Having it all, again, but also great title to an article

Mar 04 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Amy Westervelt wrote an article with a great title: Having It All Kinda Sucks. She's wrestling with the usual: family, job, and... well, that's pretty much enough, isn't it?

There is a lot in this article that is Very True.

We applaud companies for paying for female employees to freeze their eggs, but don't push them to give women the space to have children during their actual child-bearing years and come back to work without losing their place in line. Instead of changing the systems, we tell women to lean in. Because of course, it's our fault for not taking initiative. Fuck you. I'm leaning so far in I'm falling flat on my face.

OK, with or without the "Fuck You" this is a great line. Such a great line, I'm repeating it.

I'm leaning so far in I'm falling flat on my face

This could have described the first 10 or so years of my career. And, in retrospect I was scared out of my wits much of the time. I made all sorts of compromises. What hurts most in retrospect was all the times I wasn't taken seriously. But, it was what it was and now I am older and have a little distance and its not quite so personal.

I never liked the Lean-In philosophy - it struck me as very classist. That is, people with lots of money, and jobs at the top can afford the nannies and personal support staff to make it work. They don't have the mind-numbing fights about money with their partner that eat away at a relationship. They're not choosing two of: sleep, children, job. Or sanity. One could add sanity to that list.

I also liked this part:

Nor do I think that the world owes me an easy life, or that I should get to make choices with no trade-offs, or have all these things without working really damn hard for all of them. ... I do think, though, that we should cut it out with the fairy tales already. Stop telling women they can have everything without sacrificing anything. Here's the truth: You want to have a career and kids? You totally can, but both will suffer.

Two points here: One, choices will be made, things will suffer. That's life. Two, honesty about it, and not the crap from rich CEO's who have Staff. It's fucking hard.

The world is a hard place for everyone. A student I had, a brilliant hard working (white male) student, was supporting his family, which included a disabled Vietnam Vet for a father who was, I believe the technical word is, nuts. My student, who got a master's degree with me, two first author pubs, but worked 30 hours a week at another job the whole time. He was more tired than everyone else in the lab. Combined. In the end, he left my lab and didn't do science. At the time he said he couldn't afford it, even with a scholarship. We are still in touch, and he called me up the other day and we had a chat. He's built his own very successful company, he's got two children and is happy. I am glad. His parents had an easy retirement, such as is possible for them with their burden. He is proud of that. He is also cognizant of his privilege in life, and has done things to give back and support others. But he is not a scientist or academic today, and sometimes he wonders.

It is harder for some people than others. I, personally, am sensitive to the class issues, in part because of my mother, in part because of my teaching experiences. I do not minimize anyone else's problems or struggles or boulders in their life paths. And, as friends, allies, mentors, we must do what we can to help. And one of the things that does not help, in my view, is telling folks to lean in.

11 responses so far

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree that this is an awesome piece. I stopped visiting several blogs authored by women scientists with kids because they kept insisting that one could have it all and the only compromise would be one's hobbies. Saying anything else was viewed as extremely negative, discouraging the next generation, etc., and I just got tired of that shit.

    It also left me speechless when folks would attempt to describe how they could have it all with one of those crazy schedules that Westervelt discusses in the piece, where every minute of your day is booked and you're lucky if you can manage 5 hrs of sleep per night. Definitely *not* my idea of having it all *at all.* So glad to see that someone is finally sucking the air out of that balloon.

  • Ola says:

    I think the title of the post needs to be "Having an asshole for a husband kinda sucks!"

    As a married man, I'm not keen on this bit:
    But also, you should do it without any support. Without government-paid maternity leave (what are you, a socialist?). Without too much childcare (because then you're a shitty mom) or falling behind on the job (because then you're a shitty employee  --  typical woman!). Without too much help from your husband (because then he's a pussy).

    First off, I am not aware within the area that my family lives (mid size northeast city), that using child-care makes anyone deficient as a parent? Never heard it mentioned. Ever. If this poor author is feeling pressure from friends and family on this issue, she needs to get new friends and tell her family to go fuck themselves.

    Second, the article mentions her husband "does more than most", without going into any specific details about exactly what the husband does. Then elsewhere the article mentions "supporting my husband's business". It sounds like she's doing all the work here and the husband gets a free pass because of the stresses of running a business. Puh-fucking-leeze! What the author really needs to do is give her husband a bit of a reality check and get him to share the family workload.

    In my own experience, surrounded by numerous families in similar socio-economic circumstances (families with two working parents, often both in academia, school age kids in state schools), the husbands do a LOT. For my wife and I, dropping and picking up kids, cooking, laundry, household chores, grocery shopping, are all split straight down the middle. The ONLY time I will pass off a chore onto the wife is when there are maintenance issues on the house that only I can deal with ("can you get the kids today because I'm up a ladder in the snow dealing with an ice dam on the roof"). I also deal with ALL the bill paying, keeping the finances in order, keeping 2 cars running, dealing with contractors that require coming out of work in the middle of the day (this happens a lot when your house is >100 years old). When the wife's measly 6 weeks of maternity leave (unpaid) ran out, I took off 2 weeks to look after the kids' until the state-mandated 8 week age limit before they could go into day care. As a result, used up my entire vacation allowance for the year.

    For the record, NONE of the above activities render me "a pussy". If anyone in my immediate circle of friends and family called me that, I would happily smack them in the face! To be blunt, the author needs to proverbially "grow a pair" and get her husband to pull his weight around the house. If he thinks sharing the workload will render him a pussy, please send him up here to meet some real men. We'll have no problem showing him that he is currently a pussy, and how to change that.

    • potnia theron says:

      So much to say, so little space...
      I do not disagree with you. For my money, looking at same-sex couples (where domestic roles are not as well defined, in some/many/a couple of? cases), the exhaustion is still there.

      Part of my point is that when you are not wealthy, and you are doing the running around, the fixing the house, laundry, dinner, etc, there is a lot of work, even with people sharing.

      Leaning-in can work for owning class toffs, but often the rest of us are just tired, no matter what the home-life split is.

    • Anonymous says:

      "First off, I am not aware within the area that my family lives (mid size northeast city), that using child-care makes anyone deficient as a parent?"

      I guess you don't read too many mommy blogs, eh? In the paragraph you quoted, those are all things that society at large throws at women who are trying to "have it all." The fact that it doesn't happen in your little enclave is irrelevant.

      And get over yourself. You know next to nothing about what this woman's husband does or does not do. Nor does she owe you an explanation. Only a pussy would tell a woman she needs to grow a pair.

  • gmp says:

    What Ola says -- having children in child care is NOT failing them. I grew up in Europe and all the moms of my peers worked. This idiocy that I see in the States that a parent (read mom) must stay at home with the kids or otherwise the kids are messed up never ceases to amaze me. It is bullshit, plain and simple. Healthy kids are social creatures and thrive in childcare, have their own friends and interests, and learn a ton.

    And if a woman has a husband who is an involved parent and a supportive spouse, she can get a lot done professionally.

    And I personally love being very busy and having a full life: research, students, my family. There are people who need more down time or are simply not very ambitious/aggressive, and that's fine. But that doesn't mean it's impossible to have a family and demanding career, it's just not possible if you need a lot of down time. There are women like me who are ambitious and aggressive, and who have supportive spouses, and who can get pretty close to "having it all" when averaged over time. Some days the family pulls, some days the career does. But it's not impossible, and there are good men who support their ambitious wives. And yes, the life may be crazy and I may be tired, but so what? Being relaxed is overrated.

    • Anonymous says:

      "This idiocy that I see in the States that a parent (read mom) must stay at home with the kids or otherwise the kids are messed up never ceases to amaze me."

      So, if you "see" this -- if you understand that this is indeed a not uncommon way of thinking here in the US -- then what's your problem with what Westervelt wrote? You do get that this is not something she's advocating, no? Or did you even read the article?

      • gmp says:

        Yes, I read the article. What is your problem exactly?

        My point is the following: even if a lot of women here think that moms should stay with their kids because it's best for the kids, that's bullshit, and moms should not give into that bullshit no matter how pervasive. The US is not the only country in the world. Entire societies function with very few stay-at-home moms; opting out of work is only an option for the privileged anyway across the globe. So just because your mom or sister or whoever tell you you should stay at home doesn't mean you are damaging your kids if you send them to childcare.

        The author's husband definitely doesn't sound like a prize based on the few lines she wrote about him.

        Finally, she wrote the article a month after giving birth to second child. (And I really don't understand why she couldn't tell people she had a kid; I have a theory, but I won't go into it.) The world can look like a desolate land of shit when you have a newborn and are home all the time; the mix of hormones and exhaustion is brutal, and it doesn't help that she had to work non-stop to pay the bills and keep the husband's business afloat (WTF)? That's not a point in life when I would make life-altering decisions or write essays about how combining career and motherhood is doomed. That point in her life and her overall setup are not representative of all working mothers, not even all privileged, educated, white, married/partnered mothers.

        • Anonymous says:

          My problem is people like you, who can’t stand to have someone else express a different viewpoint without trying to explain it away. (I have a theory about why, but I’ll spare you.) Oh, if only she had a better husband, or hadn’t just had a baby, or had better family or friends, or had been born and raised in a different country(!), or was able to simply shake off the expectations thrust on her by society (so easy to do!), then she would feel differently. Maybe, maybe not. You have no idea how long she’s been feeling this way or contemplating this piece. The 500+ comments to it, most of them supportive, suggest that many others feel the same way.

          And if I were you, I wouldn’t be taking shots at her husband, based on what you’ve written about yours.

  • Zuska says:

    As I observed several years ago, you lean in to puke [on someone's shoes]. You organize for change.
    That lean in bla is pernicious, ahistorical, rugged-individualist bullshit.

  • becca says:

    Parenting looks completely different with one ridiculously healthy kid compared to two kids with relatively frequent illnesses and two with incredibly intensive special needs who are on g-tubes and in and out of hospital.
    Discussions of childbearing choices look completely different from the angle of having an "oops" kid far before you're ready compared to having had 5 miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy.
    Careers looks completely different with running a daycare out of your home compared to when you're in a medical residency after an MD/PhD program and a postdoc.
    Family responsibilities look completely different when you have someone in home hospice in your second bedroom compared to when you'd like to go to a cousin's wedding.

    If you can "have it all", it's because you are good at defining "it all", AND you work hard, AND you are lucky. If someone else can't, you can't always know from the outside which of those three doesn't hold.

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