I came of age in an odd, in-between period of time. The hippie movement had passed, disco ruled, and the women’s movement was beginning to establish a foothold in the hearts and minds of America’s female population.
By the time I was a young teen, Billie Jean King had (successfully) challenged Bobby Riggs to see women not as a weaker gender but as equal. A few years later, Helen Reddy sang“I am Woman,” declaring “If I have to, I can do anything.”
Women, once consigned by societal mores to traditional roles of wife, mother, secretary, nurse and teacher, could now do more. We could marry, raise a family, go to law school or med school, get an MBA from Harvard and run a company—we could do anything.
With the help of scholarships, I went to college and started taking classes like biology and chemistry. I didn’t know where that path would lead, but I knew I wanted to do something important. I wanted to make a difference—maybe decoding the genes that defined disease.
Then I met my husband.
Before I knew it, was married and living in a suburb of Washington, D.C., working for one of the federal agencies that hunts down bad guys. I was doing something that mattered. Another checkmark on my having-it-all list.
A couple years later, son number one was born, and my list was complete. I had the meaningful career, marriage to a wonderful guy, and motherhood with all its joys. Joys like breathing in that clean baby scent, watching him sleep, his little mouth making sucking movements as he dreamed of eating. Playing at bath time, water splashing and sloshing over the rim of the tub, onto the floor. Watching him toddle those first tentative steps. Reading to him, singing to him – Okay, he preferred my husband’s impersonation of Elvis’s “C.C. Rider” over my Linda Ronstadt, but whatever.
I also remember sleepless nights, constant exhaustion and weekends filled with cleaning and shopping and hours at the Laundromat. I remember fighting D.C. traffic morning and night, using “vacation” days to stay home with a sick baby, and daycare bills that took most of my pay. And the worst—the GUILT of leaving my baby with strangers for more than 50 hours a week.
At work, I stumbled from day to day, watching the clock until I could bolt for home. I was doing it all—marriage, motherhood, career—but struggled to do it well.
When our second son came along, I quit my full-time job to do transcription work. The pay was lousy but I could work at home on my schedule. I joined PTA committees, served as grade mom and went on class trips. I worked crazy hours—late nights and weekends—but I had a ball.
My sons are grown now and I'm so proud of the men they've become. But I can't help but wonder how things would have turned out had I stayed the career course. Money would have been easier over the years, and my sons probably wouldn't be carrying the same student debt load, but would they be different men?
So my question is: Can a mother be successful at having “it all”?
I think you can, with the right circumstances. (Alicia Dean shared her story on the 19th.) For me, it wasn’t until I’d redefined “it all,” that I was happy and counted my choices a success.
What about you?
Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil, and the enduring power of love. Please visit Leah at LeahStJames.com.