You Can't Have It All

I was planning to write a post about an article I found well written (later: cancel that, apparently I did, see the following), but a bit depressing -- this Newsweek article about a book about FDR and his mistress(es). The article writer brings up very good point about physical comparisons between Eleanor and her rival. She wraps up well with a positive note about how much Eleanor was able to accomplish that she might not have been able to had she been the "helpmate" her husband needed. I'm not sure why exactly I found it sad, but it probably had something to do with the fact that Eleanor had to choose between being a do-er and being a supporter. The book seemed to support the old stereotypes, which always affects my mood.

On a lighter note, could someone order me up an extra 24 hours? Thanks.


Unknown said...

Sorry, I'm short 48 myself. :-(

John the Scientist said...

The title of your post is correct. You can't have it all. There is not enough time in the day. As you seem to have found out ;-).

But I think you are taking too much doom and gloom from the article. In an age where divorce was not acceptable, these were two very incompatible people yoked together at a young age. Franklin needed someone very different, and so did Eleanor. Today they simply would have divorced early in the relationship.

Assuming (as unfortunately is often the case) that the personalities don’t clash too much, two people can be supportive of each other while leading Type A lives. One does not have to choose between supporting the partner and having a career. However, doing each takes time, so you are going to make trade-offs. You are not going to be the best you could be at either thing, but most of the time you only lose a little on one front and gain a lot on another. Spending one less hour at the office when the spouse has a bad day usually doesn’t kill your career, and vice versa. They key is balance.

Where the “you can’t have it all” really comes into play is when kids arrive. The concept of quality time when they are very little is a crock. Quality is Quantity to a toddler. That article about the Alaska governor going to a meeting the day after her kid was born is a good example. That kid is getting shortchanged big time. There are going to be times in a parent’s life when the kid is going to negatively impact the career – if you are raising the kid right. I want to go back to Asia. I had the chance last year, but getting my daughter through kindergarten was more important.

My wife and I made a decision that raising our kids was the most important thing we were going to do in our lives, and she made the decision to stay home and be Dr. Mom. The payoff is obvious.

We received a thank-you note from the class after we went in to do a Chinese New Year presentation. I thought my daughter’s name was written by the teacher it was so neat. No one else in the class came close to that. Why? Every day after school the girl has to write several sentences describing what she did that day into her journal. She has to write them neatly. Then she has to learn 3 new Chinese characters. She gets yelled at (and so do I) if we speak English at home. Full blooded Chinese kids whose parents shuffle them off to Chinese school for 3 hours a week on Sunday morning don’t speak nearly as well at 9 years old as she does at 5 (she tested into the third grade Chinese school class before she started kindergarten). If my wife worked, the kid would be no where near that level. All I get to do is 30 minutes of math with her every night.

Could the kid get by and even do well academically without that? Sure. She’s sharp as a tack. But we decided that just getting by wasn’t good enough for our kids. There’s a sliding scale – we’re a bit obsessive. But it’s a decision you must consciously make, and all the messages telling you that you can do it all and do it all well are full of BS. Once you start multi-tasking, something gives in each task. Now sometimes that’s OK, sometimes it’s not. Sure, not everyone has to speak 3 languages fluently by 5. Some people work part time and still spend more time with their kids than otherwise. It’s OK to spend less time than we do with the kids (we haven’t been to a movie since ROTK), but don’t kid yourself, you are giving up something. But as they get older, you can take more time for you. That’s the other pernicious message in society today – that you should not delay gratification. The first 5 years are critical. I’m not going to make CEO – started too late and spend too much time with the family. That’s OK, we do all right. Life is good, if you make the right choices, and make them consciously so that you don’t second-guess yourself.

The article didn’t make me depressed at all. It made me thankful I live in the early 21st Century and not the early 20th.

Anne C. said...

Beautifully written, John. (And anyone who skipped/speed read (sped read?) through it should take a minute to read it more slowly.)
You are right, of course, that anything that shows how difficult things were in the past should make us appreciate the present that much more. I have noticed in the past and noticed again today how much more often you see a couple in a car and the woman is driving. That speaks to an everyday kind of equality that is reassuring.
I also agree that FDR and Eleanor's relationship seems to be an extremely beneficial one for both. I think it's the romantic training that makes me feel like Eleanor lost out because she wasn't pretty enough. Of course, like anyone, I'm sure she had her own ways of getting what she needed or doing without.

More than anything, you are correct that childrearing (or whatever we choose to do) is a matter of priorities. The fact that one's child goes to school is no substitution for actual parenting.

Thanks for the positive spin!

John the Scientist said...

Thanks for the positive spin!

Hey, we Boonsboro grads have to stick together!

Random Michelle K said...

Eleanor had an extremely complex life.

Joseph Lash wrote a two book biography of her that is fascinating and well worth a read if you have the time.

Did Franklin hurt her? Most certainly. But would she have chosen to leave him? Considering her background? Maybe not.

Mummy Grabill said...

John - wow, I really enjoyed reading your perspective. So eloquently written, and so true. Thank you! It's easy to get caught up in lamenting the small margin that you might be sacrificing in each area of your life due to multi-tasking. I like your view of minimizing the margins on the things that are most important and moving on from all the rest with no regrets. :-)