We were promised we could have it all. The world was our oyster. We could bring home the bacon, and also fry it up in a pan. And many of us gen x women did just that. Or at least we tried. We got the degrees, all the initials after our names prove it. Although we now technically could have it all, what would we have to sacrifice? We were expected to do twice as much work with half as much support. How is this a sustainable way to live. At some point, something was going to have to give.
My son’s first three months of life were spent napping in his car seat by my feet, listening to law lectures on estate and give tax and legal ethics. I was in my third year of law school when the two lines appeared on the pregnancy test. One of my professors referred to my pregnancy as a “condition” and was perplexed why someone would go through the torture know as law school only to end up in my “condition.” My husband and I, however, were thrilled. We had decided, quite possible on our first date, that children would be a part of our story. We weren’t sure what that would look like, we were just sure it would.
Like many of my other gen x moms, I had always planned on going back to work. But then there was another baby, and another, and another. And there were classrooms to volunteer in, sports to be driven to and music lessons and snow days and let’s not forget days when kids were sick. It was a privilege to be at home with my kids. One that many do not have. I never had to worry about missing any milestones. Yes, we made sacrifices but being home with my kids was a privilege, one I am immensely grateful for. When the time, however, was finally right to re-enter the workforce I found no want ads for a forty something woman with an education and a skill for changing diapers and cooking healthy 30 minute meals.
The fact that we were told we could have it all also implied that we SHOULD have it all. Those of us deciding not to take advantage of our new good fortune were left feeling as if we had somehow let down our fellow gen x women as well as disappointing female boomers who had fought so hard for us to have this right. The right to “have” it all. Many of us are now facing mid-life still making student loans payments for all those letters after our names, and wondering what exactly we paid for.
We did it, just like Nike told us to. We made decisions. We changed diapers, we organized playgroups, we color coded schedules and packed lunches and snacks. We pumped breast milk in bathroom stalls at work and rushed to make it to school concerts. We read Good Night Moon and The Magic Treehouse and Harry Potter. We made minimum payments on student loans and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with no crusts. We did it. But just because we did it doesn’t mean the next generation should.
Imagine a world where women really can have it all without losing a bit of themselves in the process. A world where our value is not equated with a paycheck or how many balls we can keep juggling. Let’s stop saying we can have it all and instead work for changes to makes it happen.