Career / Family / Marriage: Can today's parents "have it all"?Skye Leedahl is a wife, mother and full-time student, working on a Ph.D. degree. To say she has several “irons in the fire” is an understatement, yet she seems to manage them all with self-assurance and determination.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
Skye Leedahl is a wife, mother and full-time student, working on a Ph.D. degree.
To say she has several “irons in the fire” is an understatement, yet she seems to manage them all with self-assurance and determination.
She represents a generation of young women who sought “success” but may have been naïve about what it would take to reach their goals.
Have they been hoodwinked into thinking they could “have it all”?
The flap over whether women who want to have a family can also attain lofty goals in the workplace reignited recently when the magazine, The Atlantic, published an article, titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former State Department policymaker, in its latest edition.
The article provided insight into the frustration and guilt that plague some women who find balancing the needs of their family with the demands of the workplace impossible.
Within the first week after the issue appeared on newsstands, the article received more than 1.1 million online views, a thousand comments, and 166,000 Facebook likes, the magazine reported.
North Dakota native
Leedahl, the first in her family to pursue a Ph.D., grew up in Minot and Bottineau, N.D. She and her husband, Lane Leedahl, a Grand Forks native, are raising their son Finn, 3, in Lawrence, Kan., where she’s working on a doctorate in social welfare at the University of Kansas.
Her studies are focused on gerontology, specifically older adults who reside in nursing homes. She’s looking at various aspects of their social lives in relation to mental health, in an effort to “identify ways to ensure they are meaningfully engaged” she said.
Elderly individuals have intrigued her since age 16 when she began working in a Minot nursing home.
“I’m lucky to be in a field I’m passionate about,” she said.
Leedahl’s mother, who attended graduate school and is employed as a school psychologist, “encouraged me to get as much education as possible,” she said.
Another influence, her grandmother, went to Concordia College in Moorhead but didn’t complete a degree, choosing instead to marry.
“She wanted all of us granddaughters to go to college,” Leedahl said. “She always wished she would have finished her degree.”
The trio represents society’s progression — from the 1940s and ’50s when options for women were few and marriage usually trumped professional ambition — to the ’60s and ’70s, when women began to redefine the formula for fulfillment in life — to the ’80s and ’90s, when options exploded but, some say, have not been sufficiently captured by women.
As Leedahl looks back on her adolescence, does she think women in her age group were realistic about their expectations or beliefs that they could “have it all”?
“Probably not,” she said. “I think about, back in high school, we girls had something to prove. We had to strive to be better, to keep going and have a career.”
But one deficit stands out.
“No one sits you down and asks you to think about that balance. What about having a family? (Pursuing a career) doesn’t mean you don’t have the same responsibilities in the home or as a mother.
“Society doesn’t prepare you very well.”
Ana Homayoun, 33, of San Francisco, offers perspective on this front. She works as an education counselor and career trainer for high school and college girls. The toll on their lives gets lost in the have-it-all debate about career and family, she said.
“I talk to them about this issue all the time. It’s this message that you can and should be able to have it all, all the time, and for a lot of them that seems to be polarizing and shame-inducing because they’re really anxious about getting into the real world, and they can’t figure out in their own head how they’re supposed to make it all work.”
For many, she said, waiting until they’re Slaughter’s age and at her elite level is too late.
“The planning what they want out of their lives needs to start in high school (and) college to avoid reacting to a bad situation later,” Homayoun said.
“A lot of my friends in their 30s are leaving corporate high-powered tracks, not because they lack ambition or talent but because it doesn’t seem feasible or workable for the entire arc of their lives.”
Jeanie McHugo of Grand Forks is often asked how she manages various roles as wife, mother of eight (yes, eight) — who range in age from 15 months to 14, and director of UND’s physician assistant program.
Since her husband also works full-time, the older children pitch in to help with housework.
She has learned to let go of certain expectations that just aren’t that important.
“The laundry doesn’t have to be folded by my 14-year-old exactly like I would,” she said.
The most important thing is “always making time for building the family,” she said. “We never forget the center and core, which for us is faith and family.”
McHugo, who earned the doctoral degree from UND in 2008, grew up on a farm near Ipswich, S.D. “I wouldn’t trade that upbringing for anything.”
Lessons learned early are reflected in her family life today.
“It’s not so much what we did, but how we worked together,” she said. “That’s something I hope to pass on to our kids.”
More important than balance in her mind, she said, is having meaning in one’s life.
“For me, it’s more about personal and professional satisfaction,” she said, “that what I do has a meaningful purpose.
“We don’t drive the latest vehicles and we don’t have the gadgets,” she said, “but we try to teach our kids that those things don’t provide meaning. There’s a deeper meaningfulness than in the material things our culture is seemingly pushing toward our young people.”
So, can women today have it all?
“Yes, if you’re willing to accept that flexibility in understanding what that ‘all’ is,” she said.
“My goal is just living a life driven by a purpose. Doing that gives so much more reward and satisfaction than just meandering.”
Leedahl said she chose the academic field because it offers some flexibility. Her mentor at KU has provided suggestions on how to achieve balance in her life.
“She’s inspiring and supportive. It’s important to find someone like that, who’s done it all in terms of balancing family and work.”
But not everyone in her workplace has been supportive, she said. “There certainly were professors who thought I was crazy, having a kid and getting a Ph.D. They kind of looked at me like, ‘how in the world are you going to keep up with the demands?’”
The skeptics included women who didn’t have children and men who hadn’t done what Leedahl planned to do or didn’t think it was possible, she said.
“One of the biggest things,” she said, “is staying organized and learning to work efficiently, prioritizing and making a lot of to-do lists.
“I do funny things like color-coding things in my planner,” she said, to provide an instant visual cue about upcoming activities.
Communication, especially with her husband and co-workers, is essential.
“My husband and I are seemingly in constant communication, with phone calls to just check in and say, ‘how’s your day going?’”
Leedahl makes a concentrated effort to separate her home life from her work life, she said. “When I’m home, I really focus on being an involved wife and mother.
“When Finn goes to day care, from 8 to 5, that’s when I am a workhorse.
To reach her goals, Leedahl said, “it takes an incredible sacrifice from the parties involved. I have an amazingly supportive husband who’s been willing to come along on this journey with me.
“Thankfully, he’s found a great job, and we hope he will again if we move in a year from now” when she earns her degree to hopefully start a faculty position at a university, she said. “We look at it as an adventure. It’s fun for us.”
On a personal level, she doesn’t have much of a social life, she said. “My family is my social life.”
She said she understands how others could get frustrated with that, but she “savors” those times when she can read a novel, watch a show or go out to dinner with her husband.
“We try to really enjoy and appreciate what we do have.”
Does she believe it’s possible to “have it all”?
“Yes. It certainly requires a lot of organization, planning and sacrifice,” she said. “Overall, yes, I do think it’s possible to have it all.
Does she “have it all”?
“It depends on the day,” she said, with a laugh. “When everything is running smoothly and no one’s sick and work is going well,” on those days, she does.
The Associated Press contributed to this article. Call Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1107; or send e-mail to email@example.com.