Published March 15, 2013
I've been reluctant to weigh in on the Mommy Wars, since I'm of that generation of trailblazers that didn't dwell on the career/family/fulfillment balance.
We were like explorers in the uncharted wilderness in the 1970s and 80s. There were no maps to guide us, so we just set off in the direction that made the most sense and did adjustments along the way.
Some of us went all-in for education and career, others opted out of the career path to be stay-at-home moms. Still others tried to alternate career and kids, or do the juggling act of doing it all at the same time.
As I watch the younger generation of women wrestle with Great Mommy Debate, I think it is worth taking a step back to acknowledge the reason there are so many voices -- often attacking each other -- is because there are so many options. What do women do when they're not sure about their choices? Agonize! Feel Guilty! And, if all else fails, criticize others!
I speak to a lot of women's groups and even if I'm billed to talk about foreign policy, I end up, like Sheryl Sandberg, taking questions about that career/family/fulfillment balance.
First, understand that from about age 25 to 50 you are going to feel guilty. If you haven't gotten married or had children, you'll feel guilty that you've missed out on the most important things of life. If you've gone from career girl to stay-at-home mom, you'll feel guilty that you've given up. If you drop your kids off at daycare on the way to work, you'll feel guilty that you're a bad mother. And if you have to leave the office early to rush a sick child to the doctor, you'll feel guilty that you're a slacker.
But guess what, ladies? Feeling guilty for 25 years isn't nearly as bad as feeling frustrated or unfilled or helpless or dependent for an entire lifetime, as so many women have for generations. Guilt is the price you pay for options.
Second, understand that every woman in America is in on the juggling act. If she's in her twenties she's thinking about how she will juggle it all when it's her turn. If she's in her thirties or forties, she's doing the juggling. And if she's in her fifties and sixties, she's watching her daughters and daughters-in-laws juggle.
Third, understand that there is no one, right way to do this. What works for Sheryl Sandberg, or Hillary Clinton, or June Cleaver doesn't necessarily work for you. You've got to find your own way, and you've got lots of options to choose from. Just don't expect to put your head on the pillow every night and think, "Wow, what a great day I've had in my well-balanced life!" Expect to feel exhausted and guilty that the day just wasn't long enough to get it all done.
What has worked for me is to live my life in chapters. I've had the education-and-career chapter, then the wife-and-stay-at-home mom chapter, and now the career-again chapter. Along the way I've been blessed with a husband I adore, children and grandchildren I treasure, a brilliant education and careers that have let me make a difference. Not every chapter in my book has had them all these elements. But when all the chapters are finished, and I close the book, I will have had them all. And when, I will lay my head down for the last time, I'll smile and say, "Wow, what a great and balanced life I've had."