaughter’s book-length article, the first thought I had was that I’d have a lot more time to have it all if I didn’t spend so much time reading about having it all. But by all means, please don’t let that thought stop you from reading this post.

Just when things started dying down, new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer threw fresh kindling on the fire by proclaiming that she intended to take an abbreviated maternity leave. I’m not in the stratosphere of “high-achieving” women who occupy cabinet posts and run Fortune 500 companies. But I have a job that is important to me. And I have kids and a husband. And anyone with a worklife combined with a homelife knows that having it all is hard no matter what your job is. It is a vast understatement to say that I include full-time stay-at-home parenting as a job, but I’m not going to demean my friends who do that work by trying to talk about it intelligently, because it is not my reality, and I can only talk about the pain I know about.

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when kids and work collide

The thing about the word “all” is that everyone’s definition of “all” is different. I know what my definition of “having it all” is, and it’s this: feeling 100% effective and satisfied in all aspects of my life. And I can’t have it all, at least not as I define it, without the aid of reality-altering drugs. The assumption that you can be 100% effective in all aspects of your life, and fully satisfied in all aspects of your life, has to be a uniquely American one. In 2009, the birth rate in my homeland, South Korea, was the lowest in the world, in large part because women are prioritizing their careers and opting out of having children altogether.

For me, the idea that you CAN have it all is the most damaging part of the discourse, because it sets a standard that no one, male or female, has a hope of attaining. I feel worse for many of the dads I know than I do for myself. Tom has me at home, expecting him to shoulder 50% of the parenting burden, or 65%, if he wants to earn his TV time. And Tom has partners at work, many of whom raised kids in a time when they were not subject to the same demands at home, and are therefore challenged to understand why Tom has to be home for dinner, even if he has to go back to work later.

I don’t blame Tom’s partners. It’s like asking someone without children to understand the reality of life with children. Or asking me to understand what it feels like to be a lion. I’m not a lion. I’m a human. On some level, understanding and empathy can only go so far. But we have to keep trying.

at work on a sunday, my birthday. thanks amara for bringing me cake and taking this pic

Right now, it’s enough when I’m hitting 100% in one aspect of my life at any given time. Like, when I write a brief that I’m proud of. Or when my kid eats a vegetable without throwing up. When I’m writing that brief, my kids are at home with their dad eating Chipotle for dinner, because I can’t be at home to cook. And when my kids are eating vegetables, it’s because I took mental time away from work to think hard about a viable vegetable option, and got home in time to cook that vegetable in the least threatening presentation possible, and to prepare myself emotionally for the inevitable rejection.

I can’t write the killer brief and get my kids to eat vegetables at the same time. Once I figure out how to do that, I guess I’ll really have it all. Until then, it’s enough that I have a lot of good stuff, most of the time.

letter to linds

I met my friend Lindsay on the first day of law school, and she’s been a big part of my life for the better part of a decade. I didn’t know her when I was a child, but that’s not to say that I haven’t grown up with her. In the last eight years, we’ve taken bar exams together, been through three pregnancies together, gotten married (her), started our careers, and settled into our 30s. I started this blog after she sent an email, detailing the reasons why I should do it.

She has seen me through difficult times, like when I was pregnant with Finn as a 3L and had to carry my books in a wheeled backpack around campus to keep weight off my back. She only made fun of me 50% of the time, which was 100% less than my other wretched friends. For those who haven’t been to grad school in recent years, the wheelie bag is a surer road to social ostracization than having B.O. or facial hair as a woman. If Linds had gotten a wheelie bag in law school, I’m sure I would have been as supportive, just not from any closer than ten feet behind her.

She took Finn when he was three months old so that Tom and I could get away, and didn’t call us screaming when he vomited milk all over her in the middle of the night. When she babysat, she would carefully chart Finn’s naps in pink or yellow highlighter on his nap chart as instructed, although she did roll her eyes a bit. She has sucked boogers from my kids’ noses with bulb syringes, whilst gagging. When I showed up on her doorstep at 6:00 AM during a power outage with two gallons of frozen breastmilk in my arms, she made me coffee and cleared out her freezer.

I may have had post-partum depression after my second, Tate, was born, and the situation was made worse by the fact that Tom took a demanding new case the day that Tate was delivered. The paternity leave I’d been promised never materialized, and I went through a rough patch during the time when I was supposed to be happiest. Linds was there with me, checking in every day and talking me through the darkest and loneliest hours. She has seen me at my most vulnerable. I trust her as I trust few others.

So today, on the day that she is leaving her cherubic four-month old son behind and returning to work, I am writing her this post. To tell her that she will be ok, that her baby will not forget about her, and that he will be greatly entertained by all the new faces at daycare. That in sharing him with others, she is introducing Ford to all the love and care that will come to him in this world. That in the four months that she’s been a mom, it’s become obvious to everyone around her that she is a natural; that she makes motherhood look like a state of grace.

But mostly, I’m writing this post to tell her that my heart breaks for her, that I understand, and that it gets better.

photo, Grant Us the Luxury