Most women who read about Serena Williams' farewell in a Vogue magazine cover story on Tuesday likely found themselves nodding in agreement.
Very few of us are superstar-status athletes. We don't have the fame, talent, or money Williams has. But we've likely had the same conversations, engaged in the same debates and made the same failed attempts at finding a balance that doesn't exist.
"Believe me, I never wanted to choose between tennis and a family," Williams wrote. "I don't think it's fair. If I were a guy, I wouldn't be writing this..."
Williams eloquently conveyed what many women — those who are moms, those who wish to be moms, those who build and support families of all shapes and sizes — already know. There is no such thing as the work-life balance. The scale always tips to one side or the other. The key, though, is whether women can have a say over which way it tips and why. And whether the world can embrace, accept and promote the choices made by women who seek a similar "evolution" from one path and toward another, as Williams put it.
When I first returned to work after my daughter was born 18 years ago, a Newsday program allowed me to work three days a week while still maintaining my full-time status. It lasted a glorious 18 months. I knew the answer for me after that was not to go back to work full-time. I was prepared to leave Newsday, maybe find a different career, or try freelancing. But then I found a compromise, thanks to my editor at the time, who agreed to allow me to work a part-time, three-day-a-week schedule — permanently.
That lasted for nearly a decade, until my daughter entered middle school and we were ready for me to return to full-time work.
What I got out of the deal were unforgettable memories, mostly of small moments — the in-school events and out-of-school field trips, the after-school snacks and playground romps and homework and carpools and ballet lessons and play rehearsals, the occasional mommy-daughter outing to a movie or bowling, or a home "spa day" or baking fest, and lots and lots of giggles.
"I always looked forward to seeing her face light up when she walked out of the building and saw me waiting there for her," Williams wrote of picking her own daughter up from school.
I still remember that, too.
My family had the means to make my arrangement possible, along with after-school care options for my work days. My editors and colleagues were willing partners. Too many women don't even have the option.
Williams' honest and classy "goodbye" serves as a reminder that there is still so much work to do to give women a chance. Paid family leave, flexible work schedules, along with affordable child care and health care, including for fertility treatments and pre- and postpartum complications, are all part of the equation.
No matter what men in power like to say, women can't have it all — not even if her name is Serena Williams. There always will be choices to make, priorities to outline, and wishes we can't fulfill. But we can be given the tools so we can make the choices that are right for us and our families, so we can, whenever possible, have what we want most and tip the scale in the direction we choose.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.