Atlantic Readers Can’t Have It All, But Can We?

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. (UPDATE: read more about How She Does It here.)

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?

Comments

  1. Jeanette says

    Having it all… I agree with you, that all depends on what “it all” means. For me, having been a SAHM for the 3 first years of my daughter’s life, it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. For me, it’s never been about becoming the next prime minister or getting to be a business woman with 500 employees, but I need fulfilling, meaningful work.

    I think I could “have it all”, in terms of meaningful work and family life, if that workplace allowed me to work my own hours – my daughter starts school in a year anyway, so lots of time during the day to work. But my problem is that “it all” for me also includes studying, developing my skills, learning and growing. I have yet to find a job that provides enough of this to fill me up, and until I do… No, I can’t “have it all”. Not at the same time, anyway. :)

    • Anne says

      Jeannette–thanks for your input. These are exactly the kinds of issues I’ve been thinking through and talking to people about while writing this ebook. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective.

  2. says

    I have been enjoying doing Tiny Twig and Naptime Diaries Thursday “Giving Up the Good” link up. It has challenged me to fill my time with the best, not with busyness and good. But, I also have to remember that it isn’t just “giving up” for the sake of giving up. No, I can’t do everything, but there are things God wants me to do. Right now, I feel those things are being a wife and a mother, who writes a blog. But I also have a heart for training others how to teach children’s Bible clubs. This is a pretty big thing that God has brought across my path. So many women I meet don’t do any outside ministry because they are busy with their kids. But, I feel God wants me to do other ministry too. It isn’t necessarily being able to have/do it all, but to have the confidence that God does call and equip us for what He wants us to do.

  3. says

    One of the reasons that I’m so excited about my new (well, two month old) job with Weaving Influence is that Our Fearless Leader wants to work with us to juggle schedules and deadlines – all while working from home and living our real lives with our real families.

    I never thought I would have a career – my mother had a college degree, but she never worked outside the home, and her “real” job was raising 5 kids. And she was GREAT at it. And SHE loved it and still says she can’t imagine doing anything else. She’s happy, and successful, and content. Kudos to her! On the flip side, I never expected the feelings of success that I had by working outside our home (at the pharmacy), which was the first time that I thought, “Hmm…maybe I WOULD like a career…” Just not in pharmacy! ;-)

    Now I feel like I’ve got the best of both worlds: I get to use my skills and talents, work from home, AND get paid for it. I’m still pinching myself. The best part is that I can continue to juggle this career if/when we have kids. I don’t think anyone can do it all or have it all, but we can each find something that works for us – be that embracing the title of “MOM”, finding a balance between at-home job and family, or running full-tilt into the corporate world. Find what you’re good at, discover what works for YOUR family, and run with it!

    Looking forward to your book!!

    • Anne says

      Carrie, your personal story is a great one! And your work journey is a great example of how things have shifted over the past decade. It’s been exciting to watch your new endeavor develop and I’m excited to see where it goes :)

  4. says

    I love this discussion, Anne! The thing that bothered me about the Atlantic piece, and that I love about your post, is that this discussion isn’t limited to women. Maybe it is because I worked in Big-4 Public Accounting for over ten years, or maybe it is because I live in the political hotbed of our nations capitol. But, I interact with people everyday who are still trying to “have it all.”

    I see mom’s running their kids from activity to activity trying to prepare their preschoolers for a well-rounded college application, people buying houses and cars they can’t afford, the list goes on and on. As a yoga teacher I encounter so many people who tell me about the loads of stress they carry as they work to live up to some picture they have in their mind about what a happy life will look like.

    My heart aches for a culture shift. It seems to me the pursuit of “it all” is really the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment. And, I’m saddened to see people trying to blindly check some cultural box (good job, big house, fancy car, talented kids, expensive vacations etc.) instead of intentionally making choices that will be best for themselves and their families.

    When it boils down to it, your post (and I can’t wait for your ebook!) is shifting the discussion exactly where it needs to go. Let’s all take an INTENTIONAL look at our priorities (this HAS to be the first step) and then we can figure out how to make this work. In my neck of the woods, the old paradigm is alive and well. I’m hopeful that you have started something here that will breathe life into a new way of thinking.

    • Anne says

      Jennifer, thanks so much for sharing the DC perspective, where the old paradigm is alive and well :)

      “My heart aches for a culture shift.” Yes, mine too! And I think it’s happening, and slowly gaining ground.

      And I couldn’t agree more with the need to be intentional about our priorities.

  5. says

    “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.”

    Just recently I approached my husband about having Saturday mornings away from home to have a large block of time to write, to make more progress than I get during the week, snatching a few minutes here or the end of naptime there.

    I was sort of surprised how okay with it he was…but I guess I shouldn’t have been: he believes in my writing more than I do!

  6. says

    I’m older than you, so I guess I’m from a different generation. Many of my peers stayed home with kids while they were young, then went back to work once the kids were in school. We homeschool, so I’ve been home with mine for a long time. I didn’t think I could have it all, and frankly gave up that idea a long time ago. Then along came the internet and with it, blogging. Now I’ve turned my blog into a business and I’m putting my daughter through college. And it does feel like I have it all.

    Looking forward to your ebook!

    • Anne says

      Tiffany–yes! I think more and more possibilities are available to women than ever before, what with the exploding options made possible by new technology. And you embody that trend so well, with turning your blog into a business. (Well done!)

  7. says

    I think it just depends on how you define “it all”. I feel like I do have it all! I have everything I ever wanted – which includes a college degree I no longer use and a perfect baby girl we struggled to conceive. I’m blessed to have found hobbies (blogging and photography) that are both fulfilling & yield dividends – and, yet, I can’t for one moment imagine what life would be like if I chose to go back to an office 5 (or 3 or 2) days per week. For me, that wouldn’t be having “it all”, it would be having “some stuff, some of the time”. My meaningful work IS my meaningful family life – raising & educating a child, supporting my husband, caring for aging parents and grandparents, being available for church & community volunteer work.

    If I was a therapist, preschool teacher, chef, professional party planner, or Hospice nurse, etc. people would think I was doing something productive with my time…but doing these things for FREE for the people I love MOST in the world only seems to draw criticism, as though I were lazy or uneducated. It’s sad! I love having the freedom to give loved ones my time and not having to squeeze them in around a “real” job!

    • says

      Erin, I have no idea who you are, but I would LOVE to give you a hug right now! I feel EXACTLY the same way as you. I’m not a mother yet, but honestly, what I have in life is precisely what I want! I’m not looking for a money-making career…I just want to keep learning to be the best wife I can be, and then devote my life to being a wife, mother and homemaker. For me, that’ll be having it all…all I can handle! :D

    • Anne says

      Erin, you’re so right: it absolutely depends on how you define “having it all.” And I think the younger generations are defining “it all” very differently. Thanks for giving us a window into what that looks like for you.

  8. says

    I realize I am lucky to work (full time) for an employer who has let me:

    1) Work from home formally once a week + at odd hours at night instead of working late at the office.
    2) Take two very long (by American standards) maternity leave — 14 weeks each — with not a lot of impact on my career path.
    3) Doesn’t bat an eye when I need to run out because my daughter has pink eye or my son has a fever.

    I read the Atlantic article earlier this week and I was kind of fired up about it. “She’s right!” I thought. “Why are there not more Mom Senators?” and then I thought “Who wants to be a Senator? You’d have to be on TV all the time and argue with people and listen to people’s problems.” I was born in 1977, and even if I do some day become head of my department – Senior VP – of the small company I work for I’m not sure Slaughter would define that as success because I have chosen to stay with a small company that supports me in my efforts at work and at home rather than reaching for more. But this weekend I set up a tent with my kids and we read stories in it all day and ate s’mores instead of being attached to some blackberry or lap top. And that’s a success too right?

      • Anne says

        Thanks, Jillian! I love your illustrations of why your workplace is working for you. And I lovehow those examples are becoming more and more prevalent in the workplace–for both genders.

        And maybe Slaughter wouldn’t define that as success, but who cares? We’re making a new way, and I think it’s a good one. Small business is booming–and I’m assuming it’s a small business you’re working for. That sector was completely left out of her assessment, and yet the small business scene is exploding, in part because women who want flexible work are flocking to small companies (or starting their own!) The implications on work/life possibilities for small business workers are profound.

        • says

          Yes, a small business in DC.

          And for the record my male boss leaves at 3:30 a few times a week to coach his son’s team, and another co-worker often takes time off to train to hike 14,000 foot high mountains. It’s a good place.

          • Anne says

            Jillian, that’s so interesting because one of Slaughter’s assertions was that for change to happen in the workplace, it needs to be modeled by each organization’s leadership. Sounds like that’s happening at your workplace :)

  9. Jennifer Haddow says

    Oh, please, Anne, include me in your demographic and make me feel young (born in 1968!). I was taught to strive for the top jobs, but it never felt right to me. In fact, I majored in a male-dominated field (math – there were only 2 other women in my classes) for just that reason – to “prove” that women are just as good as men.

    Then I had my family and realized that my real dream of having it all is closer to yours. The truth is that women ARE different from men, not better, not worse. We shouldn’t feel like we have to strive for men’s ideas of success to actually BE successful.

    Thank you for putting those feelings into words.

  10. says

    I’m 27, completing a PhD, and constantly struggle with how to create work-life balance now and in the future. I agree with you that many women of our generation don’t want to run a fortune 500 company or be university presidents, but what do we do about our colleagues or mentors who hear us say that we don’t want these things and then write us off as “not really serious” about whatever it is we’re doing? Based on my experience of being considered “less than” my peers who are willing to work 60+ hours a week in lab, the best thing about the article in the Atlantic for me was feeling validated about my desire to have a family and spend time with them.

    Thanks for opening this conversation on your blog. I think it’s a really important one to be having and I look forward to reading your book.

    • Anne says

      Oh, Abby, that has to be so incredibly frustrating.

      I thought Slaughter’s article did a good job of pointing us towards ways to change organizational culture. She suggested things like: making off-site work commonplace, encouraging the organization’s leaders to utilize flex time (and serve as models for the employees by doing so), and minimizing travel. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on her suggestions.

      I just wish change in those areas could come a little faster to the workplaces of women like you.

      • says

        I only really feel frustrated when I dwell on what other people think about my life/career choices, which is almost never productive. I know I need to be able to validate myself as a smart, independent woman and to be able to advocate for the things I need, but it can be really tough to be my own advocate all the time.

        I’m with you that I wish change could come faster (or was already here), but I really do believe that my husband and I will find the right balance for our family, and when I am job searching, I will look for employers that seem supportive of flex time and off-site work like you and Slaughter have mentioned. I also think that the tide is turning and the Atlantic article and the great conversation here on your blog is evidence that we’re on the right track. Thanks again!

  11. Monica Selby (@monicajselby) says

    Thanks for this piece, Anne! I feel like you completely summed up what I was thinking. The Atlantic article was also interesting because Anne-Marie Slaughter “stepped down” from a high-powered government job into a tenured professor at Princeton job. By almost any standard, she already has it all in the first place!

    But, I’m like you. I so appreciate the new generation of parents who are BOTH working flexible hours and seeking to raise kids well, and many do it all on their own terms. It’s inspiring.

    Thanks for articulating this so well!

  12. Kayla @ The Alluring World says

    I think we’ve (women in their 20′s and 30′s) and redefined what “having it all means to us” and I agree with your assessment. I think it is possible to have it all, if we take the time to really assess what we are doing and why we are doing it, and then adjust accordingly. Also, (ironically?) having it “all” would require some sacrifice, at some point. We don’t start out with “all”, we end with “all”.

  13. says

    I’m (almost) 21, not done with college, and married for a year.

    For me, “having it all” means exactly what I’ve got right now. I’m a wife, a homemaker, and a student, and I have several smaller jobs to help support our little family.

    My dream is not to have my own business, to work for a company of any size, for that matter, even to work outside the home at all.

    My dream is to be a full-time, stay-at-home wife, mother and homemaker. For me, that will be “having it all”…all I can handle! ;)

    I do want to be a writer. I want to write from home–books that encourage other Christians in their walk with Christ. But that’s far less important than the vocations to which I believe God has called me.

    God’s given me “it all.” And I love my life.

    • Anne says

      Jaimie, it sounds like you’re in a really good place :) I love that you brought up the idea of vocations.

      Also–I love how technology is making it possible for so many women (and men) to realistically do what you say you want to do–to work from home doing things like writing books.

      (A little note about “working outside the home”: In many fields, it’s becoming very difficult to define what exactly “working outside the home” means anymore, because the same job could just as easily be done from your living room as from a professional office. And I really love that.)

      I wish you and your family well for the future :)

    • Caroline says

      Good for you, Jaimie! I got married at 22 when I was still in college, graduated, worked a few odd jobs until I had a baby at 27. Now the baby is 13 and I am 40 and I am still learning how to be the kind of wife and mother that God wants me to be. I don’t have it all together, nor do I have it all, according to some people, but it is what is best for our family and God has blessed our decisions. I’m doing what I always wanted to do and I love my life. Praying God’s blessings for you in your marriage and motherhood career path.

  14. Karianna says

    Anne, you’ve really hit it with this one. I haven’t read the article but the author was on NPR yesterday and talked about it more. I love how you’ve brought the perspective change into view and how women of our generation (for the most part) are expecting a balanced life rather than all or nothing. Are we less ambitious than our foremothers? No, but I do think we have different priorities.

  15. says

    I think everyone has a different version of what “having it all” means. For some, that is being the best stay at home mom they can be and for others it means balancing their work-life to be able to raise their kids well.

    I grew up without much money. Most of my clothes were hand me downs, we rarely ate out or went to the movies, but we had a roof over our heads and food on the table. For me having it all meant I would be able to buy clothes, have a car that wasn’t in danger of breaking down and just have nice things. I did well in school, worked 2 jobs through college and paid for it all myself and got a good job. I am married with 2 kids and have a great job now that has a flexible schedule if I need it. I would rather work in a creative field than accounting, but I use my hobbies to be creative. I’m not sure I have it all, but I have enough. We are comfortable, can pay our bills and our kids are happy, though a bit spoiled by our perspectives. They will never know a life where you can’t afford a new pair of shoes like their Dad and I, but that is why we work hard. To give our kids what we didn’t have.

    I think at one point I wanted to be a CFO or some such, but once you have a family and kids your perspective changes. I have seen too many people work long hours and sacrifice time with their family to have titles such as, “Partner” or “CEO”. I don’t want their lives. Their house may be bigger than mine and their car more expensive, but I don’t need that. What I have is just fine and more than I imagined it would be.

    I saw a pin on Pinterest that really resonated with me. It said:

    Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.

    • Anne says

      “Their house may be bigger than mine and their car more expensive, but I don’t need that. What I have is just fine and more than I imagined it would be.”

      Stacy, this is so well put. I love that perspective–and that Pinterest quote!

  16. says

    I love this post! You sum it up so well! My version of “having it all” is definitely closer to yours than the one in the article too. In a sense, I feel that I already do since I’m blessed to have an amazing husband and four great kids, though I wouldn’t mind being a little more financially stable and having the ability to travel more.

    My parents were part of the same generation as the author of the article and there was always a pressure to get more education and pursue high profile jobs. They were less than enthused when I decided to stop with a bachelor’s to have kids, since I was poised for an international law degree and career. Even my grandma recently, after I told her about how my kids were doing, how the blog was going and how I’m working on a book asked “Well, when are you going back to school.” It’s just a different mentality.

    I think women in our generation have realized that there is something more important than the esteem and money that come with a high profile career, and that some of these things (like the precious younger years with kids) can’t be regained later. One can always make more money (hypothetically) but we all only get the same 24 hours in a day. As Ben Franklin said, “Do not squander time, for it is the stuff life is made of.”

    • Anne says

      Katie, I didn’t know this was your background. How interesting!

      And I can’t believe your grandma asks you when you’re going back to school! My grandma always asked me when I was going to have another baby :)

      And I love how you put this: “I think women in our generation have realized that there is something more important than the esteem and money that come with a high profile career, and that some of these things (like the precious younger years with kids) can’t be regained later.” I agree that the tide is shifting that way, and I think it’s a great thing.

  17. says

    First of all, thank you for re-defining “having it all”. Your definition hits MUCH closer to home, and reflects what the majority of my friends have chosen.

    We’ve chosen a different model: seasons. During the 25 years I have children at home, I will be home full time. We have always believed that having both parents coordinating work outside the home was stressful for the children and marriage, and during a brief stint of part-time work last year, that theory was more than proven in our family. I have no problem augmenting our income from home, but I won’t be pursuing work outside my home until my baby leaves for college.

    While there are times that I long to be a part of the adult “working” world and enjoy the emotional and financial rewards of a fulfilling job, that season is still nearly a decade away. Our children’s growth in godliness is our top priority for this season. We don’t just want “good kids”, we want passionately godly, servant-minded children. That requires a stable, peaceful home and constant, consistent discipleship. A father who never (or rarely) has a day off, and a mom who has to place another person’s needs above her family has proved to be a hindrance to that goal for our family. Our children will still have to decide whether or not they will continue to live a godly life on their own as adults, but we want them to be stable, mature Christians when they make that decision, not “good kids” with worldly, shallow priorities.

    I’m not trying to criticize any other family’s decision, just share what we have chosen.

    A great (and thought-provoking) post!

    • Anne says

      Rebecca, I think you are dead-on with the “seasons” concept (even though it looks different in our home). I completely failed to grasp this concept as a college student and then as a young mother. I wish I had been wiser then :)

      Interestingly, Slaughter advocates for the “seasons” approach in her article. She suggests women strategically align the demanding seasons of their careers with less-demanding seasons at home, and said this would work best if you could kick your career into high gear only after your kids had left home. She acknowledges that you only have so much control over these factors, but it’s wise to keep the changing seasons of your family life in mind.

      I appreciated her thoughtfully discussing these timing issues.

  18. says

    Even though I don’t “want it all”, I do often want more than what I have now. The last few months have been spent trying to understand what God’s current call for me to do is, which I believe is writing, but actually following through on it has been extremely difficult, especially now that summer is here. I didn’t realize how much I actually got done when my older son was at preschool and how very little I get done when they both want to be outside ALL THE TIME. The last couple of days have been especially frustrating as I wanted to start getting back into a writing routine after having been on vacation and I have not really been able to do that.

    • Anne says

      Kelly, I’m so sorry. That has to be tough. I’m including sections in my ebook about how to handle a spouse who travels or has a very demanding job, and how to eek more work time out of your days without hiring a babysitter or doing day care.

      I understand the frustration of not being able to right–I hope that you get back into a writing routine very, very soon.

  19. says

    Wow! Awesome and thought-provoking! I am delighted to see you tackle this topic if, for no other reason, it validates for me that *not* wanting “it all” (in the traditional sense) doesn’t make me a cop out. I’m very much looking forward to your ebook!

  20. says

    I’ve been trying to think of a comment for this, but I can’t seem to articulate my thoughts well in any kind of reasonable comment sized comment. I would say that 50% of me is totally on board with you and what “our generation” wants (I’m in my mid-20s), more specifically that our priorities have shifted from what used to be the norm. But as I would not consider myself necessarily your demographic (I’m single, a lawyer, and for most of my life HAVE wanted to aim for careers in Slaughter’s realm), the other half of me probably did resonate more with her piece*. Then again, I’m reassessing career paths right now and really looking at what kind of lifestyle I want to have. Most of the talk is of balancing family life, but that’s not on my radar and I don’t know if it will be. Or if I want it to be. So that “balancing” discussion looks quite different in my head. See? Excellent comment, ha.

    *This is probably also because I’ve read so much of her scholarly work that I’m a total fan girl of hers, ha!

    • Anne says

      Amanda, I haven’t read any of her scholarly work–but now I’m very interested! I’m so glad you mentioned it.

      And I’m so glad to hear your perspective. (Btw law is the family business: my big act of rebellion was to skip law school and become a paralegal instead of an actual JD. :) )

      • says

        Ha, I love that :) I adore law from an intellectual stand point. I get all nerdy about it. But I’m finding that my heart isn’t necessarily in it, as far as a career goes. Right now I’m looking into jobs working with kids, quite a change :) Her work is primarily in international affairs. A prof used a lot of her articles in my class on the United Nations.

  21. says

    Yes. This.

    It is refreshing to hear other women of my generation speaking out and validating what I’ve only thought. We don’t all want the same things as the woman next door, or the woman we grew up with, or the women from previous generations. The “dream life” is different for everyone – we don’t all want a life of commerce, politics, or being a household name.

    I agree with so many of you who commented already – for me, “having it all” is simply being right where GOD wants me to be. It means having a family that is focused on pleasing Him. It means having active avenues of ministry at any given time. It means overflowing with joy because I am where HE wants me to be. Yes, I would love if that included writing books regularly, and being settled in a permanent home (not renting like we are right now), and long vacations with hubby every year. Sure, I can have those goals, but I can be content and happy without reaching them.

    Which begs the question – does that mean that once I’ve reached those goals, I “have it all”? Don’t we just make new goals and reach for greater things? So how can one really “have it all” anyway, this side of heaven?

    Great post, Anne. Great response to the article. And I can’t wait to read your ebook! :)

  22. says

    I believe the slogan “You can have it all” to be a modern day myth, I really, really do. The more I listen to young women as they share of their struggles in juggling children, careers and relationships the more I believe the perpetuating of this slogan to be doing a grave dis-service to women. I’ve travelled this path myself. The truth is you can’t have it all, something has to give. Dialogue needs to include a frank acknowledgement of this and progress from there.

    • Anne says

      “The more I listen to young women as they share of their struggles in juggling children, careers and relationships the more I believe the perpetuating of this slogan to be doing a grave dis-service to women.”
      Erin, well put. I think you are so right.

  23. Darby Dugger says

    First of all, CONGRATS on the e-book!!! So exciting and I can’t wait to read it!

    Second, I feel like “having it all” it a dangerous goal/myth! I’m currently a SAHM to our 3.5 children and trying to publicize my book without taking a minute away from my children. That’s my choice and I’m happy with it. I have an amazing husband, wonderful kids, and house I enjoy trying to keep clean. When I keep the right perspectives, I feel like i have it all, but there’re days I wish I was a famous author, a movie star, a blogger with lots of followers, in vocational ministry, a missionary, or simply holding some office job. I try hard not to dwell on those thoughts because I can’t have those options and what I currently have. I do feel called by the Lord to stay home, but I have to choose to be content with that. On the days I’m disciplined about that I do feel like I have it all, but it so quickly can change if I allow my thoughts to venture out. I guess what im trying to say is that i wouldn’t change anything about my life, I feel incredibly blessed, yet i wouldn’t use the phrase “have it all” to deacribe me- or anyone- because I’m not sure what it means and I don’t want to plant seeds of discouragement or discontentment in my heart.

    • Anne says

      Ha! I love how you threw “movie star” right in the middle of that list :)

      I love your last point–we can be content with our lives and still not feel comfortable saying we “have it all” because of all that implies–especially to other women. Here’s to eradicating that phrase from the cultural vocabulary!

  24. says

    Anne, Such good thoughts with so much room for many different definitions! While I have stayed home with my children for the last 23 years and even homeschooled the whole time and in that time also built as flexible career I do worry that the deep call of motherhood will pull to many women from positions of higher economic influence and thus our worries, wants and causes as women will no have a voice in the larger conversations that are occurring world wide.

    While I think we can agree that none of us will be able to agree on all topics to see all male panels make choices that directly effect women in very upsetting. To see women driven out/leaving higher positions in churches and government due to the inflexible nature of these positions does little good for any of us. and while many of us ARE happy at home the fact is that just about anyone who has the luxury to blog is pretty far removed from the gritty part of life that is quickly changing and not for the better. Maybe if we had more women in positions of power we could see more change. More coming together.. I don’t know but I fear that the not having it all needs to be seen as an issue for all of us, even those who have found something close to their own personal balance.

    Maddie – 1968 baby- mom of 6

    • Anne says

      “Maybe if we had more women in positions of power we could see more change.”

      Maddie, I didn’t used to care about the imbalance between the genders who held leadership positions in business and our government–but I do now. We need the perspectives of both genders represented in our leadership. I hope that this issue catches fire and our culture is able to make this happen, for the good of all of us.

      • says

        Anne, why do you think you did not use to care? I obviously did not take a high power fast track in life, but the question and concern has vexed me for years.Truth is that I quit pre-med to have a baby and then did not go back. I just couldn’t. I could not fathom letting someone else (daycare) raise my child. Now, had I just had one child or maybe 2 I could have gone back at a certain point if the culture had been favorable but instead I decided on 6 kids ( would have been more but had to stop for medical reasons) and a path that has me using my other talents to make a flexible living. But the fact is that I don’t think I exert as much societal pressure as a sewing teacher as I would have as a doctor.. and that loss x how every many also make the same choice effects so many other choices we have as women.

        I wonder if such things go in cycles, since my daughter does not want children at this point.. and for a good number more years. she wants to take a stab at a career first. In the end I think there needs to be room for all of these choices and that does mean flexibility and some other solution to childcare besides warehouse style care and children who only see their parents 2-3 hours per day.. if that.

        • Anne says

          Maddie, I just don’t think I’d thought through the issues carefully, and I’m sure growing up in a conservative church setting was a factor.

          I’m wondering what you think about this one: now that I’m a mother I’m ASTOUNDED that nobody ever told me that the number of children you have makes a huge difference in the feel of your family life and your work options. Sure, it seems obvious to me now that I have 4 kids, but I was always told that it was the choice whether or not to become a mother at all that was important.

          Also, I’m convinced these issues are cyclical, and I’m fascinated by how they’re playing out.

  25. Annette says

    I agree with you. I think we have way too may choices these days. Before Computers we didn’t know what all was out there. There is no way to have it all and do it all even if you tried. We should be striving for contentment with what we do have. I tend to put a lot of unecessary pressure on myself. Thanks for sharing your heart and Being transparent

  26. says

    I attended a small branch of a large university that appealed to working adults. They offered most of their classes in the evenings, weekends and online. This meant that the average student age was 35-45. I found it interesting that women of the baby boomer generation were offended that women of my generation (born in the 80s) had chosen to get married and start families AND attend college. They told us that they fought hard for us to have options that didn’t include marriage and children at a young age- we should have been concentrating on finishing college and starting careers. I thanked one woman for her ‘work’ on our behalf because I now had that option, but that I chose another option.

    I was sad for her and the others who agreed with her because they have essentially limited themselves and every other woman who comes after them. My priorities and desires are not the same as hers– why isn’t that acceptable? I know that not everyone in my own generation has the same priorities– not even everyone in my own family. But that’s okay. My ‘enough’ and their ‘enough’ does not have to look the same.

    • Anne says

      “My ‘enough’ and their ‘enough’ does not have to look the same.”

      Betsy, I think this is the heart of it. And just like you said, I think that’s okay.

  27. MelD says

    I really enjoyed this discussion, thanks.
    British-born ’64 to a mother who was a pioneer for working class girls going to university in Britain in the 50s, I was a smart scholar and expected to study and go on to do great things.
    In fact, I didn’t really want to and was always more domesticated than my peers.
    In the end, I had my first daughter at 19 (two more at 26/30) and was glad to give up a boring office job that did not allow me to fulfil any of my potential anyway, when I married at 25. Leading a lifestyle that allowed me to be SAHM and pursue my own reading and interests, including taking a bachelor’ s degree in my early 40s, just before becoming a grandmother, has left me feeling a lot more content with my life than many of my peers. Whether they were pushed or just ambitious, they have struggled to have it all – several have no kids despite wanting to, because they never had time for relationships, some now already in bad health from stress. Others have kids, much later than me, and it’s always been a struggle, with never enough time and now kids with all kinds of problems being thrust into academia unnecessarily…
    Two of my daughters are highly intelligent; so far, neither has gone to a university, yet both have an excellent education. Born 84/91, both have chosen to marry young and combine family, work, relationships – And I think they are all the happier for it! I really admire their attitudes, as you portray above, and am immensely proud of them.
    My youngest is less academic altogether and is about to embark on a three year apprenticeship as a dressmaker/tailor: it is the older generations who look somewhat askance at this “old-fashioned” profession, but if she can have happy a working life (balance) and be creative, what is there to fault?!
    Much of these consequences are because we live in Switzerland, where things are done differently (still). Sadly, the American way is beginning to filter through, which is a great shame. I think our systems work better and result in happier women.

    • Anne says

      “Sadly, the American way is beginning to filter through, which is a great shame. I think our systems work better and result in happier women.”

      Oh, that makes me so sad. I’m an American woman, and I wish we were collectively better at the whole happiness thing.

      Interestingly, I’ve read that apprenticeships are making a comeback. College education costs are skyrocketing and causing many young people to explore alternatives, and many of them are landing on apprenticeships. It makes a lot of sense.

      And I agree: there’s nothing to fault with a 3 year apprenticeship that trains your daughter in a practical and creative field that I presume she enjoys. I admire the way she’s chosen a path that excites her despite the disapproval of some.

  28. says

    What a great post. Your definition of “having it all” is precisely what I… well, what I have. More or less. The way it works for me is a far more integrated approach to personal and professional spheres than has been the standard for generations past. For a lot of women this looks like running a business from home. For me, it’s working full time as an ordained clergy woman and living in the same very small town as my church. I have days that look fairly traditional, but I generally pop back and forth by bike several times a day. I’ll go to a staff meeting but come home to make lunch for my family (including my stay-at-home husband, who is not so savvy in the kitchen) and nurse the baby, and then my afternoon “pastoral work” could very well look like hanging out at a playdate, chatting with other moms while the kids play, followed by an hour of sermon writing or funeral preparation. I love it. Perhaps it would seem chaotic if I wanted everything to stay in its own compartment, but I don’t. My kids occasionally come to church with me, and my older daughter attends preschool down the hall.

    I didn’t plan to write this much – but your words were a source of encouragement and inspiration. Thanks!!

    • Anne says

      Oh my goodness, I love your description of your days!

      I think the trend is towards a blend of work and family, instead of everything staying in its own compartment. Taken to extremes this could be harmful, but I think a gentle blend is working very well for a whole lot of families.

  29. says

    Anne, I love this so much. I read that article and felt a little distant from it because you nailed it…she is a different demographic. You described us so well…how we “smoosh” it all together and just figure out how to make it all work with both of us working. I would absolutely love to talk with you about it. I’ve been at a large bank for 11 years and 9 of it have been working anywhere from 2 days at home to 5 days at home. We’ve done so many different things to try to make it work and so far I think it has. However, it is a constant struggle. It is the one area that I never feel 100% confident in and question all the time.

  30. Elisabeth says

    A thoughtful, insightful post on a very important topic! I haven’t read the Atlantic article, but did read another review by another blogger (http://lauravanderkam.com/2012/06/trouble-cant-all-manifestos/)–which you also commented on!–and am finding the conversation fascinating.

    I think there a couple of issues at play here: a) defining what “have it all” means, and b) assessing to what degree that is possible, which brings up another issue, c) for whom and in what sphere of the world?

    For me (34-year-old American S/WAHM about to reluctantly head back to full-time teaching while my self-employed husband takes on a lot more Daddy time because we need the additional income), it comes back to keeping the end in mind; when I reach the end of my life (whenever that may be), will I look back over it in satisfaction or with regret? And what will help guarantee one over the other?

    My views on the issues I’ve listed are colored in large part by my faith and family experiences. While I admire women–and men–who have pursued positions of leadership and influence for noble reasons (including representing those of us who aren’t in such positions but need our voices heard), I have a hard time imagining that such pursuits are possible without on SOME level making personal sacrifices, e.g. raising children. However, that reveals my bias, and my definition of “having it all,” which includes being more present in my children’s lives than a full-time career outside the home would allow (even a highly flexible one such as some have described).

    In my current circumstances, however, a lot of this is moot–I pretty much have to go back to work full time this year (hoping it will only be for one school year), which removes me from Slaughter’s demographic. I’m not privileged enough to have that choice at this time. On the flip side, I’m thankful for the privilege of having earned the degrees and qualifications that I have and the ability to earn an income this year that will support our family, as well as having a husband willing to take on more of the daily responsibilities related to raising our sons.

    • Anne says

      Slaughter does speak in the article just for a moment about how the two-income family may be a necessity these days. So you’re in good company.

      I love your perspective on this question, Elisabeth: “It comes back to keeping the end in mind; when I reach the end of my life (whenever that may be), will I look back over it in satisfaction or with regret? And what will help guarantee one over the other?”

      It’s hard for me to take the long view, but it’s so important. I need the reminder to stay focused on it, though.

  31. says

    Well, now I am just tickled pink you are writing an ebook about it. I have this conversation with myself just about everyday, and you’re right, it’s really hard to find a role model to ask advice.

    I find most working woman outside the home do only that. They work 40 hours a week at an office job, etc, and barely have time to make dinner or do something fun with the kids that evening.

    I think there can be a balance between working women and being productive at home, without feeling the need to be solely a stay-at-home-mom.

    We shouldn’t have to choose between one or the other, but we sure need help when it comes to time and energy management if we decide to do both!

  32. says

    I completely agree that “it all” means vastly different things for different women, but in the end, doesn’t “it all” really mean “a meaningful rich life”? You can be a full-time homemaker/mom, working in a low-profile job, or striving to be the CEO or Senator—as long as you are able to pursue YOUR dreams, then I think you “have it all”. You may be tired, and it may not be “easy”, but most mothers will likely agree that exhausting and happy can go hand-in-hand!

    My husband and I both work full-time outside the home but we still have time EVERY NIGHT for home-made dinners, weekends full of playing at the pool or park, and evenings to unwind. The things that make it work for us are 1) equally sharing the parenting & household duties 2) ruthless planning & efficiency at work & for chores (so that we have time for spontaneity & free play the rest of the time) and 3) outsourcing what we can.

    I don’t think we should be down on women trying to strive for high power jobs—unfortunately I see a lot of this in these conversations–its subtle, but I feel it. If we agree that women (and mothers) in government & leadership are beneficial in exerting the right kinds of family-friendly social change, then SOMEONE needs to step up to the task. Maybe you or I don’t want to do it, but we need to support women in our generation that do have that ambition, or not only will we not advance, but the strides made by women before us will recede. Its absolutely great that many women are striving for balance & family time over money & “success”, but there are also women yearning to be the leaders, to make changes they feel passionately about, to cure cancer & do brain surgery & negotiate peace throughout the world–”high power” jobs are not always about money or power. I do think there can be a push to shift our work culture such that women can do these things without having to give up what is often an equally strong desire for a family—but societal change requires our support. I think part of it is realizing that someone else’s ambitions for “more” don’t make our accomplishments “not enough”, and thus no need to get on the defensive (again, something I’ve noticed subtly occurring in a lot of comment threads to posts on this topic, not here).

    I hope I didn’t come across the wrong way, I think you’ve done a wonderful job with this post & facilitating this discussion Anne. I’m really looking forward to more on the topic!

    • says

      “I completely agree that “it all” means vastly different things for different women, but in the end, doesn’t “it all” really mean “a meaningful rich life”? You can be a full-time homemaker/mom, working in a low-profile job, or striving to be the CEO or Senator—as long as you are able to pursue YOUR dreams, then I think you “have it all”. You may be tired, and it may not be “easy”, but most mothers will likely agree that exhausting and happy can go hand-in-hand!”

      Ana, so well said!!!

  33. says

    Ugh. This is cutting too close to some things I’m unhappy about with my own life to give my perspective, but I love this post and the discussion.

    You touched on it briefly, Anne, but just to drive home the point: It really is as much a generational gap as a gender one. That is, yes, maybe this is more in focus for women because they feel that extra pressure (or desire) to be the primary child-rearer, but it’s become a problem for men, too.

    Our generation of husbands don’t want to be like their dads, too busy working to come to their sons’ soccer games or band concerts. Even if the majority still see themselves as the primary breadwinners and expect to have full-time, away-from-home careers (most men, I think, are still not looking for part-time/work-at-home options as much as women are), they still want to have a lot more flexibility and involvement in their children’s lives.

    When the DDH was applying for jobs, he ran into an older lawyer (probably a bit older even than Slaughter, but roughly that generation) who went off on a long rant about how new law school graduates were lazy and had no work ethic. And what he apparently meant is that new lawyers weren’t always super thrilled about putting in eighty-hour work weeks, staying late and coming in on weekends, to “pay their dues” at a law firm. People like my husband want to be able to be home in the evenings, have weekends free, take family vacations, be able to call in when their kids are sick, and shift their schedules around in ways that make sense for their lives rather than stick to one set by the boss.

    Part of it is because a lot of the young wives work, too, so both parents’ jobs need to be more flexible because there’s not one designated at-home caretaker who can cover doctor’s appointments and sick days and school trips–you share that responsibility. But part of it is that the male half of our generation has retooled its priorities just as the female half has (I speak in sweeping generalizations, obviously, and it is still more culturally acceptable for fathers to take those harsh career paths than mothers–as you say, we need better working hours for *both* genders, which is part of why there are still more male CEOs and Senators).

    Anyway. So right now, there’s this tension between what an older workplace expects and what its younger workers want, and that can spell trouble for men looking to advance their careers but not at the expense of their family time. But on the other hand, as more and more workers of both genders want to have that more balanced life (however they choose to define balance) hopefully workplaces–even law firms–will adapt to reflect that for *both* genders.

    • Anne says

      Katie, I think you’re so right about the generational shift for bothgenders. Stodgy professions like law (the field I work in, too) are notorious holdouts for new (meaning: sane) work structures. Some firms even want to see the GPAs of attorneys that have practicing less than a decade. I’m all for good grades, but once you’re 30, who cares?

      But if corporate America is changing (and it is) maybe there’s hope for the legal profession, too.

      Also, Laura Vanderkam profiled a female attorney–I think in 168 Hours–who wanted to spend more time with her young daughter. As I recall, the key to dilemma ended up being figuring out that her firm valued face time at night, not early in the mornings. So she started hitting the office pretty late in the morning after putting in quality hours with her daughter and husband. Check out Laura’s site or the book if you’re interested in reading more :)

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  1. [...] the details here, but there’s a whole section devoted to the reasons behind the change in my ebook, out mid-September.) The hard line between work and home is blurring. The workplace has gone grey, [...]

  2. [...] Seeking the Balance I Don’t Believe In by Anne Welcome to Modern Mrs Darcy! Check out the most popular posts while you're here. You can get your free copy of my new ebook Ultimate Beach Reading: A Summer Reading Guide from Modern Mrs Darcy here . If you like what you see, subscribe here for free updates, or you can "like" the MMD facebook page here and receive new posts in your news stream. Thanks for visiting!I’ve had a crazy 6 weeks, on top of the general summer craziness that you’re guaranteed with a family of 6. And most recently–since returning from California–I’ve experienced 3 days of bone-crushing fatigue, 6 days of sick kids, and 5 days of blitz writing to finish up this ebook. [...]

  3. [...] In May, I released a summer reading guide (no longer available, but I’ll do it again next year). In June, I kicked off my Summer of Yes, was astonished at what my time diary experiment revealed, and gave you the first glimpse at my ebook topic. [...]

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