When I pulled the latest Atlantic out of my mailbox and saw the words “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” glaring at me from the cover, I groaned–and thought about putting it straight into the recycling bin.
I’m 33, and I’m weary of the whole “having it all” discussion. That term is so loaded for me, so cliché and really, almost antique by this point. I can’t even use the phrase without a wry tone and a giant eye roll.
Nevertheless, later that evening I picked up the Atlantic and started reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s cover piece. I was surprised to find that–despite the sensationalist headline–I generally liked the article, in which Slaughter frankly described her inability to simultaneously do two important jobs to her satisfaction: that of top-tier State Department employee, and mom to two teenage boys.
Slaughter’s article is thoughtful; the content is meaty and worth discussing. She summarizes her personal struggle well, and the struggles of all professional women. She hints at meaningful solutions, suggesting possibilities like flexible schedules, off site work, and realistic work hours for both genders. And her voice rings with authority: Slaughter was born in 1958. She has enough experience to know what she’s talking about.
But her piece isn’t for everyone, as she acknowledges: “I am writing for my demographic–highly educated, well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place.”
And now I’m writing for my demographic
I was born in 1978. To my peers, Slaughter may raise some interesting philosophical points, but her arguments don’t directly affect our lives. We don’t want what she wants. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m going to say that our version of “having it all” is vastly different–and vastly more attainable–than hers.
Maybe it’s because the women I went to school with had their sights set not on big business, but on professional ministry, education, or the nonprofit world, but my female peers don’t list “run a Fortune 500 company” as one of their life goals. They don’t want to serve as senator, or senior financial analyst.
No, most of my female peers just want to enjoy meaningful work, a strong marriage, and solid family relationships. Oh, and a balanced family budget. And health insurance. But we’re still struggling to figure out exactly how to do it.
While Slaughter waxes eloquent in the Atlantic about the impossibility of “having it all”, we’re busy on the ground trying to figure out how to do just that. We’re experimenting with new and creative ways to combine work and family. And many of us–by our own definition, not Slaughter’s–are succeeding.
It’s time for a new paradigm.
My peers–women in their early 30s and younger–aren’t striving to fulfill some impossible dream of “having it all.” That paradigm is dying, and a new one is gaining ground.
I’m going to call it the Share Care model, because I don’t have a better term yet. (Got one? Share it in comments, please!) Our family lives reflect a new home economics: one in which both parents are working–to varying degrees–and both parents are taking turns as caregiver while the other spouse works. The strict lines of demarcation between our work and personal lives are gone; now we’re seeking a more organic blending of the two.
To do this, we’re relying on the very solutions Slaughter proposes in the Atlantic: flexible schedules, off site work, and realistic work hours–for both genders. We are cobbling together solutions that change through the seasons in response to the family’s evolving needs. Some of us have full-time gigs, but many of us are going self-employed and part-time. We’re deliberately entering professions that have flexible hours or summers off. Slaughter might laugh at the idea of us “having it all”–but we’re happy with what we’ve got. And crucially, we’re getting it on our own terms.
And yet, even as we experiment with–and enjoy success in–new and creative ways to combine work and family, we’re still struggling to find ways to combine them elegantly. Effectively. Productively.
My inbox is full of emails from twenty- and thirty-something bloggers seeking my advice about their personal work/life negotiation. I’m not surprised. When I get together with friends, this is what we talk about. And we’re not just talking about making our lives work as women; we’re talking about making our families work, because most of our husbands are on board, too. (Or, we single ladies know that when we find that right guy, he’ll be somebody who believes in this new work-life blend.)
Desperate for New Models
This holistic viewpoint is not something I got in school, and it’s not something I was raised with. I had next-to-no role models for this new work/life paradigm. My husband and I have had to figure things out on our own. But women my age are desperate–desperate–to dialogue about navigating their work/life negotiation. They want to find solutions. They want to figure out how to make it work in their own unique family setting.
I’ve been watching–and participating in–these developments with interest. I’m fascinated by this emerging paradigm. That’s why for the past month I’ve been working on an ebook about this topic. In it, I share the story of my family’s own journey, and stories from many of you who have been exploring this new paradigm in your own families.
I just finished my first draft and I’m eyeing September 13 as a release date. If you have a story to share, I’d love to hear it.
I would also love to hear your thoughts on “having it all.” Is this possible? Do you think the terminology is outdated? Are you trying to combine meaningful work with meaningful family life? Are you succeeding? What are your biggest challenges?