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Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that the opportunity to have our so-called cake and eat it too is the exception that proves the rule. Every choice has its price—especially if you’re a woman who wants more than motherhood as her definition of individual greatness.
So why—particularly when it comes to later motherhood—would anyone suggest the contrary?
Why Older Mothers Can’t Have It All
The fact that Anne-Marie Slaughter’s now-famous piece, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All (http://www NULL.theatlantic NULL.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-can-8217-t-have-it-all/9020/1/)–appearing in the July/August issue of Atlantic magazine–even inspired the faintest rebuttal, such as appeared on August 9th in the Washington Post, is beyond comprehension.
In Olympic moms demonstrate how women can have it all: gold medal, cute kids, killer abs (http://www NULL.washingtonpost NULL.com/local/us-olympic-moms-overcome-hurdles-and-have-the-killer-abs-and-medals-to-prove-it/2012/08/09/5c3c29f0-e223-11e1-a25e-15067bb31849_story NULL.html?hpid=z2#), Petula Dvorak celebrates the “hard core” American women athletes at this year’s Olympics as super moms who have successfully “had it all”, and suggests that Anne-Marie Slaughter ought to sit up and take notice.
You Can’t Compare Olympians to Everymom
However, I suspect that—somewhere amidst the bouquet of editorial accolades—Dvorak might have missed the plot. Could it be that comparing Olympians to Everywoman might support the premise that setting the bar so high for the general population might prove a tad unrealistic? If we’re all expected to be competing at the Supermom Olympics, who might the spectators be? Most importantly: is that what it takes to have a career and be a mother in this age?
Let’s not forget that it was Olympic gold medalist, Marilyn McReavy (http://www NULL.achildafter40 NULL.com/marilyn-mcreavy-birth-at-55/), having her twins at age 55, who likened parenting to a marathon.
Trapped In The Maternal Pressure Cooker
I’ve long-since defined the female condition that found its real teeth with the X-Generation as “the maternal pressure cooker”—the fact that, far from selfish, women who “delay” marriage and child-bearing do so because they have very limited choices if they want a career position more lofty than the role of Associate at the grand portals of Wal-Mart.
“The pool of female candidates for any top job is small,” says Ann-Marie Slaughter, “and will only grow smaller if the women who come after us decide to take time out, or drop out of professional competition altogether, to raise children.”
And what options do we really have? So far, the notion of “work-family balance” has been about as realistic as Don Quixote’s windmills, according to most of the women I speak to. It is a modern Sophie’s Choice (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Sophie%27s_Choice_%28film%29), sticking at the very core of our personal identities—picking whole-hearted mothering over a half-hearted career, or the reverse. Either way, it’s a journey destined for frequent frustration, and silent misery.
Embracing the modern-motherhood-versus-career dilemma is like drinking salt water—that which we thirst for, meaning genuine fulfillment both as a mother and in achieving our highest aspirations, leaves us unsatisfied and depleted.
Those who see the glass as half empty will feel they failed at both. At best, the optimists will simply feel grateful that they managed to cross the finish line with a baby on one arm and any kind of business track record on the other.
How Ann-Marie Slaughter Has “Outed” Career Moms
It has only taken someone with Ann-Marie Slaughter’s impeccable professional pedigree and political gravitas to come out of the “I-can-have-it-all” closet, for the rest of the world to finally sit up and take this issue seriously. That women must bear the cross of motherhood versus achievement up the hill on their own backs, without inherent support within our social infrastructure, is a fantastic and unsustainable expectation.
Frankly, it’s with a refreshing gust of truthfulness that Slaughter writes:
It is time for women in leadership positions to recognize that although we are still blazing trails and breaking ceilings, many of us are also reinforcing a falsehood: that “having it all” is, more than anything, a function of personal determination. As Kerry Rubin and Lia Macko, the authors of Midlife Crisis at 30, their cri de coeur for Gen-X and Gen-Y women, put it:
“What we discovered in our research is that while the empowerment part of the equation has been loudly celebrated, there has been very little honest discussion among women of our age about the real barriers and flaws that still exist in the system despite the opportunities we inherited.”
As the title of the Marilyn Monroe film—that was aptly never finished—foreshadows: Something’s Got To Give (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Something%27s_Got_to_Give). My greatest concern is that myself, along with other Gen-X’s, will face their twilight years reckoning with spiritual destitution after a life of feeling emotionally bereft of real satisfaction regarding their career and parenting aspirations.
Says Slaughter: “Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.”
Why Something’s Got To Give…And Soon
The last few weeks of managing a challenging personal life transition has caused her message to loom large on the horizon of my understanding. I’ve struggled to find time to complete an interstate house move, settle my children into a new town, and maintain a part-time consultancy business at home.
Ergo, it’s taken a few weeks to get to writing this blog since Slaughter’s commentary first appeared in the Atlantic.
I still haven’t made it to the gym since packing up our house back in California. At 51, exercise-abstinence actually means something. “If I want to see my kids graduate from high school,” I continually chide myself, “I’d better get my butt on a bike real soon.” It is a ritualistic and daily personal guilt-tripping diatribe.
Yet, it is expected of me to take primary responsibility for each of these familial, professional and personal (in that order of priority) tasks as anything less, on my part, would be tantamount to failure.
In the new millennium, as women and mothers, we willingly shoulder the burden to undertake the impossible, and then volunteer for a sense of personal inadequacy when we fail to achieve it to perfection.
Of course, “hard core” supermoms wouldn’t settle for anything less than perfection.
However, it makes me wonder if—after decades of raising social awareness of the causes of primarily female disorders, such anorexia nervosa, driven by a sense of powerlessness trapped within a need for faultless excellence—we’ve really moved on at all.
Notes on this blog:
Angel La Liberte is the founder of the website Flower Power Mom.com—The Truth About Motherhood After 40 (http://www NULL.achildafter40 NULL.com/)(www.flowerpowermom.com (http://www NULL.achildafter40 NULL.com/)), featuring commentary, real mom stories and expert advice about motherhood after 40. She actively advocates for more supportive attitudes towards women having children in midlife and to raise awareness of the real issues related to later life motherhood.
Angel also hosts “A Child After 40”, an online community to empower all women on the journey of motherhood after 40. To join, go to: http://www.achildafter40.com/a-child-after-40-online/ (http://www NULL.achildafter40 NULL.com/a-child-after-40-online/)
Angel gave birth to her children at 41 and 44 after conceiving naturally. For her full story, go to:http://www.achildafter40.com/my-story/ (http://www NULL.achildafter40 NULL.com/my-story/)
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