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One of the first was from a young woman who began by thanking me for “not giving just one more fatuous ‘You can have it all’ talk.” Just about all of the women in that room planned to combine careers and family in some way.

But almost all assumed and accepted that they would have to make compromises that the men in their lives were far less likely to have to make.

My husband, who has always done everything possible to support my career, took care of him and his 12-year-old brother during the week; outside of those midweek emergencies, I came home only on weekends.

As the evening wore on, I ran into a colleague who held a senior position in the White House.

I concluded by saying that my time in office had convinced me that further government service would be very unlikely while my sons were still at home.

The audience was rapt, and asked many thoughtful questions.

What poured out of me was a set of very frank reflections on how unexpectedly hard it was to do the kind of job I wanted to do as a high government official and be the kind of parent I wanted to be, at a demanding time for my children (even though my husband, an academic, was willing to take on the lion’s share of parenting for the two years I was in Washington).Then I said, “When this is over, I’m going to write an op-ed titled ‘Women Can’t Have It All.’”She was horrified. “You, of all people.” What she meant was that such a statement, coming from a high-profile career woman—a role model—would be a terrible signal to younger generations of women.By the end of the evening, she had talked me out of it, but for the remainder of my stint in Washington, I was increasingly aware that the feminist beliefs on which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet.It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed.If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change.

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