An Open Letter to the Woman Who Said, 'Having It All Kinda Sucks'

A response to the Huffington Post blog by Amy Westervelt, by a woman who made it through the trenches of career and young kids

On February 15, 2016, The Huffington Post published an article by Amy Westervelt titled "Having It All Kinda Sucks": 

We should cut it out with the fairy tales already. Stop telling women they can have everything without sacrificing anything. Here's the truth: You want to have a career and kids? You totally can, but both will suffer.

Amy, honey, when I read this my first thought was “What!? Aren’t we over all this?” But when I put myself in your shoes, I totally get it — I mean you have a 3 1/2-year-old and a baby! Everything kind of sucks right now. You are tired, under-appreciated and everything seems a struggle. It's understandable to feel like you've been spoon-fed a steaming helping of bullshit and lies.

I felt compelled to write because I also have two children, a career I adore. I live in a wonderful city and am still (happily enough) married. The big difference lies in that your current reality was ten years ago for me — my kids are now 14 and 11.

It was really hard when my kids were little. I was working at a television station directing and producing live and taped programs. My husband was working and traveling non-stop as a flight test engineer. I would sneak out at lunch to attend my daughter's preschool Thanksgiving performance, constantly texting the whole time to give the illusion of engagement at work. I have screamed at babysitters who showed up late at my house when I was on a deadline to direct a live studio show. I was a reliable no-show for happy hours and evening events. And I have hidden both of my kids in editing bays to direct a show after I had to pick them both up at their schools for head lice ... kinda crappy.

How did I survive? For one thing, I learned to stop apologizing. I have children. Not baggage or leprosy — children. In your article you say, "I have produced quality work that I'm proud of. And not once have I mentioned to anyone that I just had a baby." What!? Why? Amy, trust me, keeping your baby a secret isn't healthy. You need a support community — even at work. I try not to go on and on constantly about my kids at work, but I proudly display their photos at my desk and it does come up. You need to be in an environment where the choice to work and have kids is okay.

Generations of women before me have sacrificed way more than I — to win the right to vote, to drive, to work, to lead, you get the idea. It’s really important to me to break through the glass ceiling and become a leader.

This leads me to survival tactic no. 2: Female matriarch mom boss. Get one or become one. I have had bosses that didn't get it — I once had a male boss joke, "I can't wait until I have kids so that I can use them as an excuse for leaving early," when school called me to come pick up my daughter who had a fever. Ugh. But then a miracle happened — I got a boss who is a woman. She is super-smart, kind, technologically savvy and has kids my age! I can't even describe what a blessing this has been. Just knowing that she totally understands if a kid-crisis occurs takes a huge load off. It also makes me want to work my butt off for her. So I do. I admire the hell out of her and realize the key to transforming our current mainstream culture is to do whatever it takes to move more moms into positions of leadership. Real change happens when it comes from the top down.

This belief fuels my survival tactic  no. 3: Change the world for my kids. I really do want my daughter to "have it all," and I'm willing to make the sacrifices necessary to ensure she can. Generations of women before me have sacrificed way more than I — to win the right to vote, to drive, to work, to lead, you get the idea. It’s really important to me to break through the glass ceiling and become a leader. I want to create a work culture of acceptance and support. I understand firsthand that (most*) moms show up early for work, rarely take lunch breaks, and multi-task better than any man. I arrive earlier than my co-workers each day, work my butt off and make no apologies when I leave at 4:30 p.m. to pick my daughter up at play practice. If anyone complains, I remind them that I also work occasional evenings and weekends and consistently meet deadlines. Repeat: don't apologize. We women have done enough of that. If your workplace watchdogs the clock and doesn't accept a 40–50 hour a week schedule, you need to start searching for a place that does, because you will sacrifice your sanity by staying. Not fair, but necessary.

So if you find a good balance, but are constantly worried about your future, resort to survival tactic no. 4: Instead of looking at opting in/out of your career, shift your mindset to ramping up vs. staying put. When my kids were little there was no way I was going to opt out of my career — statistics very clearly show how much more difficult it is to re-enter the workforce after being out of it for a few years, and my career is important to me. However, the thought of trying to gun for management was overwhelming, so I stayed put in my role. Fuck leaning in — stand up straight instead. There is no shame in taking pride in what you are currently doing, having some breathing room and taking some time to focus on your current job and just keeping all your shit together.

Now that the kids are older things are easier — the "Oh, oh, my god did he just fall off the bed while eating dog poop?" moments are gone. I can pay my 14-year-old to babysit on the weekends while my husband and I go on a date; we can have family ski days; and best of all, no more hiding in the bathroom! I can check out in my room and read for a whole hour uninterrupted (I can also lock the door for insurance!). I can focus more on developing my career plan and take better care of myself (sleep is totally underrated). There are new, different problems I deal with — adolescent girl and teenage boy, enough said. But that's for another letter to you to 10 years from now.

So, Amy, the best advice I can give to you from your decade future-self: You can have it all — just not at the same time. Stick it out, develop a love for espresso, and be kind to yourself. None of us will ever meet other people's expectations. I still have mountains of laundry, carry an extra 10 pounds, and will never have a magazine-ready "look."

The difference is that I now realize it's all perfectly normal. I made it through the trenches and have emerged wiser, stronger, and, Amy, you too are stronger and wiser than you think you are. Find a working mom mentor, get a mom-boss (or become one!) and whip up some mimosas with friends while you dump the kids in the backyard — you totally deserve it.

*Yes, even moms can occasionally be self-absorbed, lazy workers who just kinda suck.

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