There’s been a renewed media buzz on the age-old topic of women having it all. Career plus family equals success. Cameron Diaz fueled the discussion with an announcement about not wanting kids because, in her words, “It’s so much more work to have children.”
In another publicized conversation, Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo and mother of two (not necessarily in that order) admitted she doesn’t think women can have it all. “We pretend we can have it all,” she said during an interview for The Atlantic. She also confessed she’s not sure her two daughters would say she’s been a good mom and she uses coping mechanisms to deal with her guilt.
We have two highly successful women speaking candidly about this topic and the media goes all a twitter with the shock and surprise of their statements. To have kids or not have kids. To pursue a career or stay at home. To attempt both or risk not having it all.
I’ve lived on both sides of the divide. I had a full-time career along with two small children. I dropped them off at daycare and missed them terribly while I was at work. But I loved my job and always planned to have it all. So I allowed guilt to creep in and developed coping mechanisms. I was in it for the long haul.
Until life changes necessitated a move to a distant town, which necessitated leaving my job. Instead of pursuing another, I opted to stay home with my kids – perhaps to avoid the guilt or more likely because for me having it all was really, really hard. Not every woman has this choice.
Even though it was my decision, there were days when I saw myself (and I’m sure others saw me) as just a stay-at-home mom. Just.
Cameron Diaz doesn’t want to have children because they are a lot of work. She is right.
Indra Nooyi admits experiencing tremendous guilt because she has a high stakes job and sometimes feels she has had to choose between it and her children. She is right.
When I left my career, at least a part of me believed I was giving up on having it all. Maybe I was right.
Diaz and Nooyi’s comments made the news. I’m not that famous.
Why are we talking about this? It’s an issue that hits us in the gut. Cameron Diaz says her decision was not an easy one. That’s probably an understatement. No doubt Ms. Nooyi would say the same. I know I would. Thing is, we each made a choice – a tough choice that hopefully worked for us. It’s a decision every woman at some point must make, and it isn’t always easy.
I’d guess it’s hardly ever easy, because here’s the rub: If we do manage to have it all, most of us live with the guilt that the lifestyle produces. If we opt out of family or career and choose not to have it all we live with the guilt that the lifestyle produces.
Who makes these rules? More importantly, why do we accept them? Why do we chatter about the unexpected honesty when a woman admits to not wanting children, or when another acknowledges that having both a career and family is difficult? None of this is shocking.
Maybe we should put aside our expectations for others – and ourselves – and forget about a one-definition-fits-all for having it all. This could start with a rewrite and acknowledgement that each of us is working it out in our own way. That’s all anyone can ask and it shouldn’t be a surprise. In this age of acceptance and understanding, it seems a generic definition set down by perceived societal norms that makes life difficult, provokes guilt and causes us to judge one another would be outdated and unacceptable.
Perhaps this latest set of discussions will help us get there. Let’s hope so.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, playwright and author of “The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Guide to Self-Syndication.”