This is what my summer of 2005 looked like:
9 am: get up. Start writing thesis.
11 am: have breakfast. Continue writing thesis.
3 pm: have lunch. Still writing thesis.
5 pm: stop writing thesis. Get dressed for run. Run to university sports centre. Alternatively, take bike to university sports centre to be on time for fitness class.
7 pm: get changed. Go to floorball practise.
9 pm: take a shower. Go home. Have dinner, prepared by S.
10 pm: watch mindless telly with S.
11 pm: cuddling with S. Sleep.
I managed to finish the last three chapters of my five chapter thesis in six weeks. (The research and first two chapters had taken two years.) I was as physically fit as I have ever been in my life, ready to take my place at the European stage of floorball, playing at the qualifying rounds for the European Cup for national champions.
I had no social life. Neither did I expect to have one.
I cannot excel at any more than three areas of my life at any given time. This is why, when in 2008 I had the chance to follow my calling as a journalist, I stepped back from playing floorball at the highest level and shifted to the second team. I wanted to pour energy into S., into my social life and into my career. That's three.
Honestly, if I want to properly excel, I can only do two, as I did during the summer I wrote my thesis and fleetingly played floorball internationally. It didn't make me very happy though. I like my social life.
So, when Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote in the Atlantic that women still can't have it all, I wasn't surprised. Ms Slaughter decided to give up her high-powered job in order to be with her children (she went back to her less high-powered job not across the country instead). In Singapore too a conversation on women and work is gaining momentum, the brunt of which concerns (the almost non-existence of) part-time work. Many families are only able to solve this by hiring a helper or having grandparents help out.
In the Netherlands there is an abundance of part-time work and our model is often held up as exemplary. However, the financial position of Dutch women is quite precarious, and although almost all women do at least some work, very few actually reach influential positions. So Dutch women aren't having their cake and eating it either.
Neither are Scandinavian women, often held up in the Netherlands as the epitome of having it all. Although they generally do have full-time jobs and are encouraged to reach for the top positions, they give up social life (this is anecdotal evidence, no link, sorry!) and voluntary work, outsourcing care and community to professionals. These are areas that are closely connected to having a purpose in life, leading to satisfaction and happiness. So not even Danish women (Denmark usually topping the geographical happiness lists) are having it all.
There are many things on governmental and societal level which can be done to make a parent's life easier. Part-time work is one of them, affordable daycare is another, encouraging men to take up their fair share of the burden, quotas for women for top positions and accepting and acknowledging the ebb and flow of career focus over the lifetime of any person without penalizing breaks or times when other matters require attention.
But even in places where almost all conditions are met, women are agonizing over how to juggle all their roles and responsibilities, how to have it all and do it all and do it well.
All of this led me to the question: why do we women expect to be able to have it all in the first place? Life is about making choices. Then making peace with those choices. Policy cannot give us peace of mind, a sense of accomplishment, or a satisfying life. We have to give those to ourselves. Guilt, however virtuous it might make us feel, will not make us or any of our family members happier. We have to own up, choose our path, suck it up and start walking.
And, most importantly, enjoy the life we chose. Because nobody else will do that for us either.