Having it All. Does it Suck?

CoHatchery is constantly listening to how parents manage work and life. We were particularly fascinated by an article by Amy Westervelt published in the Huffington Post this February about how having it all kind of "sucks". It is a relatable read for many working mothers because it takes a refreshingly cynical perspective on “having it all.” 

Since the article’s publication, the responses from our community of working moms have surprised us. Let's face it, some days it can be difficult, and it is okay to admit that to yourself and your support system. What inspired us in reading this article and talking to parents in similar situations is the radiating positivity in the face of these challenges - most find fulfillment in their work-life situations even though they admit to being able to relate oh-so-well to the vivid, daily trials described by Westervelt.

Westervelt article's pointed out how raising children and having a career can really decrease a mother’s quality of life:

“No woman (or man, for that matter) ever said, hey, you know what would be great? If I could get up at 5 a.m., make breakfast for everyone, then get dressed (with heels, natch), drop my kids off at daycare, go to work for 10 hours, pick the kids up, come home, cook dinner, clean up, put the kids to bed, work in bed ‘til midnight so I don’t get behind at work, then do it all again tomorrow on 5 hours sleep.”

She argues that society should stop glorifying the idea of “having it all” because ultimately society has changed its expectations of women without providing any of the necessary tools (which is exactly the problem we’re looking to solve!!!):

“This whole ‘having it all’ business has been grossly misinterpreted by our society at large. ... Doing all of it at the same time was never the idea. … Here’s what we tell women today: You not only can, but should have a career and children. But also, you should do it without any support…Without government-paid maternity leave…Without too much childcare or falling behind on the job…[and] Without too much help from your husband.”

However, from our growing community, we found that there is a level of real and growing support on both the home and work fronts amidst trying times to help working mothers. Many talk about the support they receive from their husbands and bosses, though a few still suffer from injustices at work. Most agree paid family leave policies aren’t enough (for both women and men!), and flexibility is the number one thing that parents crave, especially in the first year:

“I love my job, but I wish I could do it a little bit less. I wish I could work three days a week, or have flexible hours so that I could be the one to drop my daughter off for her first day of kindergarten, or just BE with her a few more hours each day. I think it's fair to acknowledge that longing for something just a *little* bit different, even if I'm not saying ‘I wish I didn't have to work at all.’”

Many attribute their need for flexibility to selfless desires to be there for their kids rather than selfish needs (which would be okay too we think!!!):

“A parent's presence is needed in many ways by our kids. When they are infants, it's overwhelming and all-consuming if you work at home while they blossom. However, as they grow up, and move into their teen years, they still need to see us, even if it is to have us even just in the next room.”

Another theme around flexibility, which echoes statistics we’ve seen, is that although many employers now claim to have flexibility, most still have no idea how to properly execute it, and employees still feel overworked:

“My workplace, for instance, has begun to pride itself on it ‘flexibility’. It is quite nice to be able to work remotely and to sometimes try to work from home with a sick child… while I appreciate being able to get my work done on my ‘own schedule’ I don't particularly appreciate the notion that I can still perform by working full tilt all day and then putting a few hours in after bedtime every night. What it has really meant is very little time to connect with my husband and absolutely zero time to take care of myself.”

Many parents have felt an immense amount of pressure to perform at work and keep moving forward while feeling unrecognized for unpaid work. However, as one member of our community accurately points out:

“The operative word here is 'feel'. A lot of the insecurities are not based in fact just how we feel or rather how we're made to feel….If parents at work were supported and told more often that they're doing the best they can for their kids and also achieving everything that is expected of them professionally they might not feel like they're falling short in both camps.”

In her article, Westervelt offers a cold reality check for mothers who want it all:

“Here’s the truth: You want to have a career and kids? You totally can, but both will suffer. You will never feel like you are devoting enough time to either. You will never feel like you are good enough at either. You will never get time off (at least for the first several years). You will always be choosing between things that need your attention, and you will almost never choose yourself. You will be judged for nearly every move you make and you will never measure up to anyone else’s expectations.”

While we like her “realness”, we prefer this mom’s enabling perspective instead: “I'm a better mom because I work. My life would be so much less fulfilling without embracing all these sides of myself. We are not victims.”

The reason this article struck a chord with so many working parents is that there isn’t enough societal understanding of what it tangibly means to balance work and life. Many of us may struggle constantly with our desire to be superwoman (or superman), and when asked “how’s it going,” we may not always tell the full truth. As one community member points out:

“I kind of wish we acknowledged that it can be really hard MORE, not less. I'm not sure where that'd get us, but more flexible/part time options.”

Parents are selfless by nature and perhaps that means we don’t demand enough, especially given the workplace pressures and norms, which most can agree are in dire need of reform. We have high hopes for this movement towards work-life integration because really there is only life and how you live it. We consider forming a voice around our community of parents the first step in this movement, and the next step is to provide the tools and the space. 

(co-written by Wendy Xiao and Jamie Krenn)