Dear Elisabeth Moss: Men Can’t Have it All, Either

Dear Elisabeth:

In a recent interview, you told The New York Times, “We don’t talk about whether or not men can have it all. Because they can.” 

I realize the “all” that you are referring to is marriage, kids, career, and personal fulfillment. As a recently christened stay-at-home mom, I know what you mean. But here’s the thing: Although you may be correct when it comes to Hollywood — that men have more choices when it comes to getting plum roles — you are misguided when it comes to parenting.

The dads I know can’t have it all either. Even in the “Mad Men” era, not all men were like absentee dad Don Draper. And today, the fathers I know would love more fulfillment on the home front — without sacrificing their careers or being stretched too thin.

For certain, my husband wishes he could spend more time with our 7-year-old son. For a year he worked long past A’s and my bedtimes and only saw our son in the morning. Now he returns home early enough for family dinner, which helps out tremendously; he gets to read A a bedtime book, and it takes pressure off of my parenting duties. Some people we know, however, aren’t so lucky. One friend works in theater and doesn’t get to tuck his kid in at night. His wife, a teacher, has to run the show most days.

It’s all about tough choices. He sacrifices watching our son grow up and I sacrifice my career. After my being more like Peggy from “Mad Men” for 30 years, I’ve become more like SAHM Betty Draper, albeit a much nicer one. 

I worked as a full-time journalist until I leaned out six months ago. I wanted more than two hours (tired, evening hours) with our son per day.

Now, my days are focused on getting A to school and back, volunteering for various school activities, doing homework, helping with piano practice, setting up playdates, playing board games, cooking and shopping, and trying to organize the apartment (one tiny bit at a time). All SAHMs know this routine. I have the huge luxury of going to the gym after school drop off, or walking in the park (sometimes at 6:30 a.m.). And after dinner my husband and I relax for a couple of hours (watching “Mad Men”!). But between all of that there is so much minuscule stuff that feels like just wasted time — dealing with insurance claims, taxes, doctors appointments. Just stuff.

The positive effect on A of my being home F/T is immeasurable, which is worth any lack of career or self fulfillment;  as his parent, I wouldn’t want to change it. Motherhood, even with all its tedious chores that come with it, is worth it.

But I can dream can’t I?

The idea of returning to work, even part-time, in an office, which I love, is also appealing and makes sense on financial and career levels. I miss the routine of getting dressed up, taking coffee breaks with colleagues, and seeing the news of the day unfold, as well as having something concrete to show at the end of the day. (Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things about having a full-time job that I don’t miss.)

But the returning-to-work option doesn’t make it past the dream stage. Why? Because, we’d have to put A in daily after-school programs, which he hates, or hire a nanny again, which doesn’t make financial sense if I’m only going to work part-time. Besides all the aforementioned stuff that would still have to get done, we’d have to deal with his days off from school — the Christmas, winter and spring breaks, the long holiday weekends, the summer vacation. When he is sick.

Dad, now the breadwinner, does everything he can to pitch in, but with a demanding early-morning-to-evening job, he can’t take over. 

This is all logistical crap that might make your eyes glaze over, but that’s the point. It gets down to the nitty gritty. Sure, in a perfect world both parents can work, but in reality that perfect world doesn’t exist anywhere. The system isn’t set up for both parents to have full-time jobs, or even part-time, without making enormous sacrifices. And enduring endless juggling. 

So my knee jerk reaction to your thoughts about having it all was to say, “Right on, men can have it all, and women can’t.” 

But in fact no one can. That’s the sad truth.



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