Like many women, I sat down yesterday and read "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" by Ann-Marie Slaughter.
I also read this response, which exhorts mothers to spend less time parenting, because helicopter parenting is silly, and to dedicate themselves to their career without guilt. I tend to agree that helicoptering is silly, but this is somewhat beside the point.
I think there's a key fact missing in this discussion, and it's this: having a successful career today requires more hours of work per week than it did twenty years ago, based on ever-increasing expectations of the "average workday" and "average productivity." Take my field, law. A person billing 1,400 or 1,800 hours per year decades ago was a "hard worker" and acceptably productive. Lack of email or cell phones meant that expectations for communication and response times were longer. But today, the billing expectation has increased over 50% -- most attorneys today must bill at least 2,100 hours per year to be considered productive, and let's be honest, that's the floor. If you want to be considered a hard worker and serious prospect for advancement, you work more than that. Further, we must be available 24/7 via email and cell phone.
The advancing guard of women worked incredibly hard, but their successors are working incredibly harder. The old guard found it tough to be a mother and an executive - but for us, the next guard, there are simply no more hours in the day. We have reached the limit at which things are physically no longer possible. It strains credulity to ask that one person competently and conscientiously work a 14 hour day, exercise for twenty minutes, cook dinner, spend reasonable amounts of waking time with a partner, and care for a child.
I have learned that I cannot go without sleep for longer than three days, and the reason I know that is because I actually tried. Why would I try that? Because I was trying to have a marriage and a career at the same time -- and I don't even have children. I have made my peace with letting some things slide, and this is I think a key part of what Slaughter's article articulates for me. I don't think "having it all" necessarily means being a helicopter parent and a high-powered executive. I don't think "having it all" means never using a nanny and growing my own vegetables that I lovingly prepare for my family, from scratch, at each meal, and also making partner before age 35.
To me, "having it all" means being able to have a family (with a very understanding spouse) and pursue my career with sufficient vigor to be successful at it, and have enough time to get at least a few moments of calm. To be sure, this is a high mountain to climb. But for the women of today, with the demands of today's workplaces, the mountain is higher than it ever was. And some of us, it turns out, can't climb Everest in heels.
What I don't know, though, is whether that's OK.