Of course we can’t have it all. (But still we can flourish.)

I’m sure you probably read this month’s featured article in the Atlantic. If you haven’t, read it here, and then read all 18 gazillion responses to it around the web. (Or, if you’d rather, just a couple of them here and here.) If you are a woman or a man who loves a woman, or a man who one day may love a woman, you should read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, “Why Women Can’t Have it All,” which brings into question the belief that feminism has been chanting since (at least?) the third wave of feminism rolled through. That belief is the hope that women can have great success in the professional world and still raise children well: that women can be everything and still be happy.

There’s no reason for me to add my two cents to the conversation out there. I’m two weeks late to the party and a lot smarter people have already done it. But I feel the need to say this: Just about every woman I know (whether they subscribe to feministic ideals or not) would say, “Of course,” to the title of Slaughter’s piece. It’s not a shocker. Maybe it’s a shocker to women who are leading the feminist push into the big league places of power: the CEOs, the high positions of government, the great courts of law. Maybe it’s a shocker to Slaughter’s peers in her generation: Ivy-League educated, policy-making, glass ceiling-breaking women of intense drive. (Who, by the way, I honor for their courage and commitment and sacrifice.)

But, most of us—those of us educated but of Average Brain, who worked hard and well prior to having children, those of us who believe in our work but also believe in the deep calling of child-shaping—we all know the answer to the question, “Can women have it all?” Life has forced us into the practical. I would answer: It depends how you define ALL.

Feminism has typically defined all as “everything a man has”: The ability to work hard, advance into the highest levels of professionalism, and still have a family. But Slaughter speaks to something she discovered in the long two years she commuted back and forth between her high level job in the State Department in Washington and her family (two teenage sons and a supportive husband) in Princeton. In the midst of a difficult season for her son, she began to accept that she couldn’t do everything. She needed to be home for him.

Of course, there are those who are up in arms that she would admit that caring for her son might be more important than the millions of lives her decisions were affecting in her work. There are those who would groan that she would sacrifice her high-powered position in order to care for her family, but the feminism I connect to is the feminism that both embraces the ability of women to add value to culture in the form of work and the power of motherhood to shape and form and build children into people who add value and light to a broken world. I can’t sit around and listen to angry women mock the work of motherhood, as much as I can’t sit pleasantly in the presence of men who would devalue women in the Church into Silent Sweet Agreeers.

To me, feminism must be fully human to be fully powerful. And this article and admission by such a strong, influential woman is exactly the sort of thing the movement needs to mend the damage that has been done (most often unintentionally) by feminists who devalue the role and necessity of full-time childcare as a brave and good choice.

What does it mean to have it all? There are many of us who worked through our kids’ first year and found (in my case) that the demands of work (ministry) meant I missed more nights of putting my kid to bed than I wanted to. Those nights of ministry, combined with my husband’s demanding job and commute, meant I saw Chris in passing, meant I cried tears over how long it had been some weeks since we had eaten dinner together. But still I loved my work; still I loved my kid.

What I finally came to terms with was the gift of seasons. We live in a society that does not allow easy flexibility for working women with children at home. And because I could do it, I chose the life at home over the life of striving and never being enough for everyone. I’m not saying I was doing a terrible job at my work or as a mom. I’m just saying I was constantly compromising something. And, in the end, I wanted to stop feeling all those compromises press in on me. I wanted to be still. I wanted to push the swing at the park without looking at my watch calculating where else I could be were I not there.

I became a stay-at-home-mom, not because I’m unmotivated (though I can assure you, I’ll never be a high-powered government official), not because I’m not capable of gritting my teeth and seeing my family when I see them, and not because I have no dreams. I chose this life because when I was finally honest with God and my husband and myself about my own happiness, I knew the swing pushing was what I wanted. I wanted to be in my children’s everyday. I craved a slow-paced life and I had a partner who wanted to financially support that choice.

Now, I write about motherhood and spiritual practice. I write about the slow work of raising kids and the miraculous every day grace that follows me in it. But I miss the thrill of ministry. I miss the joy of getting dressed and leaving the house. I miss accomplishing tasks one after another without crying babies or scraped knees interrupting.

We can’t have it all…Everything in life is an exchange.

Ummmm, can I eat pizza for dinner three nights a week and not grow a pizza love-child around my middle? Can I sleep till 7:30 every morning even though my baby wants to wake at 6? Can I do work I love without considering the effect it will have on my children? Of course I can’t. Mothers know, have always known, that every choice we make affects our children. My working friends know it. My stay-at-home friends know it.

So now that we’re saying it, let’s look in each other’s eyes. Let’s look deep at our working friends, long at our SAHM friends. Let’s recognize for each other that we’ve all sacrificed much to hold this role.

Let’s be women who shake our heads for each other’s laments and say, “Yes, I hear you, sister. This choice is hard.” And then, let us sing a song together about women and seasons and value and choices and swing pushing and meeting attending and yoga-pant wearing and smart suit dressing and then we will notice that there is no “Mommy War,” there is only women and our big beautiful gifts we are offering the world and the hope of thriving, the hope that lives can flourish.

Faith, Imperfect
On Writing: Ego, Insecurity, and the Life of the Beloved
#FoundGrace in yellow flowers, JoJo, and some cozy Target pants
An Invitation to be Lonely
  • http://www.amylepinepeterson.com Amy Lepine Peterson

    Great post, Micha. I agree that we need a new way of talking about “having it all,” – or maybe better, we just need to abolish the phrase.

  • http://phyllislorenzmft.com Phyllis lorenz

    A famous woman once said, “women can have it all, just not at the same time”. That is the “seasons” thing you were talking about. The real sadness here in my mind is for women who really do not have a choice, who would dearly love to be at home with their kids but who are either single parents working low pay jobs, barely making enough to pay for inadequate child care (that is a whole other can of worms), or are single wage earners for their families when their husbands are out of work.. There is always a tension between wanting to be one place but having to be somewhere else. “Yes, I hear you sister. The choice IS hard” and often there is no choice.

    As always, I love your writing and your perspective on things. Thanks, Micha.

  • http://www.sarahbessey.com Sarah Bessey

    Fantastic, Micha. Truly good.

  • http://divandmama.blogspot.com Jenn

    Yes, yes. Every time we say “yes” to something it does mean saing “no” to something else. Each season is about what we choose to say yes to. I love this

  • http://www.fromtwotoone.com from two to one

    Thank you for this beautiful piece, Micha. As a newlywed, Christian, feminist, and (hopeful) future mother, I am drawn to these conversations among holy Christian women. I want to store up all of your stories and lessons as I inch closer to the compromises you speak so clearly about. But I have a lingering question for you and others who followed similar paths — why do you think you felt so negatively about compromising time with your children? Did your husband feel the same way when having to work late/travel for work/etc.? How much do you think the choice to be a SAHM is influenced by the fact that our society makes it nearly impossible (if not literally impossible) to being a working woman and a “good” mother — especially in Christian communities in which motherhood is idealized and lauded as the highest calling for a woman?

  • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

    i found slaughter’s piece to be simultaneously fascinating and maddening. maddening, because “have it all” is a bogus trap in which feminism is unfairly cast as the bogeyman. i really like salon’s reaction.

    i’m with you, though. i’ll sing that song of seasons, hard choices, and sisterhood (and keep shaking fists at patriarchy and a baiting, flame-fanning media.)

  • http://www.fromtwotoone.com from two to one

    I wish I could not just “like” this, but “love” this!

  • http://Www.teamforeman.blogspot.com Tara

    I really identify with your thoughts. Thanks!

  • michaboyett

    Thank you so much.

  • michaboyett

    I can answer this way: I don’t think my husband feels (felt) the same way about traveling/working late as I do. Thankfully, he doesn’t have to travel or work late near as much as he did when August was a baby. And when he did work late back then, he and I high fived on my way out the door and he got to have his time with August: putting him to bed, snuggling, reading stories. However, I absolutely believe we have a different standard of “being there” for our kids. Is it me being a woman (more emotional? the intrinsic pull of motherhood?) that makes the decision to be apart from them harder? Or is it our society and the way I’ve been raised? Don’t know. But it is different for the two of us on a deeper level than just our Christian cultural expectations.

  • michaboyett

    Jenn, Sarah, Phyllis, Amy: Thank you all.

  • claire

    I wanted to add that my husband and I do feel the same way about this. It’s so hard on him to be away from the kids. He loves pouring into their lives in shaping them as much as I do. We’ve decided that one of us will always stay home to raise the kids. Right now it is working for us that I do, but even our son (6) asks semi-regularly – ‘when is it going to be dad’s turn to stay home while you work’. We all are open to that when the time comes.

  • http://www.fromtwotoone.com from two to one

    Thank you, Micha. I don’t think it’s just our Christian cultural expectations, or any cultural expectations for that matter. Again, I’m not yet a mother so I can’t 100% say for sure what my experiences will be like, but it’s interesting to me that many of the women (and not men) I’ve spoken with about this feel as you did — that those compromises outweighed the overall benefit of working when you really wanted to be more with your children. I have yet to meet a man who calculates it the same way.

  • http://phyllislorenzmft.com Phyllis lorenz

    I think women’s brains are just wired up differently from men’s brains. I know when my kids were small (they are now 28 & 30) and I was working, I always had a place in my brain holding them, thinking about their homework or the dentist appointment I needed to schedule. I think men’s brains are more compartmentalized. Women are naturally multi-taskers.

  • Callie

    Great thoughts! Thank you Micha.

  • http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com Diana Trautwein

    Beautifully said, Micha. There are seasons in life – and each one brings its own joys and sacrifices. Enjoy the one you’re in – soon enough, there will be new decisions to make.

  • Pingback: Generosity in quotes | Generous Matters()

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/michaboyett/2012/07/of-course-we-can%E2%80%99t-have-it-all-but-still-we-can-flourish/ trisha

    Excellent! I am 55 and have been through a number of seasons from not working, to working part-time, to working full time. My husband is in construction and the past 5 years have been brutal. If I did not work we would have lost our home and our youngest would not be going to college this fall. The “choices” so much of the press and articles talk about exists ONLY for an extremely limited group of families or in another time when the financial world was more stable. I have cried many times over not being able to be in ministry during this time, to have so sweet walks and lunches and encouraging times with my Christian sisters. I was headed to seminary until this recession hit. Yet God is faithful. My job gave us frequent flyer miles that allowed us to travel as a family, visit Hawaii, etc. For that I am grateful

  • http://facebook.com/adeline.roman1 Adeline

    Great post! I agree with you 100%.. Who is the artist of the portrait? It’s so beautiful. I love it. Adeline