This is the first of a series of reflections I’m writing based on Ann Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic Monthly story Why Women Still Can’t Have It All
When I was a kid, I read a Parade magazine interview with either Barbara Walters or Margaret Thatcher—can’t remember which one just that she was an older White woman with big hair—who said something like, “You can either have a great marriage and a great relationship with your kids, or a great marriage and a great career, or a great career and a great relationship with your kids, but you can’t have all 3.”
Really? I thought. Bummer.
Because even as a kid, I wanted it all—marriage, family, career—and it just seemed wrong that there was no way to be great in all 3 at the same time.
Dr. Ann Marie Slaughter has purposefully re-ignited this debate in her Atlantic Monthly cover story Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, and she has succeeded. It’s a long article, but worth reading.
There have been a slew of thoughtful (and sometimes rabid responses) to her article, ones I especially appreciated include:
- Lori Gottlieb’s Why There’s No Such Thing as ‘Having It All’—and There Never Will Be
- Rebecca Traister’s Can Modern Women Have it All?
- Anand Giridharadas Questioning Alpha Leadership
- Andrew Cohen’s ‘Having It All’? How About: ‘Doing The Best I Can’?
- And Slaughter’s own response 10 days later: The ‘Having It All’ Debate Convinced Me to Stop Saying ‘Having It All’
These responses point out how men have never “had it all,” that it’s impossible to “have it all,” and that the standards of “having it all” are questionable in the first place (do we really want our leaders working 100 hour weeks, neglecting their kids, and passing that those values to the larger culture?).
I can get all twisted inside in this debate because inevitably I start thinking what Barbara Walters or Margaret Thatcher so presciently said those years ago, “I’m failing at all 3—wife, motherhood and career.” I’m so far from greatness in all arenas.
Yet on a spiritual level, it’s intrinsically bankrupt to hunger and thirst to “have it all” and “be great” precisely because they’re the wrong goals and the wrong methods.
Instead of “having it all,” God wants us to “get a life.” Even better, God wants to give life to us. We just have to follow.
There’s nothing wrong with marriage, kids or work. Nor is there anything wrong with wanting to be great. But God’s paradox is that as we lose our lives, we’ll save them, and the road to greatness involves being the servant of all.
Maggie (or Barbara) may have said I’ll never achieve greatness as a mom, wife and worker as I try to do them all at the same time, but perhaps as I give up on grasping for greatness and focus on serving and receiving, I’ll get the better deal.
You might also enjoy some of my other thoughts on gender and/or work:
This was first published on What She Said