Can We Really "Have It All" Or Are We Just Kidding Ourselves?

A new essay suggests that two parents trying to juggle a career is impractical and that eventually somebody has to be the lead parent

In an effort to nurture children into polite respectful, and generous citizens, we are constantly telling them that they cannot have everything they want. I remember my older siblings being instructed to ‘share with your sister’ and I in turn was scolded for intentionally picking the largest piece of cake and told not to be so greedy. 

Indeed as I progressed into my teenage years, despite having a passion and flair for several subjects, teachers and parents told me that I couldn’t pursue all of them and warned me not to spread myself too thinly.  So if grown-ups are juggling a bit of everything and having it all, does that make them hypocrites?

Andrew Moravcsik, author of Why I Put My Wife’s Career First certainly seems to think so. In his essay in October’s edition of Atlantic magazine, the political scientist discusses the impracticality of trying to have it all and how every family needs a lead parent.  

Three years after his wife, Anne-Marie Slaughter, wrote an article for the same magazine about the difficulties of being a wife and mother, Moravcsik tells the other half of their family’s story and explains how sometimes 50-50 parenting just doesn’t add up. 

Despite having successful careers, job-security and a level of wealth that allowed them to provide high-quality daycare while the kids were in school, they were not immune to the difficulties all parents face. Moravcsik argues that in two-career families, when confronted with the demands of school and extra curricular activities, one person will naturally fall into the category of lead parent – a role that he has taken in their relationship.

Dave McGinn similarly writes in The Globe and Mail that the more we aspire to these impossible standards of ‘having it all’, the more frustrated we are likely to become. He also looks at the possibility that 50-50 parenting could actually be limiting both parents equally. If neither spouse can progress fully in their careers, households begin to lack order and resentment grows when the exact division of labour is not a perfect science, then perhaps we should drop this pursuit altogether. 

Of course the reason Andrew Moravcsik’s assertion is so interesting and boundary pushing is that he is a father taking on the role of caregiver. If a woman suggested that it would be damaging for a family to not have one parent to stay at home, dress and feed their children, help them with their homework and banish thoughts of pursuing a significant career, it is very possible that we might send her back to the 1950’s without a second glance.

But as Moravcsik correctly asserts, there is still a stigma attached to a father who takes the backseat in terms of career, because of the way our society is set up. While his career as an academic at a top university gave him a family-friendly workplace that indulged his family’s decision to place him as lead parent, the same is not true for every office. He admits that his research has suffered as a result of his new role but thanks to a forgiving work environment, he has not been forced out completely.

He writes: ‘A female business executive willing to do what it takes to get to the top – go on every trip, meet every client, accept every promotion, even pick up and move to a new location when asked – needs what male CEOs have always had: a spouse who bears most of the burden at home’.

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