Last month while being interviewed on her book tour, Michelle Obama made headlines when she said the following:
“Marriage still ain’t equal, y’all. It ain’t equal. I tell women that whole ‘you can have it all’—mmm, nope. Not at the same time—that’s a lie. It’s not always enough to lean in, because that shit doesn’t work.”
The quote spread like wildfire on Twitter, mostly because of her candor and unfiltered honesty (she later apologized for swearing saying she “forgot where she was for a moment”). Thankfully the “damage” was done. Her words put working moms back in the spotlight and rekindled this very important conversation.
I am one of those women she is talking about who grew up being told I could “have it all”. However, once I had “it all”, which I define as a career, spouse, house and kids, I realized I had no idea how to DO it all. What stood out to me in Michelle Obama’s quote were the words “at the same time”. I never questioned the timing of “having it all”, I thought it was just implied it would be at the same time, but why did I think that?
I started thinking about those busy weekends when it seems like everything fun is happening all at once. It happens a lot during the month of December - holiday parties, Christmas concerts, out of town guests, etc. It’s hard to choose between activities you enjoy and know will be a great time. You may have tried on some occasions to rush around and make an appearance at each event, but what happened in the end? You may have successfully squeezed it all in, but were you able to enjoy yourself while you were there or were you looking at your watch to make sure you didn’t miss the next thing?
Years ago, I was invited to two weddings on the same day. The start times were a couple hours apart, but the ceremonies were in different cities. One bride was a college friend, the other a newer friend I saw daily. I agonized over it for weeks, how would I choose? I checked every possible flight and driving route trying to figure out a plan to attend both. Each event was going to be a beautiful and amazing, there was no wrong choice, but I let social pressures completely stress me out. In the end I just couldn’t be in two places on the same day.
These examples seem obvious, you may even think I was crazy to consider attending a church ceremony in one city, jumping on a plane and arriving in the second city in time for the reception. When the situation is extreme the answer is obvious.
Every day working moms perceive evidence of other working moms having and doing “it all”. To the outside world they work hard and achieve, while on the inside they are stressed, rushing from place to place, trying to maintain the appearance of having “it all” while feeling like they are failing miserably.
With her quote above, Michelle Obama gave us all the validation we have been longing to hear – “‘you can have it all’—mmm, nope. Not at the same time—that’s a lie.”. Moms everywhere breathed a collective sigh of relief.
When you think about it, kids are only young for 10-12 years. After that they start to branch out and have their own interests, hobbies, friends and social life. I know 10-12 years sounds like a long time, especially at 3am when your five-year-old is tapping on your shoulder for the third time that night. There are days when it seems never-ending but trust me the saying “the days are long, but the years are short” is one hundred percent truth. Time goes by fast. Your kids grow up in the blink of an eye.
When I was a new mom returning to work, I wish Michelle Obama had been there to tell me “having it all” at the same time was a lie. I wish someone had told me it wasn’t going to be this way forever - I wasn’t always going to be this tired and I wasn’t always going to feel like a slacker for wanting to redefine what success looked like for my career. I wish someone had told me I had plenty of time to accomplish “it all”. They would have told me it wouldn’t be easy, there would be hard choices I would have to make, but, like choosing which wedding to attend, the destination would always be a celebration.
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.