The Myth of Having It All

I am a mother, a wife, and full time attorney. As a teenager/ college / law student, I have read about, known and observed numerous women who were mothers, wives, and amazing professionals. These women seemed to juggle all three roles with relative ease. I was taught in school that women could “have it all.” I observed women who seemed to “have it all.” As I pursued my career and personal life, my goal was to be that woman – the husband, the home, the beautiful children and the career.

My plan was going well – I started practicing law, got married, and had a beautiful son two years later. As I held my son during those first few weeks, I realized that my life would never be the same. My former life and “plan” that was so important, the clients, the deadlines, sleep and regular showers – all went by the wayside. As my maternity leave drew to a close I began to panic.  I had emotional conversations with my husband about what I should do – quit and stay home?

My thoughts were a constant struggle of, how could I possibly leave my beautiful child with someone else while I went to work? How selfish could I be? I don’t “need” to work! On the other hand, most days I loved my job and enjoyed the sense of purpose and identity it provided me. If I quit and stayed home, who would I be? What if I became dissatisfied and unhappy at home? Why didn’t anyone tell me about the guilt and constant indecision that came along with the cuddly bundle of baby-ness sleeping (occasionally) peacefully in his nursery?

In the end I went back to work after we hired a wonderful sitter/nanny to care for our lovingly dubbed “tyrant.”  I occasionally had days where I had horrible guilt about my choices, but overall, thanks to my job allowing flexibility, I thought I had achieved balance between the three roles in my life.

As the months went by, I actually started to inwardly congratulate myself – maybe this having it all wasn’t going to be as hard or guilt-ridden as I had imagined or experienced. Sure, I got up most days between 4:30-5:00 a.m. to work, sure I didn’t work out as much as I wanted, sure my house looked like toys r us had exploded in the living room, and maybe I told my partners “no” to new projects or cases a few too many times, but I still felt I could have it all – had it all in fact.

Chuck E CheeseWhen the tyrant was about 10 months old, the reality that most working women do not talk about set in.  I received a forward from my husband. It was a picture of our son, at Chuck E. Cheese, for the first time. Our sitter had taken him there on an outing. I was furious and heartbroken all at once. Our sitter had destroyed a “first” for me. I cried for hours (looking back it was probably a bit of an overreaction as my son has no recollection of the event). This incident was the first in many to come, not just with our son but with my life in general.

My “having it all” interferes with every facet of my life – there are days where we eat chicken nuggets for dinner because I didn’t have time or energy to fix dinner. I’ve missed many firsts with our son, I don’t clean my house, I’m not the “constantly available to work” person at my firm,  and I’m in bed most nights by 9:30 because I’m exhausted.

Right before our son turned 2, all of my roles, all of my attempts to “have it all” finally caught up with me and I had a pseudo breakdown with my very supportive, very wonderful husband. I felt that I was failing at every role – absent wife, occasional mother, and distracted attorney. My husband turned to me and said something that I’ll never forget. He said, “Christie, you can’t have it all – you can’t do it all. There are only 24 hours in a day and something has to give.”

At first I was shocked, angry, and even briefly considered that my man had slipped back into the 1920s. But after I started to think about it, I realized he was completely right.  I can’t work a full time job and also expect to be the mom who has dinner on the table each night, with a spotless house, who experiences every first of her child, while staying up each night to hang out with the spouse.

The reason I share this incident and my life is not to discourage mothers from working, in fact it is the complete opposite. After I had this conversation with my husband, I started to implement this “you can’t do and have it all” concept in my life. It was and continues to be amazing, because it freed me to be okay with the choice to work and have a family.

As I continue to look back over the last two years, I wish that I had come to this realization sooner, that women who choose to work had been more honest about the reality of their lives.   I don’t beat myself up when I have to tell a partner, “No, I can’t be at that hearing tomorrow because I’m scheduled to take my child to his story time at the library,” or when we eat corn dogs for dinner two nights in a row. Yes, I am going to miss some of my son’s “firsts,” but it in turn makes me appreciate every second I do spend with him (not including this recent bout with the terrible twos). It doesn’t mean I don’t stop trying to be the best mom, best wife and best attorney out there. It simply means I understand and accept that when real life gets in the way, it’s okay to not have and do it all.

bio picChristie spends most of her days in courtroom(s) arguing for a living (generally in Waco Texas). She strongly believes her profession has helped  greatly in her marriage to a wonderfully sweet and genius attorney/professor husband (he begs to differ).  Christie also finds her livelihood beneficial in parenting her sweet but oh so tyrannical two year old son.  She’s not sure what is going to help her in July when they welcome their second son into our household which also consists of  two dogs and a cat named Toto.   Christie’s days consist of desperately but happily trying to juggle all her roles, usually with not a great outcome. However, she’s come to realize that despite her failures and the stress of life, at the end of the day she wouldn’t want it any other way.  Christie loves reading life stories from moms, both stay-at-home and working, if for no other reason than it makes her realize she’s not alone as a mom/wife/professional.

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10 Comments

  1. Kerry says:

    Love this post, and I feel the same. Hopefully our generation of working moms can be more honest about the realities of the juggle. There will be sacrifices and there is no “super mom.” But I know that we are all trying to be amazing parents and people.
    Kerry recently posted..Do as I Say, Not I as I DoMy Profile
    Twitter: breadwinningmom

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  2. Barbra says:

    I am a full time litigation paralegal. My son is 28 months old and I have a wonderful husband. This post resonates because I am in the middle of crashing right now. I feel like I am not doing anything well right now. I am distracted at my job, my son doesn’t get the meals on the table experience that he needs every night and I’m having trouble juggling his medical needs/appointments. I don’t know what needs to give. I like my job in better times. I don’t want to (can’t, actually) give it up to stay home. And I certainly can’t start letting my son’s medical needs go. I know that I can’t have and do it all but not sure what I can let go of.
    Barbra recently posted..Feeding Update, Take TwoMy Profile
    Twitter: barbrabaker

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    • Christie says:

      Barbara, I just recently had a conversation with a dean of a law school. We discussed this idea of not having it all and her take was “well, you can have it all, just not at one time”. I like that thought. What I’ve learned in the short two years as a Mom is that I can only take one day at a time and it normally works out in the end. I hope that your job is working with you with your son’s medical needs? I did have to learn to start saying “no” at work and stop beating myself up about it. But I do have a really great/flexible job and I know not everyone is in that same situation. I hope it works out for you. Good luck!

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  3. LK says:

    I’m a full time attorney also, with a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old (both boys). My baby is nursing and is a horrible sleeper and I am usually completely overwhelmed with my life. Luckily my firm has been incredibly understanding, as my work is really suffering. The only thing that is saving me from losing my mind at this point is that my mother in law is staying with us and taking care of the baby when I’m at work and she helps out so much. I feel like I am constantly having to learn and re-learn that I can’t have it all – I can’t do everything perfectly like I want. Something always has to give, whether it’s the healthy home-made dinner, or the exciting project at work. It’s tough, but I just wasn’t willing to forego a family because of my career. At the end of the day, my boys bring me so much joy and I love being their mom. My ambition and enthusiasm for my career have waned lately, and I’m just in survival mode these days as I try to barely function on about 3 hours of broken sleep a night. Hopefully someday I will re-engage in my profession. But my family is always my priority. Good luck to you – you’re not alone!

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    • Christie says:

      I’m soon going to be in your boat with our second child due in July. I can’t imagine being in your shoes with 3 hours of sleep a night – I’m really worried about how I am going to handle it all. Any suggestions?? I agree though, if I had known how much I would love being a mom I would have done this years ago.

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  4. Nicely put! I’ve given up on the clean house (except for company, and even then it’s only moderately clean), and I’m just now, as we approach Baguette’s third birthday, beginning to really start cooking dinners.

    But the other day, Mr. Sandwich said, “Our house is messy, but our family is happy.” So I feel like we’re doing just fine. Who’s in charge of deciding what “all” is? We are!
    Tragic Sandwich recently posted..Bragging About MeMy Profile
    Twitter: tragicsandwich

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  5. Tabitha says:

    http://m.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/

    I really enjoyed this article and often think of it. Why do we all compare to each others highlight reels? Sad, but true.

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  6. HeatherK says:

    I have two suggestions for you that I hope will help you, because they helped me a lot (my kids are 2 and 4). First, anytime you think you see or know a mom who “has it all”: ask her about it! I would bet you a million dollars she will tell you where she fails: I am sure her house is a mess, or she was just passed on for a promotion, or her son can’t count to 10 yet, or something! Second, and this has helped my sanity sooo much: tell your nanny NOT to tell you when you missed out on something. Sometimes it is better not to know! Our daycare provider (we do home daycare) told us from the beginning that unless we mention one of our kids had a milestone, she won’t tell us that they did it! For all I know my kids took their first steps with ME or said their first words to ME, or maybe it was to HER: I don’t even want to know the truth. Sometimes ignorance is bliss! Good luck with your second, the first 6 months are hard, but it gets better, and one day they will be best friends and your heart will melt : )

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  7. HeyBeckyJ says:

    Yes! I try so hard to balance everything, and yet, more often than not, instead of achieving balancing, I feel that everything suffers (including my sanity). I first discovered the “have-it-all” myth when I had my daughter (now 2 years old). And unfortunately, I feel like I’ve had to re-learn that something has to give now that my son is here (5 months).
    HeyBeckyJ recently posted..Meal Plan Monday – 3/3 thru 3/9My Profile

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  8. Every daycare provider I know (and I know a few) has a policy about never discussing first steps or words or other important firsts unless the parent has brought it up first. That way, the kids they watch never take their first steps away from mom and/or dad, etc. Though I don’t know if they would have counted Chuck E Cheese on the list ;)
    Christa the BabbyMama recently posted..Walking Them to Sleep Almost DailyMy Profile
    Twitter: mommeetmom

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