I think every generation of women since probably the 1970s has wrestled with the idea of how to have it all. The solutions each generation has found might be slightly different, but the quest is the same—how do I balance my career ambitions and need to make money with raising healthy happy kids. Oh, and where does my role as wife, daughter, friend, and volunteer fit into the mix? I’ve more or less made peace with this question in my mind, but the discussion still fascinates me. I ran across this really beautiful essay in The Atlantic that turns the question on its head.
The author, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, is a novelist (Somebody’s Daughter*) who teaches at Columbia University. She is also the mom of a severely autistic 12-year-old son. She, as is the case of many parents of special needs children, sees “having it all” in a different light.
When I look at friends and acquaintances, many with perfectly beautiful children and wonderful lives, and see how desperately unhappy or stressed they are about balancing work and family, I think to myself that the solution to many problems is deceptively obvious. We are chasing the wrong things, asking ourselves the wrong questions. It is not, “Can we have it all?” — with “all” being some kind of undefined marker that shall forever be moved upwards out of reach just a little bit with each new blessing. We should ask instead, “Do we have enough?” …
But one thing I’ve learned is that the minute I start fixating on what I don’t have — time, money, a child I can send to camp for the summer, central air conditioning — I just feel that much hotter and put-upon, and those bad feelings seem to attract extra obstructions to my day. …
For all the people who are puzzled by my seeming happiness, I’ll be glad to let them know my “secret.” I’m not in denial, I’m not on antidepressants, and I don’t live in a fantasy world. I have a wonderful husband and I am pursuing a career I’ve dreamed of since I was nine years old. I have a beautiful son, friends, and a working stove. I am not paraplegic. I have parents who, through luck and fate, had me here in the United States, and not in North Korea. I live in a time where my awful vision can be corrected with glasses. I am a college graduate. I am never hungry unless I choose to be.
I don’t discount the balancing struggles of woman. It is hard and speaking for myself, I am always questioning if I am doing enough. Lee’s essay is a refreshing reminder that I need to re-frame the question.
* Some of you may know of Marie Myung-Ok Lee from her 2005 novel, Somebody’s Daughter, about nineteen-year-old Sarah Thorson, who was adopted from South Korea as a baby by a Lutheran couple in the Midwest. After dropping out of college, she eventually moves to Korea in search of her birth mother. Paralleling Sarah’s story is the tale of Kyung-sook, a Korean woman who placed her child for international adoption. I’ve also enjoyed some of her essays in Slate.
Image credit: Gilzee