Mission Possible: A Black Mom Trades In “Having It All” For “Having What Matters”

By TAIIA SMART YOUNG

Motherhood terrified me more than any horror flick from my youth ever could. Jason. Freddie. Both of those characters were make believe, but managing a magazine gig and being someone’s mother was real a Nightmare on Elm Street.

I didn’t want any part of it, especially if it involved altering my dream of working for a major magazine.

My mother’s selflessness (as a wife with two daughters) scared me at times. She juggled everything: PTA fundraisers and parent-teacher conferences, plays, talent shows, afterschool activities—and a full-time gig—long before Blackberries and iPhones make it easy to track appointments.

It all seemed so exhausting and so… thankless, even with my father there doing his part. Often, I wondered if the patients at the clinic appreciated her more than we did.

She was (is) my very own superwoman, and her snakeskin heels were too huge for me to fill.

This was long before I’d ever heard the loaded phrase “having it all” in my early 20s. The concept was cute and a great confidence booster, but it lacked a guidebook, or roadmap to show me exactly how this mysterious (and intoxicating) “all” was remotely possible.

Still, I pressed on, navigating my media career and rethinking my position on parenthood.

Even back then (and today) I never really understood what having it “all” meant, because it was always more nuanced for me, as I suspect it is for every mother—from the stripper, to the waitress, to the nanny, to the marine, to the TV producer, to the CEO.

“All” could be as simple as reading Good Night Moon to your baby girl at bedtime, or as complex as explaining to your son why you’re stuck in Afghanistan with the rest of the troops on his 10th birthday.

Former State Department policy director and current Princeton University professor Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent controversial Atlantic Monthly article, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, which has everyone’s panties in a bunch, made me smile and cringe and consider how I fit into this public debate.

The whole conversation is a delicate web, way more intricate than just overhauling the way companies work, or even how they support mothers. It’s more tangled than just believing that hopping off the career track for the mommy track sets feminism back a few hundred years.

For me, it boiled down to choices. I chose to ditch the whole “all” platitude 11 years ago, when my son was born, in favor of “having what matters,” to me—personally, as a woman, wife and mother. Chasing that mythical “all” meant something would suffer, or would have a sliver of my attention.

Honestly, I don’t have the whole work-life balance thing on lock. I crave the day when I’m not totally consumed by edit and production deadline or the challenges of motherhood. I’ve accepted (and made peace) with the notion that attempting to give everyone 100 percent of me is a mission Tom Cruise would find impossible. Maybe other’s can do it, but for I can’t. And that’s my truth. Mine.

But it all comes back to those precious choices…

Like waking up early to whip up a special breakfast for my son each day of state standardized testing.

Like setting my hotel alarm clock for a 3 a.m. on the West Coast to wake up and make sure my son understands Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, before he leaves for school on the East Coast.

Like driving him across town to school so he can snore for another hour, instead of putting him on the bus at an ungodly hour.

Like skipping a rooftop party in New York to find a YouTube video so I can re-learn the order of operations—just to check his math homework.

What matters is standing in the auditorium watching my mini-me accept perfect attendance and dean’s list awards, before I head to work to cover the latest celebrity drama.

What matters is my byline, watching my creative ideas come to fruition in an international magazine, and seeing my interns land media jobs.

What matters is face time with my son (and hubby) and making the absolute best choices, which allow my family to grow as a unit and individuals.

These are the makings of me—a mother, a wife, an editor, a conscious human being. A woman who values having what matters.

Taiia Young is senior editor at  Juicy magazine. She’s working on an interactive guide that teaches girls how to overcome shyness. Follow her on Twitter at @TaiiaSmartYoung.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

12 Comments

  1. This is so true. I am not a mother yet. May never be a mom. But,, I still accept that I can define having it all. For me it’s just being able to wake-up in the morning, thank God for life & employment and spending time with my family. If I am blessed with a child then my child will be added to that list of having it all. If any new event happens in my life, I will add it to the list. Having it all can change based on what God has in store. Thanks for this article.

  2. Beautiful. Beautiful. I love the title of this piece, the honesty, the joy. Redefine “it all” and you have “what matters” because that is the all, and we are not afraid to have that. Well you are not afraid to, and neither am I. And I love to model that to my children, that I can stand up in front of 500 people and read a poem at a mic for the faculty talent show, and watch my sons faces LIGHT up when they see all those students, parents, and colleagues applaud–especially because that poem, my creative side that I make just enough time for, is also a poem about raising my brown boys. That was a sweet “having it all–because I had what matters” moment. My career, my family, my spirit, and my community together. All the day to day ways that I am THERE for them, like you and your drive across town so he can sleep, are nourishing and filling the good feeling tanks. Not all moments are epic like that one, but watching your son and his success saunter across the stage–that counts for more than a corner office alone. This is such an inspiring piece. Thank you for it.

  3. Oh, I like “Having what matters.” I’m going to make a conscious decision to evaluate choices on that basis, and to ignore the “Having it all” concept. Thank you.

  4. Lakeitcha Thomas

    Thank you so much for your insight. It truly is a wonderful reminder of what is important in life. I hope mothers everywhere get the opportunity to read it. It’s one of those lessons we (mothers) know, but we tend to get so busy being mothers – and whatever else comes with that title – we sometimes forget “what matters.” Thank you again for sharing!

  5. Right now I’m fairly new to motherhood(my daughter is four) but i do want to have a successful career in broadcast journalism and be a successful mother. I think I can do it if I plan and prioritize an PRAY!

  6. I spent years telling myself that I could have it all only to discover that after having children, it really is impossible. What I have appreciated is when I learned to slow down and focus on the aspects of my life that mattered the most. Playing keeping up with the Jones, Workaholic-Never-Stop Super Mom is tiring and unfulfilling. There will be a time in my life where my career can become centerstage again. For now, being the best mommy and role model is my main objective.

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