For so long, becoming wives and mothers was our “duty.” Striving to “do it all” and “have it all” is perhaps an act of rebellion against those ideologies.
Like a lot of people, I often look at my social media feeds only to walk away feeling like a failure.
My friends and acquaintances largely fall into two categories. Some are dedicating themselves fully to their careers. They are climbing those ladders, thriving off the pressure, and becoming the total bosses they were meant to be. Others are holding onto the student life for as long as they can. They hit the club every weekend while rocking all manner of bedazzled cami dresses accessorized with spliffs.
“Adulting” is intentionally exempt for their vocabularies. Their twenties are their own. A decade in which to play.
Then there’s me. At 27, most of my days are spent with my one-year-old. It’s subtle, but the smells of baby poo and spilled Ella’s Kitchen packets permeate our home. My go-to outfit typically consists of leggings and an oversized sweater. I can’t remember the last time I went to a professional meeting or a club. Eighteen months ago, I was working a cool job in my field with a lot of opportunity for growth. Today, I’m freelancing from my living room: The same living room covered in soft blocks, plastic trucks, and the components of a woodland creature-printed tea set.
There are, indeed, women who do it all, and I will forever tip my metaphorical hat to them. As for me, though, I’m not sure that I want to do it all.
In truth, I’m living the life that I carved out for myself. When my husband and I learned that we were expecting a child, I instantly wanted to make shifts in my career. (No one asked me to.)
I wanted to move out of the city and into a quieter, but still interesting, setting.
I hoped that freelancing would allow me to prioritize the work I really love doing (writing and blogging) while giving me plenty of time to spend with the small human I’d created.
I chose to have a kid, even though no one around me was doing the same. I hadn’t planned to become a mom in my 20s. In the end, however, it was what I wanted.
Even so, most of my feelings of failure have come from the distinct suspicion that I’m not doing all I can to “have it all.” I know there are career women out there slaying in the boardroom and nursery alike. I watch from the Instagram sidelines as celebrity moms like Chrissy Teigen or Mindy Kaling make time for parties and friends while simultaneously raising happy little people. As a feminist, I believe fully that women have the right and the ability to be everything they want to be, and do everything they want to do — whether that’s become a CEO, a stay-at-home mom, an activist, a globe-trotting babe, #singleforlife, a social justice activist, an expert in polyamorous dating or parenting, or any combination thereof.
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There are, indeed, women who do it all, and I will forever tip my metaphorical hat to them. As for me, though, I’m not sure that I want to do it all. I’m not sure that working a traditional eight-hour day, spending an hour or two with my daughter in the evenings, and setting aside time for inebriated adventures on the weekends is the best formula for my life. I’m not sure that I need to become a famous journalist in order to feel fulfilled. I’m not sure that regular trips to the club will breed fulfillment, either.
These feelings could all change tomorrow, when I wake up after having dreamt that my memoir was turned into an HBO show, but they are the ones I have now nonetheless.
What I do know, beyond a doubt, is that raising my kid has brought me fulfillment. Being able to be present for every milestone has been a damn blessing. I was with her the first time she smiled, laughed, crawled, said “mama,” and took a couple steps. I’ve watched closely as she made the transition from newborn blob to toddling baby. All the while, I’ve been able to hold onto the work that I really enjoy: Work that makes me feel like I’m doing a little bit of good in the world.
Sure, I took a massive pay cut. I probably set my career back by several years, and may never catch up to my friends in the field. I had to move somewhere with a reasonable cost of living, even if it’s a place most people my age would call boring. I had to sacrifice a few parties and nights out along the way.
My feelings of failure have been bound in the expectation that I should be aiming to do it all, and have it all, but what I’m realizing is that this isn’t an expectation I necessarily agree with, at least not unconditionally. It’s inspiring to see people who manage that balance, but not everyone can (financially, psychologically, or otherwise). Not everyone wants to.
This does not have to be a sign of inferiority or wasted potential.
I think I know where the urge may come from. For so long, women couldn’t study or work. Women couldn’t choose to date or sleep with whomever they pleased. We didn’t have the luxury of becoming bosses or entrepreneurs. Even now, we aren’t often paid the same as our male counterparts when we ascend to such positions. When we build businesses, it is our gender that is discussed first, long before the actual merits of our company or brand or endeavor.
For so long, becoming wives and mothers was our “duty.” Hell, that’s still the dominant narrative for a lot of women in a lot of places. With that, we were told we had to disavow selfishness. To become a mom meant giving up any semblance of self-care. Moms could not party, or participate in (even responsible) recreational drug use. Moms were committed only to one partner. Moms would give it all up, for their children.
Striving to “do it all” and “have it all” is perhaps an act of rebellion against those ideologies, and it is a valuable one. What we mustn’t forget, however, is that it can never be the only option.
No one lifestyle should be demanded of us, because we have the right to craft our own journeys. We have the right to choose to have children, or not. To climb the professional ladder, or not. To live in a city or in a rural neighborhood. To travel religiously, or to settle down. To party, or to stay in. To dress modestly or revealingly. To do it all, or none of it. To do what makes sense for us as individuals, so long as our choices are not hurting or oppressing others.
For now, I’m a freelance writer. I’m a part-time blogger. I go out for the evening when it feels right, and appreciate it all the more because of that. But above all, I’m a mom. Most of my time goes to my little girl, and I’m exhausted by feeling guilty about that.
In truth, I do “have it all,” in the sense that I have everything I need to satisfy me. At least for now.