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On Parenting
Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 09/27/2012

Let’s abolish ‘having it all’ elitism

Here we go again.

Now it’s Christine Lagarde, the first female head of the International Monetary Fund who is the latest female leader to lug out the “have it all” phrase.

“I think you can in a way have it all as long as you can afford to be patient. But you cannot have it all at the same time. You must accept there will be failures,” the 56-year-old mother of two adult sons said in comments widely reported Wednesday in the British press.


(Bill O'Leary - The Washington Post)

Her admission comes on the heels of the much-discussed Anne-Marie Slaughter Atlantic cover story in June, in which the former State Department official essentially made the same argument, and after Yahoo’s appointment of Marissa Mayer. Mayer was tapped to lead the company when she was pregnant, and she off-handedly said she planned to take a few weeks off after the pregnancy and work through even that minuscule leave.

“We have CEOs like Facebook Sheryl Sanberg and media and political elites like Ann Marie Slaughter talking about work life balance. Now the IMF chief. It’s fantastic that all of these powerful people are talking about parenting but we need them to use their influence to affect policy change — not just speak out,” Jessica Valenti, founder of Feministing.com and author of the newly published “Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness, ”wrote to me after Lagarde’s comments were reported.

“They’re the ones with the power to do this, so it’s up to us to hold them to it.”

This is the major complaint of these debates, debates that have, with this latest push, slipped into the absurd. They are triggered by elites and remain essentially intellectual exercises that have yet to get translated into tangible changes for the little people.

In Slaughter’s case, her main work-life obstacle was that she worked in a high-level government position and commuted between Washington and Princeton, N.J.

For Lagarde, it was when she worked in the upper ranks of a top law firm in its Chicago office and had to travel home to Paris to visit her growing sons.

These are not parents who are worried about again feeding the kids chicken nuggets. Their lives are a stratosphere away from the majority of us who are anxious over the mortgage and missed the field trip. They don’t know what it feels like to sit on the edge of a seat and pray a child wins a charter school lottery slot or to pick up a kid from a day care that doesn’t smell right.

Their definition of “all” is very different from most of our definitions, if any of us can pick our heads up long enough to ponder what “all” might even mean.

That’s the problem. It’s not just that the “have it all” hand-wringing is irrelevant. It’s that it reveals that those in power, whatever their gender or their parental status, have become removed from the real challenges most of us are living through.

Just yesterday, a new survey of parents from the Center for the Next Generation and Parents magazine showed that most American parents think the government is failing their kids. This is at the same time that the U.S. Census has reported a spike in poverty.

Not too many are vexed by the choice to stay as a partner at the firm or take that top political appointment, or whether to commute by Acela or Air France. We’re too busy hoping one of those magnificent jugglers is hearing our ideas about how to finance paid family leave.

The one thing most American parents and Lagarde might agree on is that they’ve all had to have patience. But patience — on one end, at least — is wearing thin.

Related Content:

What ‘having it all’ really means

Is Marissa Mayer doing parents any favors?

Are all women born to be mothers?

By  |  12:00 PM ET, 09/27/2012

Tags:  Work-life balance

 
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