By now we’ve heard an earful about the Atlantic cover story that went viral last week — the one entitled “Why Women Can’t Have It All.” The online version of the story features a toddler plopped in a briefcase with a look on her face that seems to be saying, “So what’s it going to be, Mom? Me, or your job?”
The content is no less provocative. In her essay, former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter blows the whistle on the greatest lie ever perpetuated on the women of this nation: that it is possible to raise a family and pursue a demanding career (demanding being the operative word) simultaneously — and come out swinging on both fronts. “For the remainder of my stint in Washington,” writes Slaughter, “I was increasingly aware that the feminist beliefs in which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet.”
That message was the theme of my first book, 7 Myths of Working Mothers: Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don’t Mix, which I wrote more than ten years ago. The book was specifically designed for women like Slaughter who fell victim to feminist dogma and mapped out their lives accordingly. “Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with,” she writes.
Indeed they have. And just what is that feminist credo? That women should consider children as appendages to their main life’s purpose. To live what feminists insist is the only life worthy of respect, women must devote their lives to their careers. The kids will be fine.
But the kids are not fine, as Ms. Slaughter courageously admits.
Anne-Marie Slaughter did what she was told to do by her feminist sisters — and she took it to the max. She graduated from Princeton University in 1980, from Oxford University in 1982, from Harvard Law School in 1985, and from Oxford again in 1992. The bulk of her life has been spent in academia, and she is currently a professor at Princeton, though her titles and duties over the years have been varied.
Slaughter also delayed motherhood as long as possible. This decision culminated in a “nightmare,” as Slaughter spent valuable money and energy trying to conceive her two boys at the final hour.
Today, those boys are teenagers — and that’s where the Atlantic article begins. Eighteen months into a two-year stint in Washington, in which she worked for Hillary Clinton, Slaughter had an “epiphany.” She was sipping champagne with foreign dignitaries but “could not stop thinking about” her 14-year-old son who was “skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him.”
That exact scenario — Mom is thriving at work, children are suffering at home — is one of millions that takes place throughout the country. The truth is that which none of us is allowed to say: Children are suffering — and desperately need their mommies. That’s why Slaughter’s article garnered so much attention. It hit us in the gut.
That children need their mothers is a hard pill to swallow for a nation of women who’ve been sold a script. This script has been clear since day one: A woman’s power lies outside the home, not inside. The more impressive the résumé, the more impressive the woman.
What Slaughter learned the hard way is that her résumé doesn’t mean beans. Sure, it opened doors. Yes, it allows her to mingle with the big wigs. It’s all very impressive.
Except to her children.
And that’s really what this conversation is about, isn’t it? The children — and whether or not we value them. Our actions, our choices, are the only way to prove what we value. The rest is just talk.
Raising helpless, dependent babies to become secure, competent adults is an awesome and invaluable task. Nothing in this world is more important. Nothing. No mother can successfully perform this task if her attention is constantly divided, or if she’s simply not around to do the job. That’s why two parents are so critical for childrearing. This is a perennial that we as a nation cannot seem to face.
Children’s needs conflict with adult desires. Period. End of story. Children do not flourish when their mothers are absent, and they are not happy as long as Mom is happy. That’s part of the feminist script. All children want, all they’ve ever wanted, is Mom. Not in spirit — in the flesh.
You’d think Slaughter’s epiphany would have taught her as much. But alas, no. After all that rumination, Slaughter’s “solution” to the work/family conflict is that America should “close the leadership gap” by electing a female president, along with 50 female senators. “Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.”
Huh? This conclusion totally undermines her so-called epiphany.
We will never move forward as a nation until women start to listen to their gut and ignore those who pray at the feminist altar. Ms. Slaughter says she needed permission from Hillary Clinton to stop the madness and go home to be with her son. With all due respect, that’s pathetic.
The American family is disintegrating before our eyes. The ability to sacrifice one’s own desires for the needs of others is crucial to building healthy relationships. There are no shortcuts. The way to move forward with work and family has nothing to do with closing the leadership gap. That’s the goal that got us in this mess to begin with.
Until Americans start reevaluating their priorities, we will never be successful in raising strong families. The secret to making sense of career and motherhood is to see beyond the here and now, beyond what we want right now. Women today have fewer children than ever and live longer lives than ever. Slaughter is wrong: Sequencing is absolutely the answer. So is creating realistic expectations for one’s life. Stop aiming so damn high. Be satisfied.
To the women of America: Go, get an education. Find a career. But don’t let that goal keep you from knowing your children. Don’t let it rob you of what will ultimately be your greatest achievement. But the only way motherhood can be your greatest achievement is if you put children, not career, at the center of your life. As Woody Allen once said, “80 percent of success is showing up.”
Suzanne Venker is a former teacher of at-risk youth, a mother of two, and an author and columnist. Her new book, How to Choose a Husband (and Make Peace with Marriage), will be published February 2013. Her website is www.suzannevenker.com.