Motherhood vs Corporate World: Why Women Cannot Have It All

An Obnoxious Girl

You know that girl with a smug smile on her face, rushing into the office with a steaming hot coffee in her hand, ready to conquer the day?

You know that girl who passes you by with a Blackberry in one hand, papers in the other; the one who dismissively looks at you every time you tell her that you are leaving for your son’s PTA meeting or your daughter’s ballet class?

You know that girl who has no empathy, not a hint of understanding, when you say that you need to miss an important social work event because you have to help your kids with their homework after dinner?

I used to be that girl. I used to tune out women who had children and who always chose their family over career. I could not understand why juggling a career and motherhood was so difficult. I was annoyed when being a parent always won over being ambitious and competitive.

How could those women voluntarily choose to miss a pivotal discussion, a power meeting and rush home to be with their children? Could they not somehow find a compromise? Could not these women have it all: a family, a career, a life?

I was living in what I call an airbrushed reality.

The Real World

Years and years later, when I moved up the career ladder, when I lost some naiveté and idealism, I finally realized that no, women cannot have it all when it comes to career and motherhood. Somethings always gotta give. Usually it is the career. Sometimes it is motherhood.

I never wanted to be a parent. I chose not to have children for a variety of reasons that I am not going to cover in this post. One of the reasons, however, was my desire to build a career, travel the world, and not make any concessions that having children would definitely force me to do.

Was it a selfish decision? Perhaps, it was selfish in your eyes. From my perspective, it was a rational decision based on reality: women can balance a career and family only if they have total control over their schedules. 

I don’t believe that there is a work-life balance when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder. If a woman chooses a professional career, she has to either sacrifice time with her family and rely on a round-the-clock nanny, or she ends up giving up on that corporate ladder. It is almost impossible to have professional success with a balanced family life.

Is There Really a Choice?

How does a single mother, raising two kids, make a choice between staying at home with her children or working full-time? She simply does not have a choice. She has to work.

What about those women who are struggling to find any kind of work? What choices do they have? Or those who are supporting their unemployed husbands? Do these woman even worry about having it all? I think they worry desperately about clinging on to what they already have.

Whoever tells you that women can have it all, is either a politician, or an idealist living in the utopian reality. Women cannot simply have it all.

Women with children are being pulled down from the corporate ladder by the very simple, tedious and daily family problems such as school schedules, math problems, doctor’s visits, PTA meetings. The corporate world does not accommodate to the one who is trying to balance a family with rigid work deadlines, raising children and power meetings.

I don’t consider my decision to not have children as a sacrifice in the name of my career. I consider it a choice. At least, I was lucky enough that I could make one.

A side note: have you subscribed yet to H.E.R newsletter? I am giving away $25 to one lucky subscriber. Subscribe below by July 15, 2012 and you might be the WINNER. First issue of H.E.R. is out on July 17, 2012. 


24 thoughts on “Motherhood vs Corporate World: Why Women Cannot Have It All”

  1. Interesting observations on motherhood and career. Since I’m an advocate of intelligent feminism I fully support a woman’s right to make choices that are in keeping with her aspirations.
    Although you can never have it all, my experience is that you can have quite alot. Sheryl Sandberg (COO Facebook) is an example of a woman who has made it to the top, is a mother of two who claims to leave the office in time to have dinner with her children. In my opinion, very few women in high corporate positions actively choose not to have children.
    I have 3, ranging from 15 to 23, was married and now happily divorced. I never regret being pulled off the ladder. Once you have little ones they change you in ways that are both powerful and sublime. Children bring both fun and frustration into your life but it’s a roller coaster ride worth taking. When I look back on my life I know that what my children have given me will last alot longer than any thing or experience money can buy.

  2. I really liked your post.

    I believe that women are ever evolving and sometimes, priorities change. With me, my priority was working in the corporate world. But then I had my daughter and my perspective shifted in ways I hadn’t expected. Long story short, I became a stay-at-home mom and never looked back. Sure, there are months where it’s a little tight financially but it is the best decision I ever made. Life is all about choices, like you said.

  3. To reach the top of any career you need to make sacrifices in your personal life. Maybe I’m naive, but I strongly believe that you can have a family and a very strong career (with hard work and some luck), but you may not be able to have the exact type of family or career that you had envisioned.

    I want to travel and work internationally / on international projects, which, while can be very rewarding, is also undoubtedly disruptive to family life. I have read (and heard from family members) that it’s much easier to have 1 kid than multiple kids, so if I decide that I really need to be a mother, I may just stop at one.

  4. A second thought… why is this “work-life balance” type of discussion centered on women? Why can’t we be talking how to help ALL people, men and women, achieve meaningful lives both in their jobs and in their home life? And just because some families don’t have children, doesn’t mean that they don’t have personal obligations (taking care of an elderly parent) or personal priorities (intense training for triathlons, etc.)

    1. It is centered on women because I believe that it is mostly women who decide to step down. Men choose to make a career. Not every man, of course, but the majority. I am yet to meet a man who decides to skip a power meeting, or a social event because he had to take his son to a soccer practice.

  5. I think any non-parent sees things differently than we do as parents. I know before I became a parent, I would judge parents when their kids were misbehaving or babies wouldn’t stop crying. Now, I know people judge me that don’t understand. I think parenting and all that comes with it is one of those things that you really can’t have empathy for until you’ve actually gone through it.

  6. I think you can have it all. It just depends on what you want.

    If you want to be a super mom who bakes homemade apple pies, attends all of your kid’s soccer games, never misses a dance recital and heads a Fortune 500 company, you probably won’t be able to swing that.

    Men seem to be able to have it all, because they don’t want all the extra stuff that women want. If a woman cares more about her career than being the best mother on the planet, good for her. If she wants to stay home and never receive a dime for her child rearing and domestic duties, that’s great too. We shouldn’t apologize for our natural urges to obtain career success or take care of our babies. AND we also shouldn’t expect others to make concessions for us to accomplish those goals.

    By the way, if you don’t want to have children, I applaud you. I hate when people say you’re selfish because you don’t want to have children. NO ONE asked to be born. I can’t think of anything more selfish than having a child.

  7. I agree with you. There’s no way you can have it all. I know women who put on this front and try to make people believe they have it all (they are superstars at their full-time position, have perfect children, a perfect husband, active social life, etc etc.) I don’t think they’re fooling anyone, though. There are only 24 hours in a day! I sometimes wish there were more, because it’s hard to get it all done in a day. I did give up a good job within a great company when I had my 3rd child. It was just too much. I’m glad that I did, but now I feel guilty over the fact that I’m not even working (outside of the home, that is) and I still can’t keep my floor clean or the laundry done! I have to just keep reminding myself of what is important. Yesterday, it was playing with my two boys during the baby’s nap time…instead of doing the laundry! 🙂

  8. Unfortunately, you’re right. Mrs. RB40 is having a hard time juggling being a mom and working. She is exhausted all the time. I do a lot with the kid, but even then there are tons of things to take care of.

  9. Since I don’t have kids yet, I totally know what you mean. I agree with you that women can’t have it ALL, meaning they can’t have everything they want and give everything their 200%. Like you said, you cannot attend every single event/appt/PTA meeting as well as be in charge of an entire department or part of upper management and working overtime all the time. But I will have to say that I don’t want it ALL! I love balance and I love to work so I definitely don’t think I could ever give up working, even when I decide to have kids. I want to be part of my kids’ lives as well as have an important work/life balance.

    My mom is a great example of this.. she has a really awesome job and it’s very flexible. She takes off to take my bro and sis to all of their practices, drops them off and picks them up from school, goes to all of their tournaments, and even has time to cook, clean, do laundry everyday, and keep the house spotless. She is happy! I think she has it all, and I would love to just be happy like that.

  10. I love this post! I’d love to comment more but it’s 3:54am. The two little ones will be up shortly and my busy day will begin (stay-at-home mom). I’m awake at this hour because it’s the only time I have to do anything that’s not kid or house related. Too often I sacrifice sleep to indulge in blog reading.

    For me…I think having a JOB would be a possibility (when the kids are a little older), but a CAREER would be much much tougher. If I can walk away at 5pm every day and not have to think about work at all, I *might* be able to handle that. But a career that I want to excel at…I’m not sure that will be possible without greatly sacrificing my life with the kids.

  11. Don’t be fooled. Women are strong. Very strong. Stronger than men. There I said it and I am a male.

    They can have it all and then some. My wife is a wonder woman. I have to slow her down sometimes.

    You just need to negotiate or budget the time for the things you need to do and the loved ones in your life.

  12. I am not a mom, so I am only writing based on what I see other moms go through. It’s really hard to have it all. I mean there are only 24 hours in the day. If you want to be a VP in a company you will probably spend less time in a company. My husband and I have talked about kids in the future (10-15 yrs down the road). He understands I am not made to be a stay at home mom. We will work hard so that he can own his own business, be flexible with his hours, and take care of the kids. That’s basically the only hope we have. If he is also working and rising on the corporate ladder, kids will not be an option.
    What’s the point of having kids, if they are always in day care?

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  15. I’m wondering why you define “sucess” as being at the top of the ladder. Why can’t you work at a decent job, put in your work day and then come home and be with your family? Do you really think that if you miss a meeting or two you are not sucessful? After all, working life a is a long time, there a few years that are more intensive around child rearing, but in a supporting work environment, a parent/employee will stick around and the workplace will end up benefiting from a long term employee who maybe couldn’t travel as much early on, but might be better at it later on. Some of us enjoy our technical careers and don’t really want to be CEO anyway…

  16. What if all I wanted was just my career? Because that is all I want right now. For me personally, I don’t think I’d want to enter motherhood, unless I was at a certain point in my career (not necessarily an executive position). I enjoy my job and I know there is so much potential to move around within the organization and gain a lot of valuable experience.

    Obviously there are many amazing women who have both career and motherhood, but there are just as many amazing women who have the career only and they still have it all. The definition of “all” will vary from person to person.

  17. So, America’s modern way of dressing and thinking are all but a sham! We, from countries like India think US of A is so advanced…total crap it is! Still your country hasn’t made flexible working as a law ??? Wow! if only more women had been in the workforce…subprime, recession etc , would not have happened in the first place! We women would not have let it happen, I swear!

  18. Gee, you’re finding out what men have known for years. We did not have a choice either. We had to work. We did not have the option to stay home. Also, when our kids had things going on at school, more times than not we had to work or work late. Business and family had to be interchangeable at times because they were both men’s #1 priority. Men had an advantage because we had a spouse that allowed that. In return we paid all of her livingng expenses for her including wedding rings, dates, honeym,oons….everything. Women want to be single mom’s and business leaders at the same time. Well, you can’t you need a partner. Of course, women do not want men anymore. So, you made your bed, now sleep in it.

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