Women Can 'Have It All' -- But Only If They Change What That Means

mom with kidsBalancing work and life is a source of great stress for so many, and it's an issue moms face with the added bonus of guilt. It's that paradox -- we have to work to take care of our family, but we can't take care of our family if we are at work all the time. A new study has revealed a shift -- younger women are putting aside the desire to "have it all" and focusing more on the needs of the heart.


I know it's going to sound completely cliché, but once I became a mother everything changed. I had to work -- staying home wasn't an option for me -- but I was so torn. I was angry at America's pathetic maternity leave, and my heart hurt knowing that another person was taking care of my twins when I returned to the office. I should be home with my babies, I thought. I also didn't want to remove myself from the workplace completely.

The fact is that I love my job -- but I love my kids more. Having kids made me see the fragility of life; it opened my eyes to the milestones that can occur in just a day and the incredible changes that can happen in a mere week. I didn't want to miss a thing. But I also didn't want to not work at all.

"Having it all" for me didn't mean working in a traditional full-time job and coming home after my kids ate dinner. I had to hit the pause button. Slow-mo. I changed my meaning of "having it all." I had it all, on my own terms. I left a full-time job to be freelance that offered a bit more flexibility. Work/life balance -- that's how I found it.

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The Harvard Business School's new research on work/life balance revealed that over 40 percent of parents said that their jobs "often" or "very often" got in the way of their focus on family and social life. Which means they work long hours, daily.

No family with little kids is going out to dinner at 8:30 p.m. when Mom gets home from work. Many of us are lucky if we get home before our babies go to sleep for the night. (Or until that 2 a.m. wake-up.)

Maybe we've all been talking about it enough for the younger generation to realize what they could do to change the meaning of "having it all." The study also showed that 37 percent of their unmarried female millennial alumni and 42 percent of their married millennial female alumni said that they "planned to interrupt their career for family." (Only 13 percent of millennial men shared this sentiment, though still a rise from the 4 percent of the previous generation.) Note that only 28 percent of Gen X-ers and 17 percent of baby boomers felt the same way.

It's a beacon of hope. Things are changing. Attitudes are shifting. Just like we said good-bye to power suits, and to pantyhose and shoulder pads, we are taking control of our lives and making changes that work for us. This is a change in the right direction for the meaning of "having it all." This could change a lot -- including our maternity leave, paternity leave, and the workplace culture.

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We're not "leaning in" or "leaning back" -- we are perhaps, instead, leaning inward. Having it all needs to be redefined. People may look at me and think I "leaned back" or caved once becoming a mom. I was lucky enough to figure out how to make it work within my life, and everyone's circumstances are unique.

We aren't a one-size-fits-all society. People need to realize that, as do employers. I think we are all realizing how important happiness is -- and for many of us, it has nothing to do with a job title.


Image via David D/Flickr

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