You can’t have it all. Seriously, you can’t.

The notion of having it all is worse than opium. Actually, no. Opium is slightly better than this myth of women having it all. At least opiates can be used in anaesthesia, unlike the other one that just tortures you covertly for a really long time.

You can’t have it all. You can at best have 70-80% of the cake and make your peace with it. That’s life. Now you can ignore this post because it wasn’t written by a CEO of a big name company who is married and with kids.

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For those of you who are still sticking around, this is the account of a daughter of a working mother. According to my mother, it’s idiotic to think you will ever have it all unless you have a clone or a really good support system at home, which is a luxury not most women can afford.

She has been a working mom for over 19 years, in the life span of her children that’s more than the age of my sister. She has done a stellar job in managing both the household that ours used to be early on (it was a big, joint family mess that only a Bengali family can be) and grab the position of Associate Professor in a government institute. On the outside it looks as though she has it all and should champion the ‘having it all’ wagon. On the inside, we know how much hard work was put into her life and ours in return. We know the choices we made and the consequences. We have always had to choose to excuse ourselves of certain things when growing up, like not hosting slumber parties because our mother works six days a week and our father won’t be home till midnight after finishing his shifts.  It made things difficult for us but we didn’t begrudge our mother. We never went to school without breakfast, we were always tucked in and were shielded from some really rocky financial years while we continued our education. We were also brought up on books and stories, living next to a hill that we climbed and enough happiness to sprinkle sugar on the bitter days. Yes, she still laments over the fact that she missed my sister’s first words and similar happenings but really, are we going to love her any less for that? No.

For the last three years my mother has also been so busy that I barely got to spend time with her when I was back for my holidays. Yes, I missed my mother. No, I didn’t resent her for it. There isn’t any point in resenting her for it because it’s not on her, she has a high standard of work and she works hard for it. The last thing I would want would be to be the reason she turned down an opportunity she really wanted. What I do resent however, are the comments that my sister and I grew up with and still hear. For any perceived mistake of ours be it in our attire to anything and everything, the phrase “their mom works” was whispered like a dirty slur. As though my father was always around (he wasn’t).

For the first 12 years of my life I don’t remember my father being there for my birthdays or attending a school play. He was busy saving lives in the OR, earning his share of the money and my mother was there for all of those occasions. So, why didn’t his absence count while hers did? Why were her absences so glaring while her presence so fading?

You know why. Women will never be able to have it all because what we think ‘all’ refers to has been pre-determined by a society that will always be stacked against us. If by all you mean never missing your child’s game/play/birthday and have a successful career in your field with a reasonable financial account, then think again. Some days work will win, some days it will be your personal life; most days it will be a hodgepodge of the two with no clear winner, just a tired you.

So set the boundaries of this mythical land of ‘having it all’ and try to find solace within them. At least, that’s my suggestion as the daughter of the mother who doesn’t have it all and is loved no less by her family.

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