The Bitch In The House – APW Book Club Meetups!

{Bitch In The House, by Christy of Moodeous Photography in Denver. We love her.}

After last weekend’s APW Book Clubs, we’re back with a discussion of The Bitch In The House, edited by Cathi Hanauer. First, I want to start out this write up by mentioning how crazy diverse the APW meetups were, and what an honor, and total mind-f*ck it is to be the-woman-running-the-site-that-spawns-the-meetups. I’m not sure if that’s something I’ll ever fully get my head around, and I think that’s an OK thing. But I’m beyond honored to get to be the lady who shares these amazing stories with you.

{APW Baltimore. They went to a lingerie shop. As you do. Layout by Katie Jane Photo in NYC}

So, some stories: the Baltimore book club had a nice long boozy chat… and then went shopping at a lingerie store that was going out of business. One of the brides-to-be bought her ‘something blue’ (cough, cough). Boston discussed safe words (but not like you think… apparently…) The upstate New York book club met on a working farm, and everyone went home with eggs from pasture raised chickens after mucking about in the mud.

{Upstate New York ladies on Zan’s Farm. For serious.}

And then there were the funny stories, like the-big groups-of-women-being-comically-underestimated stories. Katie of the DC meetup, told me “A pair of guys taking a smoke break saw our big group of gals and asked if we were discussing Sex and the City.” And the Cincinnati meetup took pictures holding copies of the book, and then a guy asked to take a picture with “these b*tches.” So without further ado, let’s delve into some of the discussion had by “the APW b*tches” (as Cincinnati is now calling themselves).

{Boston: The real Bitch In The House}

APW Boston: Lauren of Suburbalicious Living told me: “One of the main takeaway points of our discussion was that counseling, both alone and as a couple, is a great idea even in the good times, because it makes the bad times more manageable. We talked about how coming up with “safe words” (but not like that) to let your partner know that you are serious, can help you get your point across, even as you are laughing something off.  There was a lot of discussion about how our lives didn’t turn out they way we thought (whether we’d always planned to be a stay at home mom and now needed to be the primary breadwinner, or whether we got married much younger or older or to the other gender than we were expecting) and how to manage and embrace your new life while also taking time to wonder what happened to the one you thought you were going to have.”

{Boston is still mad about the time I called them wholesome. And then they heard about the sparkles happening in New York so they were like, f*ck you, we have hats}

“And we spent a lot of time talking about sex, baby.  We talked about having it, and not having it, and being the one who wants it and the one who doesn’t, and how it isn’t always a deal-breaker but can at the same time make or break your relationship.  We want to spend more time talking about sex, and are plotting a group-anonymous post for APW, so look forward to that sometime soon. And we may have proposed that our next book club meeting be at a sex toy shop (Editors note: Can. Not. Wait!). Just kidding. Kind of.”

{Clockwise from the top left: APW Bay Area, APW Lincoln Nebraska, APW LA, APW Denver}

APW Bay Area: Sharon at Bride Sans Tulle reported: “We were all initially trying to distance ourselves from the experiences of the writers of the book (i.e. we talked about how a lot of us were raised by parents who both worked and how that changed our expectations about household tasks, choosing not to believe that we can “have it all”) since it was scaring the crap out of most of us. But even as we were all (naively? optimistically?) proclaiming that we didn’t think this kind of anger is inevitable. One of the women present brought up that we are often trained to discount, excuse, or repress our anger, and that perhaps there’s something really empowering and strengthening about a group of women who choose to transgress that particular bit of “gender wisdom” and express anger in a way that brings about positive change.”

{APW Baltimore, in the bar}

APW Baltimore: Ellie at Wedding For Two sent in the story, “We spent a lot of time discussing whether our own marriages were reflected in the stories, or whether we thought they would be when we had children (since none of us do at the moment).  We ultimately ended up talking about what women in their mid-twenties always talk about when they get together: how to combine work and family and have a successful career and kids, all at once.  We talked about the merits of working part time or working from home or staying at home and which partner in our partnerships would be more likely to do that and why.”

{Clockwise from the top left: APW DC , APW Cincinnati, APW DC, APW Seattle}

APW DC: Katie told me, “Nobody had kids, yet, and much of the discussion was about career/home balance.  As McNeil put it, you’d read through all these women’s experiences hoping they’d reveal a magic bullet that fixes the problem, but, alas, no real solutions. It came up that, if anything, knowing your expectations is a huge factor. There were also lots of talk about having a strong community to raise a family, whether it’s a neighborhood or family support.”

{APW Denver, taken by Moodeous Photography}

Which brings me to what I think is the real takeaway discussion from The Bitch In The House. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say we can’t have it all. Period. It’s not going to happen. If there is anything we’ve learned by whatever-wave-of-feminism-we-are-now-on, it’s that there are only so many hours in the day, and so many days in our lives. We can’t work 60 hour weeks, while we spend copious amounts of time with our children, meaningful relationships with our partners, have sex seven times a week, and oh yeah, sleep. It’s not going to happen. I learned this in my grey faced days as a martyr. I learned that, for me, I have to prioritize what does matter in my life (work that I care about, time with my husband, exercise, sleep) and let the rest go (corporate career, keeping a perfect home, cooking… ever, and more).

I can’t have it all, and I’m fine with that. But I want to have enough. I want to try to have what matters. And for me, it’s a constant quest to figure out what works.

This year, I took the leap to work for myself full time. That wasn’t just a fluke, the building a website and selling a book and hiring an accountant and a lawyer and taking the leap. That was part of my master plan, that I was lucky enough to eventually make work (it only took 10 years). I went to college and majored in a creative field with the idea that one day I would work for myself. I knew I wanted to… well… make things (which is currently taking the form of books and blog posts), and I knew I wanted to have babies and have a flexible schedule, and I wanted to find a way to make it work. And I knew for sure, that for me, the black and white dichotomy of working mom or stay at home mom was lose/lose. If I couldn’t have it all, I wanted a little of both.

And while this book provided some models for women who were stumbling through making it work, the general consensus seems to be that the book also had a lot of gloom, and not a lot of answers.

So how do we tackle this? How can we work towards having enough? What is enough for you? What parts of having it all are you personally willing to let go of as not that important? What do you really want to ask the generations (a little or a lot) before us? How do you cope for those inevitable days when you become the bitch in the house?

Pictures from the APW Flickr stream, where you’ll find much more book club goodness

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  • Aihpos

    I skipped the Boston meetup because I don’t currently have time for leisure reading but this is something I/we are really struggling with right now. He works >80 hours a week, I’m in a highly demanding graduate program and we live 1 hour away from my university while I’m working 12 hour days and most weekends. Paradoxically, this is the best time in my chosen career to have children if I don’t want to wait until after residency and there aren’t too many females with children in my chosen field doing the work that I want to do.

    I love what I do (do does he) but I worry about how expanding our family will fit in…

    • For the record, nobody cares if you’ve actually read the book, so next time, just come for the discussion!

      • Aihpos

        Good to know! I considered doing this but felt bad. I mean, what kind of jerk goes to a book club meeting without reading the book (and if you have time for a book club you obv have time to read…right?).
        I’ll try to go next time if I can get those shameblasters activated

        • meg

          Um, lots of people go to book clubs without reading the book! Stop worrying and go next time!!

          • I did an English Lit degree and people frequently turned up to seminars without reading the book. I think you’ll be fine to turn up to an APW book group :) [a lot of our discussion was generated *from* the book but wasn’t specifically *about* the book, per se]

  • Elizabeth

    While I was on vacation, aka visiting my grandmother in Florida, the topic of work/family balance came up. Now, I’m almost 25, but I’ll be in college for another year. (It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do.) I casually mentioned that I didn’t want kids for another 5-ish years. My reasoning: I don’t want to go straight from college to kids and skip the whole career thing; I want to be more financially stable; I want to travel with my fiance. The list is much actually much longer than that, but essentially- I know I’m not ready. My grandmother was flabbergasted- taking my reluctance to have children as soon as I’m married as a sign that I view motherhood as a terrible thing. So not true. I just don’t want to end up resenting it! Balancing work and family AND time for myself? It’s gonna take a while to figure all of that out.

    • Yes. This.

    • Zan

      At our book club I brought up the Dutch (Danish?) Model that I read about somewhere — probably the New York Times –where you go to college, then get a “whatever job”, get married, have kids and THEN go to law school (for example). The benefit here is that you look for a job in your chosen career “fresh out of school” and aren’t at the disadvantage of trying to re-enter the workforce after having taken a few years off.

      Obviously there are some problems with this, like the fact that you don’t necessarily meet your spouse within a year after college and that I always fall pretty hard for the “Everything is better in Scandinavia”-stories that the New York Times is so fond of producing … but I think the big thing that resonates with me is the idea that this particular approach to career/kids doesn’t try to deny the biology of having kids and the fact that it is easier to conceive when you’re younger.

      • Abby C.

        That’s actually what we’ve been thinking about – can you find that article again?

        • So this is not the article mentioned above (I’m searching for it – it sounds really familiar), but it is about Danish parenting/work-life balance vs. the British norm – very interesting:

          • LV Anna

            The following article is along the same lines, and was posted on my company’s internal website(!)

            I can’t help wondering, though, about how equal women are in the eyes of their male countrymen, or even if it matters.


        • Zan

          For the life of me I can’t find it. I don’t think the article was specifically about the aspect I mentioned, it was related to a larger point. I just tried googling “parenting” and “career, kids” with Finland, Sweden, Netherlands and Denmark but I couldn’t get it to come up. Maybe the APW hive-mind can source it.

      • ka

        I freaking love this. I’ve been thinking about doing this (working at my random career now, having kids in the next 5 years, and going back to grad school after), and have been scared because I was raised by an older mom who spent 20 years having a whirlwind life and career before settling down to have me at 40, which was an unpopular approach in the 80s, but seems to be what everyone is doing these days. So thanks for validating what my gut was already telling me. Go Scandinavia. As usual.

      • Suzanna

        Wow, I never knew I was Danish! I’m doing this model totally by accident (and probably 10 years after one “should”, biologically-speaking). Go me!

        • Zan

          Dude! We have the same name! I’ve NEVER met anyone with my name! (at least, not spelled the same way)

          • Suzanna

            Us Suzannas are obviously fabulous and smart, no?

            (One of my nicknames is Zanna.)

  • “And I knew for sure, that for me, the black and white dichotomy of working mom or stay at home mom was lose/lose. If I couldn’t have it all, I wanted a little of both.”

    YES YES YES. This is something I think about all the time and I just don’t quite know how to make it happen, but I know that I’m going to.

    I know that the question “Is this book scaring the crap out of you?” was initially posed as a kind of joke. But truly, I’m glad it was one of the questions because, yes, the book did scare me. I ended up worrying about things I have never thought about before in my own relationship as I read it. It was a relief to realize that maybe other women could have been having the same reactions and, regardless of my fears, I am certainly not alone.

    • meg

      Yeah. I didn’t know how I was going to do it either. But I think there is often something about setting a very clear goal that makes things happen… because you look for every opportunity. I saw the opportunity the day David had the *idea* for APW. I mean, that didn’t mean it was going to happen (lots of other plans hadn’t worked), but it means I was looking. So keep looking, and you’ll find it.

    • *lightbulb*
      It’s only just occurred to me, upon reading this post, that I could “have a little of both”, too. And that I probably want that… I’ve been wondering recently which I’d prefer to do if given the option to choose between staying home with kids, going to work outside the home, or working from home with kids (with or without paid childcare assistance). Of course, I’m also working for myself (freelance translator), so I could do exactly that.
      It’s nice to be able to add that to the list of things to consider!

  • Marchelle

    First of all, APW ladies rock the house down, I need to get my arse in gear and attend the next one, and WHERE IS LONDON?! It finally happened, so feedback?

    Also, I want to say a loud and wholehearted AMEN to your points at the end – having it all is an impossibility, and failing to meet that impossible goal has made a lot of women *very* unhappy. I think that was definitely the most important message from the book for me.

    As for the questions at the end – well I’m navigating my way through life by attempting to answer them, although in many cases I’m finding that I knew some of my answers already, but have been ignoring them to some degree, and to my detriment. A big one for me is my career – it *isn’t* my be all and end all, and in fact I really need to devote much less of myself to it than I currently do in the long term if I’m not going to burn out completely. It’s a messy process, with hard lessons to be learnt, but I like to think I might be getting there, wherever ‘there’ might turn out to be.

    • The London meet up did happen. But then came work and International Women’s Day and I have had no time to e-mail Meg anything. (plus, Alicia has the photos). But we did a lot of good discussing (4 hours?) and drank tea from vintage cups and ate cake and then drank cocktails. It was good and we had enlightening conversations.

      Maybe Alicia and Anna can help me out with a summary. :)

      • meg

        WHERE ARE THE PICTURES? Is all. :)

        • I will ask Alicia. :)

  • Rose in SA

    Didn’t read the book (can’t get it on Kindle), but the ‘can you have it all?’ question is one I have long debated. I have concluded that firstly there is no silver bullet solution, much as we’d all love to be told what it is and secondly, the definition of ‘all’ is a very personal thing. Still, I can’t help feeling a bit ripped off – my liberal education subconsciously ‘sold’ me the idea that I can have anything I want (all at the same time!) and I don’t believe that’s true anymore. Maybe the best thing we can all do is try to make sure our daughters grow up with more balanced expectations.

    • Why just our daughters?

      I think it’s important for our sons too to realize they can’t have it all either … no one can. I think a lot of guys today don’t fully comprehend the fact that if you’re say an investment banker, you can have kids, but you won’t get to see them much at all, and is that what they want out of life?

      I think actually women are much more likely to realize this stuff early on … that a 60+ hour career isn’t going to allow them to maybe be a super involved parent. Maybe BECAUSE we’ve been hearing so often about how women can’t have it all. By contrast, a lot of guys make career decisions without thinking about what their families will look like. Then, when they have kids, it can be a rude awakening.

      This is a dialogue that both men and women need to have I think. How can we both not have it all, but have enough?

      • Erin

        EXACTLY. And I don’t just want this for my sons in the future. I want it for my husband, now.

        • Elizabeth

          Yes! In some ways, I’m glad that as a woman, I’ve been asked (socialized? forced?) to think about the balance between work and family for many years. And I think it’s unfortunate that many men are not given the opportunity to really consider what they want out of life; because they’re expected to be the provider, they don’t have the luxury of thinking about whether they might prefer to work a more flexible schedule or take on a less demanding job so that they can spend more time with their future children. I think this imbalance in the amount of time women and men spend thinking about the career/family balance can lead to really scary trends: since women tend to start thinking about the balance earlier in life, women are more prepared to scale back our careers to make room for children, so when a couple has to decide who will reduce hours at work, the woman ends up taking on that role. While every couple should be able to make decisions that work for their particular situation, I do think that more women end up scaling back at work simply because they’ve spent more time considering the possibility of doing so. On a societal level, I think this leads to dissatisfaction for both men and women and sets unreasonable expectations about gender norms.
          (Of course I am speaking in gross generalizations here and writing from a heteronormative perspective, and I recognize there are many examples different from what I presented – and would love to hear about those!)

          • You’re being general, but this IS us right now. My dream job pays higher than his, but his first response to the “who works and who stays home” question was to say of course he’d quit and go back to the high paying career he hated so that I could stay home if I wanted to. And while I love him for being willing to make that sacrifice, I wanted him to know that it didn’t have to be a given that we would do that. That we could explore many different options. I don’t think he ever realized it before that conversation.

    • A much-loved mentor who seemed to have it all once told me, “You *can* have it all, just not all at once,”

      When I think about all the things I want for my life, from kids and community to a great marriage, a successful career working for myself, travel, etc. etc. etc., I realize that a lot of the pain in the “work/ life balance” comes from expecting to have it all right now. Now is the time to build a great foundation to my marriage. Kids will (hopefully) come later. My company takes a ton of my time now, so travel may have to wait until “retirement”

    • “Still, I can’t help feeling a bit ripped off – my liberal education subconsciously ’sold’ me the idea that I can have anything I want (all at the same time!) and I don’t believe that’s true anymore.”

      Grrr, this is is so true. It’s really hard to reprogram that expectation once it’s established in your head, too. You jump to the conclusion that you must be doing something wrong, otherwise this would all be falling into place and working and obvious? Right? =P

  • Didi

    I didn’t read the book, and I’m really just stalking the pictures, but at least I now know what a safeword is… that way.

  • You convinced me…I need to read this book.

  • I love love love that 1. My dog is on APW, 2. I got to meet a ton of amazing women, and 3. It happened at the same time a ton of amazing women were meeting each other ALL OVER THE WORLD. It’s really awesome to meet people I can connect with so quickly that I don’t think I would otherwise meet at all.

    Also I love all these pictures and writeups! It’s really interesting hearing what everyone else talked about.

    So the safe word thing is totally not going to come up in the Boston Anonymous Sex Post, but here is a brief explanation: it’s a word you use to say, “No I really mean it,” when you’re laughing, or to say “Hey, my feelings are a little hurt by that,” when there’s company around and you don’t want to make things awkward. It’s one word you come up with to communicate something quickly. I think it all started when I had a nose piercing that kept popping out of my nose and instead of my wife always saying, “Your nose ring is sticking out,” she would say “Cucumber” – while it confused the people around us, fewer people stared at my nose.

    Now we have a word for “Even though I’m laughing, I really mean stop tickling me” (for example) and a word for “Yes, we are spending time with your family but you need to act a little more grownup right now and stop kicking your brother under the table” (yes, seriously). While it’s a little weird for other people (“Did you just say ‘tapioca’?”), it gets the point across without anyone else knowing there was tension or any issue at all.

    • Valerie

      Oooh we have this too, but its a gesture instead of a word. With friends he will sometimes get really loud when he’s enthusiastic or I will say something candid that makes him uncomfortable. Instead of nagging/admonishing and potentially embarrassing each other in front of our friends, we agreed to lightly squeeze the others wrist or knee. Its a non-hostile signal between us and it works amazingly well.

      • We do this too! After one too many snippy exchanges at board game nights (he’s super-competitive, I’m not), we decided we needed a code word. We now use it for other things too. It’s a great way of taking the charge out of the situation and reminding ourselves that we’re ultimately on the same team, without the public embarrassment factor, as mentioned above.

        • clampers

          We do the “cut it out” gesture: slicing your finger across your throat. But we do it on the sly and on a smaller scale, no one else ever sees it. Wait until you make eye contact, and then then hold it and just put your finger to your throat and wag it over. Works like a charm and is kinda ridiculous so it also takes the edge off at the same time.

        • Oh, so good to know someone else does this too! I mean, not that I thought we were crazy… but I’m glad we’re not the only ones :)

        • liz

          yes, yes. we do the subtle knee squeeze.

        • J.Co

          us too! it’s a nostril flare.

    • So, um… That’s your dog? I like you even more now.

      Also, what is it about cucumber that makes it such a good safe word? It was what I made my mom use when she wanted me to stop doing something, but I was too embarrassed that she admonish me in front of my friends because omg that would be so embarrassing. So cucumber it was.

  • Zan

    I definitely do not think you can have it all. Not at all. So the fact that this was your take-home message really hits the “ding ding ding!” bell for me. I was the only one at our bookclub with a really strong and clear desire to have kids and sometimes I feel weird for saying that right now — well okay, probably not NOW, probably in a year or so — I want kids/family to be my priority. People look at me askance because I don’t think I can make kids happen right now with a three hour (each way!) commute and a work-week that has no boundaries and never seems to quit. Because you know what that means,

    something. has. to. give.

    Right now I’m comfortable saying that I’m willing to “give” on my career for a time in order to let one of my other priorities take center stage for awhile. But I still feel like I’m on the receiving end of a lot of judgment for taking that stance and my shame blasters want to be going PEW PEW PEW!!! all the time but sometimes it wears on you and all they can manage is a pathetic peeww…?

    Maybe it’s because I’m in a high-prestige field, that people are so hard on me. I don’t know, but the book really confirmed my sense that when you try to have it all (but can’t) the thing that ends up “giving” (as in the above formulation) is you — but not in a good way. I want the limits that are necessary in life (the inability to value everything equally at all moments) to make me happy for what I choose, not depressed and angry over what I might choose to give up.

    • “the thing that ends up “giving” (as in the above formulation) is you — but not in a good way. ”

      I definitely agree with that. I also feel like–as seen in Bitch (and now, Bastard on the Couch, the “sequel” that I just got from the library) the next thing to go is the marital relationship. Because it’s kind of impossible to let the kids “go” and letting work fall by the wayside usually has drastic consequences… but putting your marriage last doesn’t have immediate consequences, at least ones that can be seen, which is the danger/temptation. Eventually, though, it’ll start to crumble from the lack of attention. That was my take-away from the book, though I’m not sure how this is best remedied for those who can’t see themselves giving up one of the components of the equation kids+marriage+work… and yet still only have 24 hrs in the day.

      Also: YES, exactly – if we [speaking of society here] can agree that you can’t have it all, why do we still shame those who consciously choose to let go of one of these pieces and prioritize something else? (speaking as someone who doesn’t want kids, but feels incredibly pressured to have them)

      • Class of 1980

        “… but putting your marriage last doesn’t have immediate consequences, at least ones that can be seen, which is the danger/temptation. Eventually, though, it’ll start to crumble from the lack of attention.”

        Definitely. I’ve seen it happen. And all the person has to show for it is a fabulous career and a divorce.

    • “…my shame blasters want to be going PEW PEW PEW!!! all the time but sometimes it wears on you and all they can manage is a pathetic peeww…”

      I appreciate the honesty in this. Sometimes making your own right-for-you choices in the face of vocal opposition and disapproval from your community can just be so exhausting.

    • I wish this was specific to high-presige fields, but people are hard on us in every field when we put our interpersonal relationships first.

      There is a serious imbalance in the amount of energy and effort we are told to put into our work, cultivating our careers from the day we enter the education system, countered with the amount of time and effort we are encouraged to put into our interpersonal relationships. I can’t count how many times I was discouraged from dating my husband through college. I was told to focus on my studies, pursue my career. I did both, putting equal time into my relationship with my now husband as I did my schooling. And you know what? I’ve changed careers plenty of times, but the work we did early on in our relationship payed off and my husband and I have been together for almost 10 years now.

      It doesn’t make any sense that we are encouraged to commit to someone for life, but not encourage to commit ourselves TO that life. Nobody gives you shit for missing dinner because you have an important meeting, but God forbid you miss work because you want to be home for an important dinner with your family.

      So Kudos to you, Zan, for clearly identifying your priorities and putting yourself first. And screw the naysayers.

      • This is a really wonderfully written comment and I agree with it completely. I just started working at my first grown-up job, and despite the fact that it is entry level (and therefore I don’t have much individual responsibility), I find this happening already. A great reminder to check that tendency to privilege work responsibilities over personal responsibilities (much the way folks in the book wrote about being nice at work but a bitch at home) and to give them both the attention they deserve.

      • Heather G

        Yes, Maddie. This is such a good point. I’ve also been discouraged by advisors and mentors in my field (psychology, of all places) to get involved romantically. Or, encouraged to only be involved with someone who is in the field and understands the “hard work and long nights.” Gah. I spent a while being really angry that balance isn’t rewarded. It takes a lot of agency and self-knowledge to say No (or yes, depending on how you look at it). Relationships should be nurtured. Why don’t they reward that? I often asked. We’re in psychology!

        But then I realized something. The balance IS the reward. Not many people are going to say, “Well done! You’ve carved out time for a relationship and exercise and your work!” Nope, it comes from inside. It’s a reward in and of itself. And in the process, I’ve had to learn how to turn a deaf ear towards the naysayers (screw them, as you say!). Sometimes I’m still learning, as it is an ongoing process of checking in with myself and with my partner.

        • Yes this is is so important! I also feel like it’s so easy to get sucked into the gratification of things that offer tangible rewards, like work and school (I’m a total grade grubber, so I’m way guilty) and forget that even though nobody is giving you an A+ for your relationship, the happiness you derive is just as much a reward.

          • Jessica

            I took a class from Clayton Christensen (famous business theorist), who talks a lot about the resource allocation process within companies. Specifically, he makes the point that, no matter what your organization’s stated strategy, you will end up building the type of programs and initiatives and such that your resource allocation process (the process through which you decide what gets your companies time, money, etc.) rewards. Because these decisions are made at all different levels within the company, management has to carefully create a system that incentivizes the kinds of decisions that support their overall goals. He labels this the difference between the company’s deliberate strategy and its emergent strategy.

            On the last day of class, his lecture was about how you’d apply the theories in the course to real life. I remember vividly hearing him address this exact issue – he said that, as a group of high achievers, we’ve all be conditioned to pursue projects that offer a clear reward. The reward for investing in relationships is long-term – you don’t necessarily see a strong positive or negative immediate response if you do or don’t make it home for dinner. The reward for investing in work is usually much more immediate. As a result, it’s really easy to bias toward work in the little decisions, which adds up to prioritizing work at the expense of relationships, whether or not you actually intended that.

            Here’s the text of a speech he made that covers a lot of the same points – well worth a read:

            The really relevant quotes:

            “Over the years I’ve watched the fates of my HBS classmates from 1979 unfold; I’ve seen more and more of them come to reunions unhappy, divorced, and alienated from their children. I can guarantee you that not a single one of them graduated with the deliberate strategy of getting divorced and raising children who would become estranged from them. And yet a shocking number of them implemented that strategy. The reason? They didn’t keep the purpose of their lives front and center as they decided how to spend their time, talents, and energy.”


            “When people who have a high need for achievement—and that includes all Harvard Business School graduates—have an extra half hour of time or an extra ounce of energy, they’ll unconsciously allocate it to activities that yield the most tangible accomplishments. And our careers provide the most concrete evidence that we’re moving forward. You ship a product, finish a design, complete a presentation, close a sale, teach a class, publish a paper, get paid, get promoted. In contrast, investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement. Kids misbehave every day. It’s really not until 20 years down the road that you can put your hands on your hips and say, “I raised a good son or a good daughter.” You can neglect your relationship with your spouse, and on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t seem as if things are deteriorating. People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.”

          • Fiorentina

            I wanted to respond to Jessica’s comment above (or below?) but can’t thread that deep.

            Jessica – thank you so much for posting this comment. I am in academic science, not business, and the same thing about resource allocation and emergent v. stated goals applies. However, academic scientists tend not to be so business-savvy and are unaccustomed to thinking in these terms. I remember my boss at the time talking about a TOTAL REVELATION he received while attending a workshop on time and goal management: that sometimes your time is used up by prioritizing the URGENT over the IMPORTANT. Um, well, yeah (revelation?). In the context of his time management that meant that he was always dashing off to meetings, and frustrated about not having time to write his grants.

            This really rings true and I think you stated it much better, but it totally made me think about consciously categorizing the things in my life into “urgent” (one last experimental run/job task that could really wait until tomorrow or next week) v. “important” (the little things one must attend to in order to keep their relationship thriving).

      • Zan

        “It doesn’t make any sense that we are encouraged to commit to someone for life, but not encourage to commit ourselves TO that life.”

        If I could sit still long enough to finish a cross-stitch I’d make a sampler out of this sucker.

      • Class of 1980

        Our culture is screwed up in the “life balance” area if you ask me. Everything is done to excess except the stuff that matters.

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      “Right now I’m comfortable saying that I’m willing to ‘give’ on my career for a time in order to let one of my other priorities take center stage for awhile.”

      I struggle with that a lot, and it’s particularly hard given how much of my life is transient right now. A year and a half from now, my PhD will be done, the wedding will be done, and I’ll be living in a different country in an unknown city at a new job/postdoc. (Most of that will happen in the span of a few months. Yikes!). I’d like to find my equilibrium by manipulating one variable at a time instead of all of them at once, but I can’t. I know I’m willing to “give” a bit on my career for my baby family now, though kids are still years off. It’s not so much a question of trying to have it all, but rather one of how to define what “all” means to me. How much can I “give” without giving too much? It’s a daunting question.

      It’s a struggle that that I see manifest in my internal name-change debate too. Among other factors, it pits my desire to be taken seriously as a scientist, vs the boy’s need for a single family under a single name after a childhood of multitudinous divorce.

      • Zan

        Figuring out how to define what “all” means to you, and what you’re willing to give is really just another way of saying that you’re trying to figure out what you *really* want out of life. And, uh … yeah. It’s super hard. I’m right there with you, lady.

        Sometimes I find it especially hard to shut out all the noise of what others want for me or say I ought to want for myself (even unknown, vague “society” others). Like I said above about the shame blasters running low on batteries.

        How much can you give without giving too much? I dunno. You probably can’t know until you do X, then adjust a bit to Y, then re-adjust a bit so you’re at Xv.2, then again… etc

        I try to remind myself that very few of the decisions we make are permanent in the way that, say, death is permanent. Take a job you hate? You can quit. Quit the job to stay home with the kids but go crazy without an office? Go back to work. It’s not like these things are easy to do by any stretch (which is why it is scary to think it might turn into “omgz ur doin it wrong!”) but I work on telling myself, “Just try it. If it’s not right, you can change it.”

        (and as we saw on APW that goes for changing your name too — you can change it back! Tho I admit I still don’t know what to do about this one either)

        • Richelle

          We have to define for ourselves what having it all means. Who says “all” is an insanely demanding career and spending huge amounts of time with the family? Maybe having it all is being happy with yourself. Just that. Whatever that means for you. I’m finally coming to this after hitting a peak in an insanely demanding career and being with the man of my dreams and pregnant with twins, because I am completely maxed out. Save yourself the trouble and focus on YOU now, not on what society inks you should want/be. Now I’ve got to figure out what that looks like for me.

        • Hypothetical Sarah

          Zan, you’re ruining my existential crisis with all your logic and talk of trial-and-error. Thanks for the reassurance :)

          When I ask how much I can give, I worry more about extrinsic factors than intrinsic ones. I can change my mind, but will my male-dominated science field want me in a different role? A recent PNAS article ( looked at the underrepresentation of women in math-intensive science fields and found that, statistically, biology and lifestyle choices (having kids and prioritizing family, basically) were to blame rather than gender bias… which is fine if their choices are freely-made, and not fine if they’re not.

          I should probably just do more and think less…

          • Zan

            Yeah man but the extrinsic factors will make you crazy. You can only control what you can control, and that’s you. Sorry for talking in new-age-hippie-isms.

            Oh, but that’s the crappy, crappy rub about all this. If your “male dominated science field” doesn’t want you because you make a “lifestyle choice” to have kids because, hello, you have a uterus, then isn’t it gender bias all the same? And doesn’t that make it NOT a “freely-made choice” at all when you decide to go back to work after the kid/s are in kindergarten and find that, oh, whoops — your “choices” mean you can’t get back in the club?

            And at the same time I’m all for starting a revolution but I have papers to write, animals to take care of, peopel to care for and sleep to catch up on. Le sigh!!

            Moral of the story? Logical thinking and existential crises are not mutually exclusive. :)

      • Kim

        Just a thought on the name change – if it’s his need to be a single name family, maybe he can change his name. It’s a solution that may or may not work for you, but it’s at least worth discussing, and it removes a little of the burden of choice from you.

        • ML

          fun fact: Though obviously for specific reasons, Jon Stewart waited until his wedding to legally change his last name (from Leibowitz). His wife changed her last name from her maiden name to Stewart on the same day.

        • Hypothetical Sarah

          That’s a solution I suggested but, alas, not a workable one.The discussion about it did help him to realize why I might be so hesitant to change MY name though.

    • It’s kind of funny, because for me and my current career (human resources, female dominated), and where my current career is (state government, which is (usually) stable with good benefits, better-than-most maternity policies, and 37.5 hour work weeks), I am getting some implicit pressure from my peers.

      Those closer to me know I don’t intend to have children, but those I’m not as close with, I think, think I’m joking. Because, really, if I’m not going to have kids, what am I doing working THERE, with my advanced degree and all? Why not go work at an energy-sucking 60+ hour a week career?

      Or, maybe they just don’t *get* why someone wouldn’t want kids. Not really sure.

      I see what you mean about the “peeeeeew.” I find it’s just easier to keep my trap shut and smile and nod when people start talking to me about “when you have kids.”

    • Arachna


      Right on! You should be able to prioritize family and children without shame and I will aim my shame blasters on your behalf. And I should be able to say that I don’t want to spend huge amounts of time with my kids wtihout feeling like I’m 0.01% of women. I’m just profoundly not interested in being there for every tiny milestone. I think it’s my responsibility to make sure the people they are with are always responsible and love them etc. etc. but I don’t see why it has to be me or why that means they have to grow up disfunctional and estranged. I think part of the shame is that if I was choosing between torpedoing my family or my career of course I’d torpedo my career so in that sense my family is my priority… but if we’re talking what I want to spend the vast majority of my time doing… it’s a different answer. Having a father who I am not estranged from but who did fairly little caregiving once I was old enough to remember it… I have to believe it is possible for me to have what my father had.

      • Zan

        This is a good arrangement. You root for me and I’ll root for you. Deal?

        • Arachna

          Deal! My ideal life couldn’t work without people with your priorities you know? We really do need people of all types that are able to make all sorts of arrangement! There’s no reason our society can’t accomodate it and it will be a better society for it! And people change and that makes sense too!

  • Erin

    “I can’t have it all, and I’m fine with that. But I want to have enough. I want to try to have what matters. And for me, it’s a constant quest to figure out what works.”

    I’m really caught up in the idea of having enough, having what matters. And also making sure my husband will have enough over the long term. Because it’s easy for me to say that I’ll find work I love, and work part time and raise kids part time without accounting for the big wad of cash that would be needed to make this happen. If I’m not careful, I can forget to protect my husband’s “enough” in my dreaming. And I think it’s just as unsatisfying and damaging for spouses (of either gender) to lose their chance at “having enough” to being an overworked breadwinner. That balance is something I’m really searching for early in our marriage, before we start to commit to the choices that will set our path for the next many years.

    • lou

      This is such a great point. As much as it’s important that women live their dreams, it’s just as important for the men. In many of the couples I know this is completely overlooked. The men are in jobs they don’t enjoy, working insane hours to pay for crazy expensive mortgages while their wives stay home with the children. And fair enough many women want to stay home with their kids, but too often I can see that this is at the expense of their husband/partners happiness.

      • You know what’s interesting, is that in our relationship at least, there is so much more pressure for me to *enjoy* my job than there is for my husband to enjoy his. I don’t know if this is part of our being raised to “have it all”, but my husband has a much more healthy relationship with work than I do because he sees it as a means to an end, where I see what I do as a definition of who I am (at least on my bad days I do).

        But I don’t know that this necessarily speaks to your point, which is a very good one about the ways we are willing to sacrifice each other for goals that aren’t necessarily authentic to ourselves and our relationships (i.e. the husband working a crazy job for an expensive mortgage when clearly the house doesn’t compensate for his misery at work).

        • Oh, this is so, so true in my case!

          “my husband has a much more healthy relationship with work than I do because he sees it as a means to an end, where I see what I do as a definition of who I am (at least on my bad days I do)”

          I’m always asking my husband if he loves his job, if he finds it fufilling. He’ll just kind of shrug and say, yeah, it’s fine. It pays the bills, it doesn’t drive him crazy, and he likes his co-workers well enough. And that seems to be all he expects of it… whereas I find myself searching for a career that brings together all of my passions and skills, one that I would do even if I weren’t being paid, one where I adore all of my co-workers.

          Why is this? Is it usually so divided among gender lines? Anyone else have the reverse situation?

          • Maybe where this aligns with the original post is that the idea for “having it all” can manifest itself very differently within a relationship. For a lot of men, there is a pressure for “having it all” to be an externally measurable number (I provide for my family, and you can see the evidence of that in X, Y, and Z) whereas for a lot of us wives and mothers, the evidence is more internal (I feel fulfilled in my job and my personal life, I have achieved happiness).

            Granted, these are VAST generalizations, but in a lot of the relationships I see everday, these stereotypes manifest themselves pretty quickly.

            It seems like these differing expectations have a lot to do with how we might end up “the bitch in the house” or the “bastard on the couch”. Misaligned expectations for what “having it all” means can make it very difficult for our partners to understand where we are coming from when we feel frustrated about our lack of achievement or overwhelmed by the burdens of these expectations.

          • Well, I don’t know. We kind of have the reverse situation. I like my job just fine. And it pays the bills. Whereas my partner loves his job (but it doesn’t pay the bills … yet). He is starting off a career as an animator and just quit his other job to pursue this path more. So, for him, the passion is the most important thing.

            Before, though, he was working at this soul crushing 9-5 and was miserable, but it paid the bills. I could have *never* worked a job as mundane as what he was doing, but he stuck with it because we needed the money.

            So in some senses, yes, it’s the reverse; I like my job fine enough and just do it to pay the bills, but he’s now pursuing the passion behind his interests to turn them into a job. But he was also able to work at a job just to pay the bills that I could never have done, not even for a week. So… ???

        • Suzanna

          Lou & Maddie, seriously. So important.

          I agree with others here that this weird idea of “having it all” is so outdated. If someone could explain what “it all” is, and what the attraction of needing 80 hours in a day is, I’d be obliged, cuz it just looks like insanity to me. What exactly are we trying to prove? To whom? Just weird. Like Meg said, we each make our own priorities.

          Anyway, men. Yeah, they really got saddled with that whole Provider thing. I really appreciate that you brought this up–like they’re just supposed to grind through 40 years of work and not necessarily feel fulfilled. I know men who do feel completely fulfilled by being the Provider–doesn’t matter what their job is, they put a roof over their family’s head and ding! they’re Good Men. Satisfaction. What if they’re not fulfilled, though? How do we help our dudes feel fulfilled?

          This is something I think about, whenever my sweetie says he wants to go to grad school, and then immediately dismisses it. All I can do is say, “I’m behind you 100%!”, but it’s not like I can magically remove his man-conditioning. Interesting stuff.

          • This is kind of a tangent, but I was surprised by how “outdated” parts of the book seemed to me (though somehow still relevant) even though it was published less than 10 years ago.

            Do you all think there’s been a shift in how we view and discuss this topic, from Gen X to Gen Y??

          • I could be way off base here, but I think the “it all” comes from a more 1980s-era feminism, where the dichotomy of “career women” or “SAHM” was really prevalent, and women’s fashion was all about wearing padded shoulders and ties.

            The “it all” was both – a career (without a glass ceiling or a mommy track) and a family. And I disagree that it’s impossible – sure, it’s impossible to throw yourself completely into both (nobody will ever be Donald Trump and Martha Stewart at the same time, amiright?), but I still expect both, and there’s still work to be done to achieve that.

            I think a lot of the stay at home revival is putting undue pressure on women in the same way that DIY weddings that look like they’re straight out of the anthropologie catalogue put pressure on brides. When I have kids, guess what? I won’t have time to curate their dream nursery with Etsy finds and home-sewn pillows, because I’ll be working at my job, but I’m still going to be a good mom – and my partner will be doing his share.

            Maybe I’m misunderstanding the concept, but I don’t think that having it all was ever intended to mean that one had to be a super-being in all forums, it just meant that one could find balance between the familial, professional, and personal spheres, and I still expect and work for that in my life.

            For me it all comes down to a recent statistic I saw, and can’t remember the source, but it was something along the lines of 98% of male CEOs have children, whereas less than 50% of female CEOs do. Those men have it all – a family and a career. Why can’t I?

          • liz

            @margaret, yes. that’s exactly how i felt.

            there was a generation (or two or eight) that was told the key to happiness and success is being a good stay at home mom in an apron.

            in response, a whole generation (or more) was told the key to happiness was to abandon the mom-role for the career world.

            that didn’t work either, so another generation tried to have BOTH.

            and now here we are. trying to figure out what’s best for each of us, realizing that there isn’t a specified mold that guarantees happiness.

          • Suzanna

            Liz: well summed-up! That’s exactly what I think, timeline-wise.

            Margaret: I’m a Gen-Xer, and I totally don’t buy into this “having it all” crap.

            To me it comes down to what most conversations I’ve had about feminism comes down to: feminism = being able to make your own choices. When others crap on your choice, it’s not feminism. But it’s just taking a while to work out the kinks on that one, as we seem to still have a tendency to judge (and therefore judge ourselves), even a few generations later. Maybe our kids will look at us and be like, “Really? You spent your time worrying about this?”

            So I guess the more important (interesting, lifelong) question is: what kind of life do you want to lead?

        • Ooh, that is interesting, the “means to an end” vs. “definition of who I am” thing.

          My fiance and I have had a lot of talks “why we work” recently (we both went through job changes in the last year), and I find myself on the opposite side of that dichotomy.

          I was the one who felt like working was much more a “means to an end,” but that may be because ideally, I’d like to quit or go very part-time in a few years if we have kids. I want the majority of my identity to be made up of being an artist, a hopefully-awesome parent, a nature lover, etc. Which is not to say that I don’t care about my job, because I was also a total grade-grubbing-overachiever growing up and I’m still constantly chasing that gold star sticker, so to speak.

          But yeah, there’s this weird relationship I have with work right now in my mid-twenties, which goes something like, “Okay, fine, I’m going to achieve as much as I can before I hit a certain age. Just to PROVE to you all that I’m completely capable of doing so, and so that you’ll take me seriously. THEN can I take a break and have kids? Please?”

          It’s slightly effed up, I’m well aware.

          • Class of 1980

            I worked with a man in the 1980’s whose wife did just that. She got her doctorate to prove a point, and then stayed home as a full-time mother.

            Her husband loved to call her “Doctor”.

          • Kira

            Oh, totally! Dooce has a good term for this–she calls it her need to be the valedictorian of everything. Such as the fitness test (TEST!) her personal trainer administered (

    • meg

      This is such a wonderful point that I should have thought to bring up, and I think we should discuss at more length (anyone wanna write a guest post?) In our case it doesn’t apply, since I’m working for myself and supporting *both of us* right now (sigh, not ideal), but that points to me being able to work for myself and not have that put any pressure on David’s career. But it was a real shocker for me the first time he told me he wanted to make family, and not providing, a priority (but awesome too).

      I think for me “figure out a way to make good money” was also on my list. I grew up in a family where there was always money stress, and I really, really didn’t want that. So “not having to be stressed about money” is on my ideal ‘enough’ list. That doesn’t mean that we need to be loaded, just not stressed.

      • Anon

        He makes much I do now but I have great earning potential in 6-8 years. Kids now makes sense but we’re trying to figure out a way to do it in a way that doesn’t lock him into a career that may not be enough for him long term but will support a growing family in the short term. I’d love a post from someone who has successfully navigated this because I hear a lot of vague advice like “it’ll all work out”, which just isn’t helpful.

        • Elizabeth

          In response to Meaghan, THANK YOU! I’m so glad you said this.

          To me, “having it all” doesn’t mean being Donald Trump and Martha Stewart at the same time (though that is an interesting image). It means that as a woman I can have what I would undoubtedly count on having, without question, if I were born a man: success in my career and happy participation in family life.

          “Reclaiming wife” for me means that my career and family expectations should not be lowered or changed simply due to my gender

          • Jessica

            I think this is actually a bit tricky: “It means that as a woman I can have what I would undoubtedly count on having, without question, if I were born a man: success in my career and happy participation in family life.”

            Do you think that the historical model of a traditional father/provider actually has/had the degree of participation in family life that would make you happy? That’s a personal question only you can answer, of course, and I am 100% that plenty of people writing comments on this post could unequivocally answer yes. For me personally, while it is important to be to have a vibrant and respected career, I want more participation in my family than I think a lot of highly-successful men actually have.

            For instance, someone above mentioned that something like 98% of male CEOs have children, compared to only 50% of women CEOs. I absolutely think that it’s totally unfair that having children and being CEO seems so incompatible for women. That said, I’d be curious to know what percent of male CEOs are truly involved in their children’s lives and whether their children would say they were actually good parents. Maybe the better question is whether 98% of male CEOs *should* have children. Maybe these men “got away with” being bad fathers because their wives picked up the slack – and if men are increasingly expected/expecting to have a bigger role in their families (that’s just my observation, I don’t have data), will that be as possible in the future?

            Any of us has the ability to have it all if “having” a family is just in the most literal sense. I want “having” a career and a family (and, more broadly, a life) means a lot more than that. While I think this issue is a bigger struggle for women, because of still-too-dominant expectations that women “should” do more of the at-home work, I don’t think that men escape unscathed. As it becomes more of an option and/or expectation for men to be significantly involved with their children and families, I think they’ll increasingly struggle with this, too.

            I don’t think anyone ever really had it all – we just divided and conquered. I guess the big question for me is, as men become more involve at home, and with our generation maybe even come sortofkindof close to parity, what does that mean for having it all? When we’re really and truly sharing responsibility for both spheres, can we feel truly successful in both? Or do we still need to think sequentially (have it all, just not at one time), or recognize that we’re not superhuman, or focus more on intrinsic than extrinsic rewards, etc.? Only now “we” also includes men?

          • @Jessica – you’re completely right that a lot of those men probably have wives picking up the slack and may be largely absent from their families. I think the problem lies in the fact that it’s much less likely for a woman to have a husband at home picking up the slack while she pursues those goals, and if she does, she’s still roundly criticized for abandoning her family.

            I’m not saying that the “high powered executive” lifestyle is something I want, and in fact I think that it really needs to be re-examined (WHO needs that much money?! And wants to work 90 hour weeks?!), but as you’ve said, it’s more a question of examining why we still expect women to do more work at home, and expect the man to be the primary provider.

            I think you’re spot on though about what having it all means when considering gender parity, and what it means within a partnership rather than individually. I definitely think that partnerships where one person takes charge of the career side of things and the other is the main stay at home parent can consider themselves as jointly having it all, but only when that decision was made consciously.

          • Jessica

            @Meaghan, I totally agree. I think the hardest thing for me right now is figuring out how to have balance across the couple when we *don’t* want to divide and conquer the public vs. private spheres. As we all know, working part time/taking off then going back/working for yourself can be great options, but they certainly don’t work with all career paths, and we can be penalized for taking them even when they are available. At the same time, I sometimes think it’s even harder for men to pursue those options in order to also contribute at home, because there are so few role models and paths to emulate. I think my fiance and I would both be on board for a life in which, say, I worked 50% of the time and he worked 75% when we had young kids (so not quite adding up to a full-time stay at home parent, but reasonably close – and those balances reflect our interests more than gender role expectations, though I may be underestimating the amount of time he’d like to spend child-rearing), and then maybe we both worked 75% or so when we had older kids. The problem is that I don’t know how we’d do that in our current career paths (and I like my career, I don’t want to shift to a different one just to improve my schedule).

  • Yay Cincinnati! So sad I was so sick and had to miss it, but thrilled we now have a group!

    • Sad to miss you!!

    • So sorry you weren’t feeling well! (and yeah, Cincinnati = kick @ss group! :))

    • faker. ;) you better be at the next one!

    • As a now-displaced Cincinnati native, it always warms my heart to see people representin’ the ‘Nati. ;) Rock on, ladies.

  • These look so amazing…we need APW Kansas City, people!

  • I think one of my favorite things that reading this book when I was younger, before I was in a relationship (read it four-ish years ago) did for me was that it helped me establish some priorities. It scared the crap out of me and I realized where my weaknesses are and what I truly needed to help balance those in my partner, and I also realized that there are times where my career will take a backseat to his and a time where his takes a backseat to mine. I can’t worry about being judged by the “good feminists” out there about all of my personal choices. It’s a balancing act and I have to stay true to myself and to us. In the long run, using my choices does more for the advancement of everyone than sticking to any pre-conceived notions.

    These book clubs are RAD.

    • “I can’t worry about being judged by the “good feminists” out there about all of my personal choices. It’s a balancing act and I have to stay true to myself and to us.”

      YES. Well put.

  • I’ll get to the real issues in a bit . . . but can I just say how jealous I am of the ladies in L.A., sporting sunglasses and tank tops?!?! Those are the real bitches. ;)

  • Emma

    This is really inspiring to see “strangers” meeting up to discuss! It is a refreshing example of how the internet can actually enhance human connection, not just tear it down.

  • liz

    though it seemed the negatives of every possible life choice were unveiled, i felt strangely reaffirmed in my own decisions. i felt the pitfalls of my type of lifestyle seemed like things i could avoid or negotiate my way through- unlike the frustrated loneliness of the woman with an absentee husband, or the masked jealousy of the wife in an open relationship, for example.

    i have the admitted propensity to be the bitch in the house. it’s something we’ve worked on. but that simmering-beneath-the-surface rage over “nothing” was entirely too relatable to me. we’ve only been married a short time, and we’ve already had experiences where i secretly felt i was doing IT ALL and we’d need to reset, discuss expectations, divvy responsibilities.

    we’re in one of those rounds again. the baby’s here, and we never really sorted who would be doing what. i think before he came, we didn’t know how to, short of “i will change x number of diapers and you will wake up x times per night.” so josh, assuming i have more baby knowledge than he, lets me handle things. and i feel expected to do EVERYTHING and stomp around the house, exhausted and cranky, but too afraid of being a “bad mom” to admit i can’t (don’t want to?) do it all alone. rather than voice my frustration, i greet him each morning with eye rolls and terse, chilled conversation. (clearly by this point we’ve diagnosed the problem, but it’s still a work in progress) i feel like a bad mom and a bad feminist and a… bad liz, if that makes sense- like i’m not being true to myself. i’m working AND being a mom, and i don’t have it all. i’ve got NOTHING.

    luckily, this is a short-term arrangement. i’m more excited than nervous to see how things play out in the future- when instead of doing it all, i get to try things one at a time. or a more manageable both-at-once. but i definitely, definitely related to many of the women’s stories.

    • Liz, this is just so beautifully put I had to comment. It’s so simple, but what you’ve written is *it*. That’s the daily struggle, and it can be applied to baby, marriage, puppy (in my case), family, wedding, you name it.

      I just love every word. The end.

      • liz

        aw, thanks. <3

        • meg

          Yes. And Yes to not being a bad Liz or a bad feminist either.

    • ka

      BABY!! congratulations. :)

      And you’re not a bad Liz. Pew pew! You’re a human being going through a HUGE life change. There’s going to be a learning curve. (Which, as someone who doesn’t have kids, I imagine is MASSIVE.) But your self-awareness will carry you and your relationship through not only unscathed, but improved. (At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m analyzing myself into the ground.)

      I’m sure you are, but just make sure you’re telling Josh what you’re telling us. Things like, “I don’t know any more about taking care of the baby than you do.” Cause if he doesn’t jump in now, pretty soon you *will* know more than him, and I think that’s when it becomes even harder because you will be tempted to say that things have to be done this certain way. (I mean, of course, the only experience I’m speaking from is us negotiating cleaning the bathroom.) But yea, asking for help is the hardest thing in the world for me–I beyond related to that very first essay–but every time I accept or ask for help, it gets a teeny bit easier…

      • liz

        thanks, shameblaster! we’re working on it and very hopeful. :)

    • Yeah, I’m often the bitch in the house for various reasons until I kind of check in with myself and discover whether the things that are causing me to simmer are, in fact, actual things. But the book didn’t scare me so much in that respect, because we work it out for the most part, and I’m getting better at vocalizing my dissatisfaction with something rather than stew. (Getting better at, not good at. Yet.)

      What did scare me were some of the essays in the section on being a parent. There’s one essay where the woman says pretty much that she and her husband had a wonderful, egalitarian relationship . . . until they had kids. Then the prevailing attitude sets in that the mother should be responsible, should want to be responsible, and be good at being responsible, while the father takes a supporting role. I want us both to play supporting roles, dammit! Two pillars! I don’t want to feel guilty that I don’t want to do everything concerning my child(ren)! So I think that’s a fear of mine, that we won’t be able to continue our relationship in the same way . . . although, I don’t know, I’m hopeful . . .

      • liz

        i felt the same. “bad mother” has been a good follow-up read for me because waldman describes her family dynamic, which seems very egalitarian. it’s a little more… encouraging than “bitch in the house.”

        and as a sidenote, i think that’s what bothered me about having the baby. suddenly, my “feminist” husband expects me to do all the “women’s work”? this man who never once imposed traditional expectations on me? turns out, after talking about it, he just was scared to death of breaking the kiddo. things are already getting better- more equal- in the parenting realm for us.

        • meg

          Oh my god. I love Bad Mother, and I secretly want to be friends with Ayelet, who lives just across the bay. I’ve been hesitant to suggest it as a book club pick because it’s so much about parenting. But. LOVE.

          • I’ve read Bad Mother (and the Modern Love piece that sort of started it all) and had mixed feelings about it (would have to re-read to remember what they were LOL), but would be interested in discussing it on apw sometime.

          • Back in my high school days, I participated in a reading forum that she was really involved with (, now defunct :( ). I was such an Internet baby that I had no idea how amazing that opportunity was, alas!

        • That’s good to hear . . . I’m sure too, that often you think you’ll feel one way about something until it actually happens, and then it’s all WHOA, whaaaa???

      • Haven’t watched this video, but just stumbled on it and thought of today’s apw conversation:

    • Arachna

      I think if only we could get away from the idea that for women (and for women much much more so than men) time = love and if you aren’t spending mucho time and work you don’t love your kid and are a bad mom we could solve half the unhappiness of women in America. Liz, if the only thing you did for the baby all day was feed it and let someone else take care of 100% everything else (easier said than done to find that someone) – you would still be a good mom if you love the baby. Really. You really really don’t need to prove your love to a baby or prove that you’re a good mom – the baby will naturally think you’re both and the baby can feel it. As long as the baby is not lying in filth or hungry you’re fulfilled the ‘good mom’ requirements no matter who made sure the baby was clean and full.

  • Heather G

    Where are you, Chicago?? I saw on the facebook discussion that there was yummy salsa and a monthly meet-up was established, so there HAD to be some awesome conversation!

    • ellobie

      I don’t know about the first group, but a second group is meeting THIS Sunday, 2pm at Lovely Bakeshop!

      • Heather G

        Yay for “Take 2!” I’ll see you there.

    • Stephasaurus

      Sadly we didn’t take a lot of pictures. I guess we were just too wrapped up in discussing the book and eating delicious tomatillo salsa. ;)

  • I’m really sorry I missed it.

  • Janey

    All the meet ups look so wonderful!! I wish I could have attended one. But, there didn’t seem to be any interest for a San Diego gathering.

    Perhaps next time, Ladies?

    And, additionally, as horrible luck would have it, I ended up being in Las Vegas instead of San Diego anyway because my brother had a heart attack. All is looking hopeful after the quadruple bypass yesterday.

    But, reading about all of the meet ups has been a wonderfully welcome distraction from reality!!!

    • Ali

      Janey, I’m really sorry to hear that about your brother. I hope he gets well quickly! Your family is in my thoughts…

  • Kate

    Was anybody else really disappointed by the book? I wasn’t expecting answers to the work/life balance dilemma (please) but I was at least expecting a little more humor, insight or self-reflection from most of the authors. Most of the pieces just passed on unhappiness and made me more stressed. And I thought the editing was bad. I’ve read pieces by some of those authors in national women’s mags that were well crafted and relatable. I have to think the editing was the difference. Allowing one author to refer to the way she felt about her kid’s father as “jungle fever?” Really? Is that the way you want to be edgy?

    That said, it sounds like it sparked a series of great conversations–I’m still hoping to make a meetup one day!

    • I also thought the tone of the book was pretty negative, but I think that was part of the point–showing that there are a lot of tough circumstances and choices and no easy answers. My bigger issue with the book was the lack of diversity of experiences. There were a LOT of essays by writers who work from home some or all of the time, who live in NYC (or did at some point and it shaped their stories), who were in heterosexual relationships, who were relatively stable financially, and since race was not mentioned much, presumably white. Now of course those are pretty common characteristics of successful women writers in the US, so it’s not surprising that they are common in a book, but it meant that the experiences in this book are really not representative of the experiences of being a woman in the US.

      • Ali

        It would’ve been nice if the book had incorporated essays from women in other fields. Most women, writers or not, have the ability to write about their experiences in a way that readers would enjoy.

        Also, I wouldn’t say I was disappointed by the book; however, it was a stressful read for me because it higlighted a lot of concerns I have about the future. Those concerns were already there, but this book emphasized them and didn’t give me any helpful hints, it just reinforced my fears :(

      • LBD

        Yeah, ha, I just wrote a big long response with just these frustrations, hehe.

    • liz

      i was a little.. taken aback… by that phrase, too.

  • LBD

    I admit I skipped our local meet-up because I disliked the book so much that I didn’t want it to be the occasion by which I was making a first impression on people IRL! I’m really not a super-negative person! This book just really struck me wrong! (Though I do not regret reading it, I love reading.)

    I was super-frustrated by the narrow slice of American women I felt the gathered group represented. Sure, they had a variety of experiences and stories, but I was all, aargh, not ANOTHER straight white middle-to-upper class woman with connections to NYC and the writing/publishing community with mom issues she should really see a therapist for (I don’t mean that last part mockingly, I’ve got mom issues, I’m seeing a therapist, and it really really helps dammit, these ladies should do it too!). And yes, I know there were exceptions. My friends and I joke a lot about the twitter hashtag #firstworldproblems, and that was going through my head while reading most of the stories, I couldn’t help it! I find a little perspective is a good thing to have myself when I’m really upset about my own #firstworldproblems!

    I mean, I don’t mean to discount their problems, but man, I sure would have liked to hear more from say, women for whom being a working mom was a matter of necessity not choice. With one notable exception, money rarely seemed to be a factor in these relationships, and then it was because the dude wasn’t pulling his share, and instead living off his girlfriend and his rich parents. I guess it felt so glaringly obvious that the editor had pulled women pretty much exclusively from the circles she traveled in, I found it hard to relate to the book. It felt like a false diversity. Like, okay, this woman was cheated on and this woman was the “other woman” but man, their backgrounds are pretty darn identical.

    I mean, I definitely related to the anger at not feeling my partner is doing his share, or heck, the unexplainable anger that just seems to be THERE, but I’m lucky to be with a trying-to-be-feminist dude with whom I can discuss this shit and he gets it, though yes, he often doesn’t see it on his own. We hash it out. We talk to each other, we talk to our therapists. We learn how to communicate with each other better because we’re committed to doing so. We’ve figured out how to better navigate my anger. It’s taken awhile, but it’s totally doable and possible, and dang many of the ladies of this book made it seem so IMPOSSIBLE!

    Oh god, and I felt like the book painted such a dour picture of sex within marriage. I ain’t married, but we’ve been together and doin’ the deed for 11 years, so I feel like I can at least speak to sex within a long-term relationship. I can honestly say our sex now is hotter than it was when we were horny 18-year-olds, though yes there have been ups and downs. According to the book, I guess our sex life is DOOMED once we have kids? I’m doomed to be more in love with my child than my partner? Surely there’s another way!

    That said, the essays I liked best were the one where the mom crossed the line with her kids with her anger, and the one from the woman of size. The first one, because I worry about this a lot if/when I have kids, because I had a very angry mother, that I won’t know how to parent without anger. The second one because, while I’m pretty average when it comes to body size, I really related to her point about making priorities within your life on your own terms, and not other people’s/society’s. Oh, and I really appreciated the one essay where after having kids and growing apart, she and her husband went to a counselor a few times and you know, it helped!

    I guess, I felt reading this book, it felt like a giant, “YOOOUUU’LL SEEEEE.” You’ll move in together, and the bitch will come. You’ll get married, then the bitch will come. You’ll have a kid and then DEFINITELY the bitch will come. And what I’ve got to say is, “So what if it does? You and your partner can work through it, you’ll figure it out, and there are people who can help you god dammit! It’s not impossible!”

    Okay. There. I’ve let it out now.

    • liz

      so glad to hear about your sexlife, fyi. (no really. my husband and i are SO HOT for each other and i’m sick of hearing that’s going to wane eventually.)

      i guess i wasn’t shocked that there isn’t a more diverse picture presented. sure, it’s all middle-class white authors. but, i felt that was sort of the point. the fact that all of these women “should have it all” but feel gaps of unfulfillment and a slow, simmering anger. in theory, should they? hell no. on paper, their lives are shining beacons of the feminist ideal. but in reality, there’s this concealed rage.

      these aren’t women who have overcome pregnancy by rape or are working 3 jobs to be able to afford daycare. and that’s why the rage is remarkable.

      rather than a giant, “you’ll see” i see it as a “watch out for this!” it’s like a whole generation of women was told, “if you just do things THIS way, you’ll be happy!” and now they’re finding it’s not always the case.

      • LBD

        While I agree that’s a valid point on the socioeconomic front, I really do think the book could have benefited from a greater diversity of cultures/races, geographies, sexual orientations, and professions. Like, I thought the essay by the Indian-American woman talking about houseguests was really interesting. She had a similar theme to many of the other authors, “How do I follow in my mother’s footsteps?,” but I really was interested to read about how coming from a different cultural upbringing put a different perspective on that problem. When I’ve got houseguests, I’m all, “Here’s your room, here’s some towels, the closest bus stop is one street over, we’ll take you to our favorite restaurant for dinner tonight.”

        And my other frustration still stands. I have these feelings too. I’m a white middle class girl who should “have-it-all” myself. But I’ve taken efforts to try and deal with that anger and understand it. These women certainly have the financial means to get support, why aren’t they? Why such the negative, capitulating view of so many of these women? I mean it’s in no way easy (at all!), but it’s a whole lot better than just accepting it as The Way Things Are.

        It’s like, the writers have made the point that there is a problem, now please give me some examples of how it can be fixed / made better. You’re angry, yes, but what are you DOING about it? Anything? Is it working? I need some hope!

    • Rizubunny

      THIS. LBD, you just articulated so brilliantly what I was feeling after reading the book. I won’t say that it infuriated me, but it was definitely frustrating. I found myself wanting to say (ok, scream) “THERAPY! NOW!” to so many of these women.

    • “the book painted such a dour picture of sex within marriage”

      I know! That in particular freaked me out. That one essayist even concluded “well, the sex is pretty meh/non-existent, but isn’t that what happens to all couples in the long run? At least those who aren’t having angry sex?”

      (forgive the paraphrasing, don’t have the book handy)

      There was a fairly depressing essay in Bastard on the Couch where the husband says, “But without my resilient desire [compared to the wife’s utter lack] I sometimes wonder what our marriage would be. A book club?” Of course, she goes on to continually dodge his advances.

      Frankly, from the little I’ve read so far, I seem to agree more with the men in that book than the women in Bitch.

    • Suzanna

      LBD, thank you for bringing up the class thing. I keep thinking “having it all” is a big ol’ Keeping Up With Joneses 2.0. It’s only applicable to those people who it’s aimed at.

      As a gal who was raised pretty poor, I kept thinking, “So, uh? The mom who works full-time because that’s the only way food gets on the table Has It All?” I don’t think that’s what anyone here is talking about. We’re talking about being fabulous, right? Kelly Ripa or something? Looking good from the outside. Looking happy and fulfilled in a way that others approve of. That includes having money. I think this is a very interesting part of the conversation.

    • Marina

      SERIOUSLY. I’m left wondering, is this rage actually about marriage and motherhood, or is it about finding out your privilege doesn’t mean you have a right to everything ever?

      • suzanna

        Marina, you really made me laugh out loud. The privileged rage/disappointment rears its ugly head again! I feel like your comment should be in all caps at the very top of this post. For me, this is really what this discussion is about. Leading the life you want, not what others approve of. If you bought into this whole having it all thing, you more than likely will find yourself as pissed as the ladies in the book.

        Perhaps something APW will cover another time?

  • Kate

    Full discloscure – I haven’t read the book. But I did read this post, and was reminded all over again of something pretty important to remember, which is that I tend to lament my angst over these very issues as a challenge of being a military spouse. I struggle day to day with the fact that I have yet to pull in a living salary at a job myself. I know I need/want to someday to feel that sense of pride. But I am also very lucky, to have a marriage I am happy in, and a husband whose salary supports us (and a husband who definitely treats it as our money rather than his). I am going to law school in the fall, so I do try to remind myself of the long term, grand strategy view that he and I have talked about. I know that someday I will have the means to supply extra security for our family, and I try to fall back on that.

    But my *real* point is that I appreciate the reminder that being a military spouse doesn’t set me apart from all the other types of spouses, particularly women. I would still be going through these struggles even if my husband’s profession were different, and it would still seem hard and confusing at times. The military can be a convenient scapegoat, but at the end of the day, this stuff is pretty universal and we all have to wade through these murky waters. I am comforted by the conversations my husband and I have already had, less than a year into our marriage and just after we both graduated from college. When I worry I just remember that he and I are in this together, and that gives me more confidence than anything else.

    Hopefully I more or less captured what I wanted to say. Most of all, thanks for this post!

  • Class of 1980

    Oh man.

    I came here at the end of a day filled with angst just to relax. And what do my unsuspecting eyes see?

    “Safe Words”

    “Oh no, APW’s gone off the deep end while I was away”, I said to myself. Except you didn’t mean those kind of “safe words”. I’m not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.


  • okay, i already really want to go back and read all the comments, because y’all are awesome. but before i forget –
    not being able to “have it all” is not just a sad fact of life or something, it is *important* – it’s a *good* thing, i’d venture to say.

    also, i’m jealous of all the awesome meetings (though i acknowledge it’s just as much my own fault there wasn’t one in my locale).

  • and also.

    this is what makes this societal trope so hard for me: “women can’t ‘have it all.’ by ‘all’ we actually mean ‘a career and a very specific happy husband/children household.'”

    which is, um, a really narrow definition of a word that means “fuckin’ everything.” “all” is, by definition, too much to have. so, screw off with “you can’t have it all” – that’s so obvious it’s not worth talking about. now, how about we discuss the part that is actually hard: you usually can’t have everything you want either.

    i know, i know, that’s what people *really mean* when they say “you can’t have it all,” but -intent aside- the difference is substantial. in a couple ways. one: you can’t have it all – that’s circular logic that, if you note it, can only serve to make you feel like you failed. two: it sucks to be told that the “all” you should want is “a career and a very specific happy husband/children household.” and you can’t have it.

    because, um, i don’t want a career *or* children.

    initially, i thought “ha! i don’t want kids! stick *that* work-life balance in yer pipe!” only, then i realized that, while it’s good to have a job – i don’t really want a career either. and, um, if career and kids are “all,” does that mean i want nothing? ’cause there are a lot of things i want, and i don’t like to equate them to nought!

    oh, and then came the part where the woman i’m gonna marry wants kids (like, it’s part of her “all”). and, well, that kind of makes it part of my wants too (even if we’re still working out the details). and the part where, logistically, i’m going to be supporting us while she’s in school. it’s pretty scary to be prioritizing the things i’m supposed to want when they aren’t what i want. though i don’t want to be misunderstood – it’s not “against my will” or anything. i think of it more as planning ahead.

  • Class of 1980

    MEG SAID: “I’m going to go out on a limb here and say we can’t have it all. Period. It’s not going to happen. If there is anything we’ve learned by whatever-wave-of-feminism-we-are-now-on, it’s that there are only so many hours in the day, and so many days in our lives. We can’t work 60 hour weeks, while we spend copious amounts of time with our children, meaningful relationships with our partners, have sex seven times a week, and oh yeah, sleep. It’s not going to happen. I learned this in my grey faced days as a martyr. I learned that, for me, I have to prioritize what does matter in my life (work that I care about, time with my husband, exercise, sleep) and let the rest go (corporate career, keeping a perfect home, cooking… ever, and more). I can’t have it all, and I’m fine with that. But I want to have enough. I want to try to have what matters. And for me, it’s a constant quest to figure out what works.”

    Really, that’s the whole thing in a nutshell. There is no magic answer that’s going to allow you to all these things extremely well.

    What Meg said is the best you can do with the limited time you have.

  • Marina

    I can’t remember which of my fellow Portlanders said this, but at our meetup some very smart woman said something to the effect that we have to stop comparing ourselves to what our culture tells us we should want, what we should have. This came up in the context of sex lives–we were talking about whether it means you have a “bad” sex life if you have sex just once a week, or just once a month, or just once a year… but the thing is, if it works for you and your partner, it’s a good sex life. I think I need to take that to heart in all areas of my marriage–if we’re both happy that I do more cooking and he kills more bugs, or that he does more laundry and I get the car fixed, then it really, really doesn’t matter whether someone else says we have an egalitarian relationship. I have to remember to take that step back and think about what really matters to me, to us.

    And you know, that’s something I practiced doing while wedding planning. Seriously, being engaged is such good practice for the rest of your life. Who knew.

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