Advice: Having It All vs. Having A Choice

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

Last night, I worked until after midnight, and I did so the night before, and at least two times the week before that. And so on, and so on.

I love my job. I’ve been an entertainment news producer for the last six years and I love the challenges that every day brings. But in two weeks, I am going out on maternity leave, and I’m trying to make sure I have enough of my assignments in the can to keep my name fresh and relevant to my bosses. Things move quick in this industry, and being away from it for twelve weeks means I will be gone for practically a lifetime.

Of course I know there are laws to protect me from losing my job while I am out on leave, but that doesn’t mean I will come back to the plum assignments I’ve earned. And also, of course, I hear the whispers: Will she come back? I realize that’s an option available to me, to stay home with this amazing creature my husband and I have created, but I don’t know if I’m ready to trade my briefcase for some diaper bags.

I’ve grown up believing in things like a “work-life balance” and that women can “have it all”, but I feel like I’ve put a big part of myself and everything I’ve been working toward for the last six years up for grabs to my colleagues with different obligations. I don’t understand how this is “having it all” if my professional advancement has to stall and/or get winnowed away from me. I’m even considering cutting my maternity leave short so I can get back in the saddle and on track ASAP, and my friends with children are “mommy track”, so they’ve cut back their work hours or accepted less taxing assignments at their jobs…or are “taking a few years off”…so they don’t understand my perspective at all. None of those options are acceptable to me. What should I do? How should I look at this? I can’t wait to meet my little girl, but do I have to lose other parts of my life to do it?

Signed, I Want What’s Mine


Dear What’s Mine,

Bartender and Priestess: Sigh. Well, we knew this was coming, sooner or later. Let’s see if we can sort out our responses.

P: It’s hard to know where to start with this. Is it the notion that everything you can conceive of can fit in a day (Time), that everything is of equal value (Priorities), that people have ever done this (History), that the physical body is capable of this (Limitations), that you are somehow deserving of having everything you’ve ever wanted (Entitlement), or that this is somehow good for the world (Civilization).

As the Priestess, I’m going to start with your priorities. Being good at either work or raising children requires tremendous discipline and sacrifice. I wish you had thought to ask these questions before you conceived. Children are not something you check off a list. Humans, especially tiny ones, are frail little creatures demanding an enormous amount of time and attention. And in the beginning they’re not only endearing — they are fretful and demanding.  When they don’t sleep, my dear, you don’t sleep. Even if you’ve hired a nanny whose job it is to get up and have those middle of the night screams and snuggles, most babies I know have a voice that rivals a fire bell. Now there’s nothing that says that you have to be the primary parent, your partner can be, but that is a delicate dance you should have worked out before, because a child is going to interrupt your busy lives and require sacrifices.

B: There’s a long-standing joke-y meme that’s been around for decades: imagine a woman, enthusiastically chirping out the message: I CAN have it all! A baby AND a career! Some version of this probably lives in some corner of your head, doesn’t it? Moreover, it sort of informs your opinion on how you should be able to manage your life, right?

I want you to stop that. Why? Because it turns your life into a list. Like Ann said, a baby isn’t something you check off when you accomplish it. Washed the windows, check. Had a baby, double-check. Do you think the best way to judge your life is by the number of tally-marks you’ve scratched on a scorecard? And no matter what structure you try and put into place, a baby will find a way around that and make things unpredictable and messy. In a conversation I had two days ago with a good friend and mom of two adorable munchkins, she said, “The thing about parenting is—and every parent I’ve spoken with has, at some point, reached this conclusion—it is NEVER what you expect it to be.”

Realign your life’s expectations. Checkity-check-check.

P: If you want a happy, healthy child who will eventually grow to become an active and contributing part of society, you’re going to have to contribute to that child. And the needs don’t stop with babydom, they just change. Neither Terri or I chose to have children. My choice centered on the fact that I thought I would be better at what I did, that I didn’t have what it took to be good at both work and raising children. Are there times I regret that? Of course. None more than when my sister’s two children died, and I couldn’t give her mine to love. But it was a decision based on my analysis of my ability to provide a child what was needed. Because child rearing is incredibly important, not just to us, but to our world. I worry about how we build a better world.

When your sentence starts, “I can’t wait to meet my little girl, but…” you’ve already clarified your priorities, and yet, here you are pregnant. Who is going to raise your child?

B: I assume you have some kind of child care in mind, though you don’t mention if it will be a nanny or day care or grandma’s house or if your husband is going to be a stay-at-home dad. All of these options are OK. But I want to point out to you that while you may not know how to juggle “having it all” in terms of baby and career, what you DO have are options. A tremendous number of them, and this is my plea to families everywhere: please stop looking at “having it all” as meaning that you can keep everything on the table in front of you and that it will hold equal weight. It won’t happen. It doesn’t happen, even without a kid to consider. Have you ever made a decision? Have you ever chosen to go to your husband’s parents’ home for Thanksgiving instead of your brother’s? Then you’ve been presented with two options on the table, given one more weight than the other, and let the less important one roll off the table. You physically can’t split yourself in two and be at both your in-laws’ and your brother’s homes at the same time on the same day. And, you can’t physically split yourself in two and be a full-time mom with a full-time career, and take care of both things at the same time.

And please, don’t point to people like Marissa Meyer, who’s CEO-ing Yahoo! while taking care of her baby. She’s not. She has a full-time nanny, and a nursery built onto her office. She has no work-life balance. Her office IS her home; she just has another place where she sleeps at night. Usually. Is that what you’re looking for?

P: Historically, we lived in villages. Children ran in packs and grannies and aunties and neighbors all mothered our children. For anyone who’s been part of the Mother Grapevine, you knew you were being watched: it meant you could get a cookie occasionally at someone’s house, it meant you could use the toilet, and it also meant if you misbehaved, you got yelled at by your friend’s mom who then got on the phone and called your mom. And if the behavior was egregious enough, the other moms might chime in. There was a village to raise the children and you played a part in it. Your job was critical to the village as well. Everyone’s was.

We don’t live in villages any more. We don’t live in extended families. And I know a lot of grandparents who, even if they live next door, have active and involved lives and are not available and or interested in raising your child. They’ve raised their own children already—you. They aren’t being selfish if they have their own lives. No one ever promised you that you could have children and not parent them.

B: So, going back to the options before you. I want you to take a moment to consider what a lovely and enviable position you’re in. There are plenty of parents who don’t have the resources available to make these decisions—they have kids, they have to keep them housed and fed. I grew up in a home with two parents who both had to work to support the family. There are lots of families who just have one working parent, which often means more than one job at less pay than she or he deserves. Child care is expensive, summers home from school are a challenge, and the question of whether or not the mother can stay home to be with her baby is often laughable at best.

I’m not asking you to feel bad for the single parent or the working-class struggle. What I am asking you to do is reconsider the idea of “It All”. What you have, which is ironically fueling your dilemma, is the luxury of choice. And you want to keep it all on the table in front of you and make it all equally important. You can’t. Decisions have to be made. You have the ability to decide the what and the who and the how of your daughter’s upbringing in a way that’s unencumbered by dire need. You’re comfortable with your and your husband’s capacity to provide, and you can be discerning about which things fall off the table, in ways that other families simply can’t. You have resources, ability, and the power to use them accordingly. You have “It All”, even if “It” isn’t on the checklist in front of you. You’re just not seeing it.

P: I’m sorry, you were probably coming to the two feminists looking for a different kind of support. I spend a lot of time looking at families. I spend a lot of time looking at society. Both of these need a lot of loving attention. Where are you going to be in creating a family — which is what a child needs to thrive? How will you be contributing to society? Who are you that the world should arrange itself around you?

When having it all isn't all it seems.

When having it all isn’t all it seems.

Ray of Sunshine Mocktail Recipe

  • 2 oz orange juice
  • 2 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 ½ oz cranberry juice
  • 1 ½ oz sweet & sour

Mix all the ingredients in a large mixing glass; pour into a tall cocktail glass filled with ice and garnish with an orange and a cherry.

Got a problem? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces, insert proper punctuation. All questions will remain confidential.

Want to know more about The Bartender and The Priestess? Go here!

Thank you for reading. Now go tell all your friends about us. {{{heart hug}}}

Bartender and Priestess Speak From Their Hearts: Syria

US: Given what’s going on in the world, the Bartender and the Priestess wanted to step away from our regular status format and talk a bit about the Syrian refugee crisis.

Terri and I are characteristically somewhat large-hearted and clear-eyed. Our work demands that we enhance those abilities. I am called to be professionally large-hearted. That’s the work of ministry. Terri, both as a bartender and as a student of human nature, is called to be clear-eyed. I think we are led by both our tenderness and our observational capacities to believe that we, Terri and Ann, and we, US citizens, are those from whom much is demanded. There is so much need in the world, and so much need for those of us who are privileged and stable to step up.

We could have written this about a myriad of topics, as there is a tragic abundance of unrequited need that deserves to be addressed. But today, we are writing about Syria. We have agreed we are no longer capable of watching the sad videos and haunting pictures, without addressing not only the need of the these beleaguered people, but also the responsibilities of those of us with privilege and resources.

B: Before we go one step further, I would like to underline a few things. The people in question here have been granted refugee status by the UNHCR (the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). They are not doing everything they can to gain access to the United States; they are simply trying to live. Survive. And they’re trying to do it somewhere that they can escape the drumbeats of war and terror they have lived with every day for far longer than any US citizen who hasn’t been on a battlefield can imagine.

UNHCR refugees do not choose where they go to live next. They are re-settled. In order for UNHCR refugees to be allowed to re-settled in the US, they must go through a rigorous vetting process. According to UNHCR statistics, 51.2% of applicants for asylum, from Syria, are 17 and under. They are not hardened fighting machines. They are kids. It generally takes 12-18 months for the vetting process to be satisfied. And there are financial arrangements that must be adhered to when a refugee gains admission to the United States; failure to do so results in legal repercussions. Please see this brief overview of refugee law (written by a US immigration lawyer; and if the link is broken I have saved a .pdf file here) to get a basic understanding of the legal status, process, and requirements of asylum seekers who come to the US.

In short, it’s much easier to gain access to the United States if you have money and want to buy real estate. Trying to infiltrate the refugee ranks is slow-moving and potentially wildly ineffective. Now. On to the rest of our statement.

P: We may not allow our fears to overwhelm our love. Whatever our faith, tradition or philosophy, loving compassion is the cornerstone. All the great teachers have taught this.

And yet, fear is so much of what we hear. Something might happen. Indeed. Something might. But does our right to not be afraid trump other people’s right to life? Is that really what we want?

People’s lives are endangered. They have lost everything they ever owned. They have risked their lives and those of their families to live. They have babies and elder parents. They are being killed where they are. They are risking death to leave their homes. They need a warm welcome that includes, hot food, shelter, and understanding.

Isn’t it the job of people with heart to try and make that happen? Wouldn’t we want that to be true if suddenly we were forced to flee our lives with nothing but our clothes and what we could carry?

Not to help stains our souls; it makes us less than we can be. That’s as true for us as individuals as it is for us as citizens.

Let us welcome people simply because they are human and so are we.

B: I’ve heard the arguments. I’ve stared in disbelief at the news feeds and what scrolls past me on Facebook. “Why don’t they stay where they are and try and improve their own homes?” I’ve seen people ask. We seem to have forgotten our own history. We are a nation founded by refugees–the pilgrims were, in fact, fleeing religious persecution–and are built on the backs of the millions of people who came before us, who fled their own persecution and desperation. For example, the wave of Irish immigrants of the mid-1800s was a result of the oppression of the British government and desperate starvation which resulted in a devastating potato crop blight; Ireland as a nation lost 25% of its pre-blight population of 8 million people. One million of them died. The other million left.

The great wave of Italian immigration to the United States took place largely between 1880-1920. It consisted largely of people escaping the poverty that came from the wars caused by the unification of Italy, widespread disease that is an attendant of war, and an agricultural crisis that caused the prices of their crops to plummet, creating precarious instability for a nation that was, at the time, 80% agrarian. By the end of the 1920s, approximately 4 million Italian emigres came to the United States.

I’d like all of our proud Irish-American and Italian-American readers to note: these waves of immigrants? Were not welcome at the time, either. Why didn’t your own family choose to stay? And what do we do when people do not have that same choice?

P: Sixty-five years ago, Americans made similar and disastrous decisions about Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany. 60 percent of us said, no, don’t let them come in, and we didn’t and we were wrong. Today, our politicians are looking to compound that hateful behavior by employing some of the most hateful of the dreadful measures of the Nazis.

Oh, my country, let us welcome the stranger, and may we not even consider those vile things. Collective and willful amnesia is not an option.

Look back. Consider how unwelcome your forebears probably were here, whether they were the first to arrive and set out to exploit the Natives or whether they came later escaping heaven only knows what hell in their home country. That’s when my people came. My great grandfather arrived at age 11 with his 13-year-old brother. They went to the coal country to be employed. They would not have been warmly welcomed.

There are so many similar stories right now. Children separated from their parents. Families with very young children. Old people, frightened and unable to comprehend what is happening to their country.

Let us not be those people who attain some safety and then turn around and deny it to the next person who comes along needing shelter.

Let us welcome people because our forebears were not welcomed.

B: There is a ton of rhetoric we pass among ourselves about how the United States is the greatest country in the world, land of the free, home of the brave. But right now, we are neither great, nor free, nor brave. We are wrapping ourselves in the propaganda of fear and isolationism. I constantly hear the fearmongering question, “But…what if “they” try and blow us up?”

They won’t. These are people, and more than that: they are people who have lost everything. I repeat: 51% of the UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees are age 17 and under. These are families who are just trying to keep their babies alive. Their position should invite compassion, not ridicule. And mindful compassion is often an antidote for mindless (and groundless) mistrust.

I also hear: why don’t we take care of our own, first?

I agree. Why don’t we take care of our own? The two propositions are not mutually exclusive. Veterans are homeless and in desperate need of medical and mental health care. Our children–15 million of them–face food insecurity and childhood hunger every day. People are sick and hungry and underemployed. I know, it’s expensive. So generate more money. Close the loopholes that allow corporations to easily ship jobs overseas (don’t we have tariffs to prevent a market overwhelmed by cheap imports? Can’t we job-export-tariff?), rebuild the economic infrastructure, and tax corporations accordingly. If corporations have won the right to be people, then let them BE people. Single people, with no dependents. (Note: for those of you who would counter and say, they could claim their employees as dependents, I say: no, they couldn’t. The loss of one employee might be negligible on the surface, but if every employee in a company did not come to work one day, that business would be no more. They are dependent on their employees. People, never forget your power.)

If our American public could feel more secure in their own well-being, then it’s more likely we could see our way to making other people feel more secure in their own.

P: It seems that if we close our doors, we let Daesh win. Who’s Daesh you ask? They’re the people formerly known as the Islamic State, because they’re not an Islamic State. Most Muslims repudiate them and they don’t have a caliphate. Daesh means “a group of bigots who impose their will on others.”  What better description for those who visit mayhem on innocent people.

I don’t pretend to understand the strategy needed to deal with them. I do know that all that we hold as important in civilization is being attacked by a few people.

B: I also don’t pretend that I have all the answers. But I know this much: for as much as we like to perpetuate the ideal that we are the leaders of the free world, we are falling on our faces. We cannot lead the world if we don’t participate in it.

P: I believe, from what I read and from what I know of the human heart, that we cannot afford to let fear be what guides us. We need faith, not only in love and kindness but also in the beauty that makes life more interesting and more accessible. We must keep faith with civilization, with music and dance and poetry. Because this deepens our humanity and makes us aware of our connections to the greater humanity, to the greater good.

Let us welcome people because our humanity is under siege if we don’t.

Prayer: Let us generous. Let us be kind. Let us be welcoming to people who have no place to go. Let us stand up for the beauty that enriches our lives.

Things to do:

Let go of the fear. Fear is part of life. Courage is needed.

Inform yourself about the need. Help for the vulnerable is needed.

Open your heart, your arms, your door.


Got a problem? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces, insert proper punctuation. All questions will remain confidential. 

Want to know more about The Bartender and The Priestess? Go here!

Thank you for reading. Now go tell all your friends about us. {{{heart hug}}}

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