Women can’t have it all

I have a husband (going into 21 years of marriage), three children, a demanding career and a ministry at my church that helps people learn to manage their money. When people hear about all the things I’m committed to do, they either ask, “How do you do it all?” or “When do you have time for everything?”

“I don’t sleep much,” is my standard answer to both questions.

And I don’t. I might average five hours a night trying to do it all. But every few weeks, the lack of sleep catches up with me, and I crash, spending a Saturday curled under my bed covers shooing away kids, husband and callers. The only other way I keep so many balls in the air is because I have control over my work schedule, a situation that is not typical for many working women – or men.

So I agree with the July/August Atlantic magazine cover story in which Anne-Marie Slaughter, the first woman to be director of policy planning at the State Department and the mother of two teenage boys, dared to say that many modern-day women trying to balance a demanding career and raise a family can’t do it all – at least not well.

“When people asked why I had left government, I explained that I’d come home not only because of Princeton’s rules (after two years of leave, you lose your tenure), but also because of my desire to be with my family and my conclusion that juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible,” Slaughter wrote.

And, most important, Slaughter confessed: “I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family. I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession. I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot).”

Here’s another important observation from Slaughter, who was addressing a specific demographic—highly educated, affluent women who are privileged to have choices in the first place: “The minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be—at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence. I realized what should have perhaps been obvious: having it all, at least for me, depended almost entirely on what type of job I had. The flip side is the harder truth: having it all was not possible in many types of jobs, including high government office—at least not for very long.”

Slaughter wrote a very thoughtful article worth reading to the end if you’re struggling with work/life balance issues. Her acknowledgment of her own struggle prompted a story in The Washington Post about how and why the article went viral on the Web.

“Professional women of all types — bankers and lawyers and bureaucrats — are taking to the Internet to freak out, or at the very least, ponder the dreaded third rail of feminism, thanks to a viral story in the Atlantic that dredged up the classic, woman-baiting query,” wrote The Post’s Katherine Boyle.

Boyle noted: “In an age of unemployment, global debt crises and sky-high college debt, a public debate over how elites can find fulfillment in career and home might seem quaint, even a bit self-absorbed. . . But the article’s impact and nuances have resonated among both men and women.”

But in a response to Slaughter’s essay, Post columnist Ruth Marcus wrote Tuesday that woman “can have really, really a lot.” Marcus pointed out that Slaughter will still be teaching at Princeton University, writing columns and giving up to 50 speeches a year.

“If Slaughter’s article furthers the national conversation about accommodating women in the workplace, great,” Marcus said. “She makes the important — and painful — observation that nearly all the high-ranking women leaving the Obama administration have been replaced by men. But where I fear Slaughter does the cause an unintentional disservice is in the implication that women can generalize from her State Department experience.”

It’s your turn now. This week’s Color of Money Question: Can women – and men – have it all with a successful career and family? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state, and put “Women Can’t Have It All” in the subject line.

Home, Cool Home

In keeping with the “can you have it all” theme, how can we keep our houses cool this summer without pushing up our energy bills sky-high?

Kristen Hagopian of Galtime.com offers some frugal tips to keep cool this summer.

Here are a few.

--Use the grill. Keep the kitchen cool by cooling your meats, fish and vegetables for pennies with a small outside grill.

-- Prep your air conditioners. “If you have window air conditioners, make sure they fit snugly into the windows. Any gaps are going to let the cool (read: expensive) air out and the broiling hot summertime air in, not to mention my personal pet peeve, big bugs,” writes Hagopian.

-- Hang a clothesline. A cheap way to dry your laundry is to pin it outside on a clothesline. Not only will you turn off the hot dryer, but your clothes can enjoy the breeze.

Do you have some cost-efficient ways to summer-proof your home? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “Home Cool Home” in the subject line.

Can’t Wait to Stop Trying to Have It All

So, after years of trying to have it all, the majority of men and women can’t wait to retire from it all.

A survey by TD Ameritrade found that 52 percent of working adults agreed with the statement “I am looking forward to retirement,” reports Allison Linn on Today.com.

Those who responded that they weren’t looking forward to retirement most commonly said that they felt they didn’t have enough money saved to leave the workforce.

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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