“You Can Do It All” and Other Lies We Believe

Three months after I became a mother, I attended a staff retreat. I had shown off newborn Beanie, then sent her on her way with Daddy. I then found myself in a conference room, meeting with my colleagues and our former department head, who had been promoted to administration.

“There won’t be a department chair this year,” he said, addressing the three of us. He went around the table, pointing at each of us in turn, “First year teacher, second year teacher, first year mother.”

I didn’t realize he had given me a gift.

The one fault of the feminist movement is the belief that we can do it all. That we can continue to climb the ladder at work while not missing a beat at home, raising our kids. This has led to the insecurity, the “mommy guilt” that is all too common. This has led to perfectionism, to us beating up ourselves because we’re only human.

Being a mother—being a parent, for that matter—is going to mean making sacrifices. Period.

I remember, later in that same school year, talking to one of my colleagues about the difficulties I was having, balancing work and family. She gave me another gift. She said, “I know you’re an excellent teacher. And I’m pretty sure you’re a great mother as well. Just remember that you can’t give 100% to either.”

So, really, all that remains is for us to decide how to divide up the pie.

Some parents choose to give the entire pie to their little one. Rob has given the vast majority of it to Beanie. These people are able to enjoy and celebrate their kid’s childhood—all of it. But they sacrifice adult interaction, and the chance to have a “career” outside of parenting. It is a trade-off, no doubt about it.

Some people choose to continue achieving at work, as they had before. In this case, the working-outside-the-home-mother and stay-at-home-dad set-up truly is a role reversal. Or the child is being raised by a village, as relatives and day care providers are as involved as the parents, in raising the child. The upside is the chance at a career, and the chance for leadership. The downside is that the parent has much less of a role in raising the child.

A lot of us fall somewhere in the middle. That day, at the retreat, my boss gave me the gift of being able to give up leadership—which I would have liked, pre-child—so that Beanie could have a larger piece of the pie. I do make sacrifices as a mother as well, though. I have missed a number of her milestones, and every summer is a surprise to me, seeing how much she’s grown and changed. However, I am all right with this. I know that I’m doing the best I can for my students, even if I am a team player rather than a leader. I know that Beanie is growing and being loved, and that she is benefiting from being as close to her dad as she is to me.

The challenge is accepting that we have to divide up the pie. It’s accepting that parenthood is a sacrifice. We just need to realize that, and realize that it is worth it in every way.

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