Perfection Paradox

There are so many lessons that I want to teach my daughter that it is daunting to me already.  While I strive to teach my son the same things, they will bear different meaning to him as a man.  Things such as body politics, sexuality, work-life balance, gender roles, equality, and “having it all” will be topics that are critical in my daughter’s life, as they have been in mine.  Luckily I have a big feminist library from my days at Barnard College to use as a resource, but adding a new perspective is the recent book by Barnard President, Debora Spar, Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection (for more information about this book, go to:  In this book, Debora Spar uses her own experiences in the context of the post-feminism movement workplace to debunk the myth that women can “have it all.”  Thinking about the message that Spar is sending in this book, I thought about what lesson on the challenges women face in the workplace would be the most useful to my daughter and the answer interestingly came from my days at Barnard.

My best piece of advice is: know who you are.  One of my favorite teachers in middle school introduced me to the feminist movement and jump-started my process of self-discovery, but it was at Barnard that I solidified this sense of self.  I didn’t have the answers to finding my perfect work-life balance at that time (as discussed here), but I at least formed the foundation of understanding who I am and what I want.  With that groundwork, making future decisions about my work and family has been easier.  Who I am is transparent to my friends and family and therefore they are better able to predict and understand my choices.  Like Spar says in her book, no one can have it all.  There are always going to be sacrifices along the way.  Feeling confident in my own skin though allows me to make these choices with more confidence, grace, and peace.  It hasn’t been an entirely smooth road, and as I discussed in the “Priorities” post, my work-life balance has evolved with my career.  I am sure it will continue to change, as I grow and learn, but it will always be in line with my self-identity and will not purport to be perfect.

What is the best piece of advice you would give or have given your daughter about work-life balance?   One comment will be chosen at random and that reader will get a signed copy of Debora Spar’s Wonder Women book!

Wonder Women Full Cover

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  1. I remember watching an episode of Oprah where a woman who was the head of a major publishing house (and a mother of 5) said, “You can have it all, you just can’t have it all at the same time.” Those words stuck with me, especially when I gave up my career path (temporarily) to stay home with my sons. I grieved the loss of something I’d worked so hard to achieve, especially since the sacrifice was made placing my husband’s career as a priority. It gets complicated. But, for me, it is a mistake to look at life as it is at this very moment and look at it as a lifetime, finding purpose and meaning in what seems simple and mundane, and planning ahead for the career/family balance that I know I will need later on. Great post Katie!

    1. Yes, some will have their work-life balance in series and some in parallel. Whether deferring career for family, family for career, or trying to do them simultaneously, we all face struggles and challenges related to our choices and will have things we have sacrificed in order to make these choices work. Thanks so much for your comment and sharing your experience.

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful post — I will definitely check out this book. The advice I would give my daughter is to choose a partner in life who is truly committed to sharing equally in both sides of work-life equation, who knows who he or she is as you suggest and wants the same things in life as she does. I’m not sure where that piece of advice fits into feminist thinking, but for me whatever balance I have achieved has been thanks to my partnership. At various times we trade back and forth the role of primary parent and we support each other’s careers and creativity. I have seen many friends suffer with partners who are conflicted about the responsibilities of parenthood or adulthood, who claim to want marriage and children but don’t, or who expect to fall into traditional scripts about who is responsible for the domestic space. I would totally support my daughter if she decided not to be partnered or have children, but if she wants these things, I would urge her to be very smart about this choice. Aka, marry a grown up! Which, I guess, depends on having a strong sense of self in the first place!

    1. Thanks for your comment. I completely agree that a flexible, understanding, and equal partner is key! I have also been very fortunate to have a partner who is able to ignore traditional gender roles and share the household work in a way that supports my career and allows me to have the work-life balance that I need, and vice versa. I do think though that choosing such a partner circles back to knowing yourself first.

    2. Congratulations whatbeginswithm– you have won a copy of Debora Spar’s Wonder Woman book. I will contact you privately about coordinating getting the book to you. Thank you to everyone who shared their comments here!

  3. As someone who unapologetically informed people very high up the chain that I would be unable to attend their conference call tmw b/c of a Halloween commitment I had with my kids, I get this! I think knowing yourself is key, and it took me a long time (and I’m still figuring it out to a degree). However, having both a girl and a boy myself, I don’t think work-life “balance,” body issues, sexuality and equality are tempered differently for my kids. I suspect by the time they are making career and life/family decisions for themselves, the “traditional” definitions of roles will have morphed more. That is my hope. I only hope that I can show my children that I am defined by many things – career, parenthood, my hobbies…and that that balance is not the goal. Experience is.

    1. Liza,

      Thanks for your comment. I too hope that by the time our kids are grown these traditional gender roles and definitions are different. In the meantime though, I do think that women face differences, especially in the workplace, that pose unique challenges.

  4. Balancing life and work is never easy and it never will be. I think “having it all” is something that everyone strives for, and something that few if any actually get 100%. Being a single mom of four doing it all alone is not easy…but as any other mom, you just do it. Missing a meeting due to a Halloween school parade, snotty noses, school plays and the like are what we do as working moms. I have had four kids and 20 years of mommy experience so far, the best advice I have given my boys AND my girls is universal yet simple, be happy and do the best at everything that you try. I know you are a great mom Katie and whatever lessons you teach to N & G will be the right ones.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You are a great mom too and I think we are all just doing our best. It’s great to have more experienced moms like you share advice for the new moms who may be reading. Thanks!

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