Mothers: Do it all! Have it all! Wheee! Let’s ride unicorns too!

It’s been a tough week emotionally. Aside from the horrible tragedy of the past few days, and the entirely disheartening reactions around the web that I’ve had to remove myself from to keep from becoming distraught, my schedule has been a bit…challenging. I’m juggling a tough work schedule, a two-way commute with Sage to summer camp, and kids and Nate’s night shifts (meaning single mom duty morning and night, a several days a week). Dinner needs to be made, baths given, dishes cleaned, the next Oz book read and cuddle time had. By 9, I’m ready to collapse, without a single ounce of energy left in me.

As far as problems go in the world it’s hardly a major one, but the fact is, I’m tired.

Yay for mothers who claim they “do it all.” But I’m really not one of them. I like sleep. And spending more than 4 seconds a day with my kids that doesn’t involve me cajoling them to give me a foot rub for a dollar. Weird, huh?

In fact, since the working mom article heard around the world, closely followed by the announcement of Melissa Mayer’s new position at Yahoo, undertaken while pregnant, I’m not entirely surprised that this discussion has started again. I am somewhat more surprised that it’s been followed by an extraordinary number of not-so related pitches I’m receiving that insist, but NO, you CAN have it all! If only you buy this widget or download this app or interview our expert. Seriously.

This week I was offered an interview with a privileged, upper-class celebrity type entrepreneur with the following in the press release:

“I started my company when I was pregnant with my first daughter,” [redacted] says, “and I only stopped running it for the four hours it took me to birth my second, earlier this month. Our company’s COO (my husband) was right there with me and the midwives. He caught the baby. It’s crazy-making hard sometimes, but so are most things worth doing. I believe that every woman and every man can do it all, and do it all well.”

On one hand I think it’s lovely and optimistic to encourage women to live out their dreams. But my second thought is, are you freaking kidding me?  To come out and say that every woman can do it all and do it all well?

It’s simply not true.

Not every woman has a supportive husband or partner–or one at all. Not every woman has money in the bank from a childhood spent modeling and acting. Not everyone is in a career or at a position that allows them to own their work schedules and vacation days. But aside from issues of privilege, class and circumstance, there’s a bigger point to be addressed: not every women wants to stop work for a mere 240 minutes to push out a kid, then race right back to the conference call. Nor should we.

Is that what working motherhood has come to? “I am overxtended, hear me roar?”

And anyone who thinks that make me an feminist killer, I’m happy to chat with you offline anytime.

I’m not judging her choice by the way. If this is what works for her and her family, more power to her. But it’s hardly what most women want to aspire to.

Life, as my parents always told me, is a series of choices. Unless I’m unaware of some great developments in Doc Brown style science, it is impossible for our bodies to be in two places at once, both with our children and with our fulfilling careers–even if our hearts are.

I love my work. I love my kids. I am successful at my work. I am successful at raising fairly awesome children (says me, so far). And while I do my best to balance or juggle or whatever today’s catch-phrase is that’s least likely to cause more wars, that does not mean I do it all, or do it all well.

We need to stop asking women to live up to impossible standards. Because we put enough pressure on ourselves as it is.

No one is more proud of what I do for a living than Thalia. When we talk about how I started a website to help other moms support their families with their businesses, and I explained some of the accomplishments we’re most proud of, she said, “wow that’s important!” And I agreed.We talked about how my advertising job helps support our family and pay the bills, and make sure she can go to college, and how it also makes me feel good to get paid to do something I like to do. She understands the value of that too, and we then talked about what she’d like to do when she grows up and what possibilities will be open to her.

And yet, a few nights later, having come home a little later than usual, Thalia held me tight as we cuddled in the dark under her blanket.

She said, “Mommy, I wish I could create a string that reaches around the world 4,000 times. That way anywhere you go, wherever you go, I could always get to you. I could just push a button and then it would be like coolest zipline ever and it would just bring me right to you.”

Doing it all?

“All” is a very, very big word.


84 thoughts on “Mothers: Do it all! Have it all! Wheee! Let’s ride unicorns too!”

  1. I had a tough week too. And mine was mostly beating myself up for “bad” parenting and “bad” behavior by my kid that is probably not really my fault anyway. (Maybe it is, I don’t know.)

    I think we do a really go job beating ourselves up for our choices. It would be great if we were easier on each other.

    1. We had the same week. I swear I must have said “I’m going to try to relax and stop beating myself up” at least 10 times today.

  2. Amen, sistah.

    It appears that to have it all, you have to ignore yourself. If you’re lucky enough to have a body that can handle that kind of sleep-deprived, caffeine-fueled lifestyle, go ahead and roar. For the rest of us, though, please don’t fall prey to the macho mama fairy tale. Do what works for you, and if it doesn’t work, change it.

    Like Steven Wright said, “You can’t have it all. Where would you put it?”

  3. Get off my brain wave. I was just sitting here thinking the SAME THING as I prepare to go back to work from my 3-week vacation (because educators are lazy and all that crap). While I am grateful for a supportive partner in The Cuban I certainly had to actively LOOK for that partner after a divorce from a non-supportive one. Even with all that and my tireless working on things I am still having to give things up that I’d like to do. Why don’t we recognize that having it “all” means that we chose the definition of that “all” to include what we wanted and exclude what we really couldn’t have?

    1. “Why don’t we recognize that having it “all” means that we chose the definition of that “all” to include what we wanted and exclude what we really couldn’t have?”

      YES. THIS.

  4. Are you kidding me, doing it all… I can barely keep up with the laundry, I struggle with my children and keeping them happy and busy every day, I sleep four hours a night, I worry 100% of the time, and I’m looking for a new job. YEAH WHEE MOMS CAN HAVE IT ALL! Maybe in another universe…

    1. *lol* sorry, but this is the truth!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      first, sorry for my english.
      and now, i agree with all these responds and i think Loukia have right, in another universe we moms can have it all! 🙂

      my name is anna, my son fekix is 6 and come to school.
      i have a halftime job, a house and a garden and a new boyfriend.
      My day does not have enough hours for everything, but i want everything in my life.

      so, i wish you all an awesome evening and much fun with your familys.

      Anna from sunny germany

  5. I LOVE you! Thanks for saying what I’m really feeling too. It’s like you read my mind! I don’t want to have it ALL either. I want to have the exact right amount for me and my family.

    However, a unicorn ride might be interesting.:-)

    Thanks for a much needed and fabulous post!!

  6. I don’t know where this “having it all” started, and how it morphed into pinnacle or our lives? I’m feminist, and work full time, I drive manual and had changed the blown tire just the last weekend. And I don’t certainly have it all. Or do everything well.
    Let’s think for a moment at the 50s (or even slightly before, when whole women empowerment started). Lets for a moment imagine that original women empowerment was about making us equal with men. Men that “had it all” at that point were: working full time, mostly 9 to 5 jobs. Coming home to made dinner (or Martini, depending on preference), bathed kids and ordered wardrobes. Is that what means “having it all”??? They were certainly NOT doing everything themselves. And society certainly was not expecting that.

    So lets stop for a moment, and examine: it is not about HAVING IT ALL, but about being able to do ANYTHING you want, without any glass ceilings. If you want to be CEO, go for it. If you want to be PTA leader, go for it. If you want to beautify your neighbourhood and decoupage tape dispenser, go for it. I would even say that today’s society is worse than before. Before you society held judgements for women trying to work. Today, no matter what you pick, you will be judged and somebody somewhere will be preaching to you that you MUST DO IT ALL/different. And that is exactly opposite of feminism.

    1. Great post! I believe another problem is what we girls were told (whether explicitly or implicitly) growing up. For some reason, I really did believe I would have it all. And for me, that meant having the type of lifestyle that I grew up with. What has shocked me the most, I guess, is the lack of choices that I have due to finances. My parents were very well off, and my mom had the choice to work. We had a cleaning service once a week. We lived in a nice house in the suburbs, in a great school district.

      My life feels so different from that. I have to work to pay bills and insure my family. I live in the city, where I am unsure about public schools (daugther is 20 months, so either we move before she starts kindergarten, or she goes to private school. Of course, private school will be cheaper than her current daycare situation).

      I used to love my career, but after my daugther was born, I simply stopped caring, and wish I was home with her. But, this is not feminism or other women holding me down. This is the state of our country today. Where you are lucky to have an employer who allows you to pay for your health insurance. Where two incomes are necessary for many families. Where having a decent middle class life, takes a 6 figure salary.

      But I live in LA – a very stupid decision. Currently, hubby and I are trying to figure out how we can move somewhere cheaper, without going without healthcare or jobs. We hope to have it figured out soon.

    2. Yes yes yes!! Thank you Marija. (Man, you made me use double exclamation points. I never do that.)

  7. Being a working mom means feeling independent, strong, effective, conflicted, guilty, and stressed. By starting my own business after having 4 kids, I created two full-time positions for myself. And I am constantly torn between them. Sure we have it all, but sometimes I think it’s too much for one person to handle.

  8. Oh, I do it all, all right. But I do it all kind of half-assed. I’m a pretty decent parent, I’m a writer and an editor, I make more than half of the money we need to keep our [cough cough] extravagant lifestyle (pizza on Fridays, sometimes!) afloat. I cook and clean and shop, but I cook half-assed and resentfully, clean not nearly as often as the happy gals on the Clorox commercials, and shop either online or in 10 minute sprints through Target. Not nearly often enough, I pay some attention to my patient (thank goodness) husband.

    And I’m good with that. I tell my boys all the time, Mama does the best she can. We don’t have raisin bread? Get over it, have waffles and move along, son.


    1. AMEN. We are sisters in half-assedness.

      I don’t get it all done. But I get a lot done. I laugh a lot. And that’s enough. It has to be.

  9. In the words of Murphy Brown–“You can have it all. Just not at the same time.”
    Great post, Liz. It’s a smart respite from all the online insanity.

  10. I bow down to full-time working moms. I have one child: a 4YO son. And a husband. I “only” work outside the home 3 days a week. Although sometimes I think being a PT working mom is as hard as being a FT working mom since I’m neither a stay-at-home-mom nor full-timer so I’m expected to fulfill both stereotypes. (She’s available for work all the time! She keeps the laundry fresh and clean!) But I also freelance on my “days off.” And then I like to exercise — endurance running. I’m also trying to get the family to eat better (lots of planning and chopping), and we leave for entire weekends for dog shows, and the house looks like a tornado ripped through it, and… I CAN’T KEEP UP!

    I recently turned down a $$ freelance gig. I started running less and doing more 20-minute workout DVDs. The other day my husband asked me if I was “ever” going back to work FT. I used to think I wanted to be IN the ad biz (I’m a copywriter) at a fancy agency working on cool campaigns and wearing $$ suits, etc. But now that I’m about to turn 35, I know that’s not what I want anymore. I want to be able to pick my son up after school and take him to soccer practice. I want him to have friends over to play in the summer. I want him to have a clean house to live in and healthy food to nourish his growing body.

    I HATE work nights — it’s rush, rush, rush to get my little space cadet to bed. I have to break promises. And I have to be mean (WHY do 4YOs stall so much?). I’m tired and cranky because I have to get up early to get to the office (6 hours isn’t enough sleep!), and all (or any) work I’ve put into keeping the house liveable over my four days “off,” completely comes undone.

    Aaaaand breathe.

    Anyway. I don’t know what I’m trying to say here except that I agree with you. And I’m slowly coming to this realization on my own after YEARS of thinking I could have it “all.” I’m okay with this — in fact, it’s a relief to realize I can’t have it all. But I think “the Universe” still thinks we can…including my husband.

  11. I had very mixed feelings about Slaughter’s piece and how she defined “having it all.” I think part of it is because there is a generational difference (I’m on the cusp of Gen Y/young Gen X) and also because of the privilege she and Mayer have. My definition of “having it all” is very different than hers and as a working mom, I’m constantly exhausted and feeling like I do nothing — working or parenting– well enough. But I also feel privileged to be able to make the choices I have made. It’s hard. I’m sitting her at work exhausted because I stayed up too late last night because I needed some quiet time for myself.

  12. I wonder if the women who say they do it all, really understand how little of it they are actually doing. In my mind anyone who goes back to work four hours after giving birth has some pretty messed up priorities. Randomly I take very little stock in what someone says women should do when said women has the money for a housekeeper, chef and nanny. Ahem.

    I miss a lot. Not just because I share custody, but because I work full time. I miss an awfully lot. School field trips, baseball games, dance practices. I missed the first time all three of mine walked. I was working each time. Yes, I try and make up for it later and I also spend as much quality time with my kids as possible. But I have to work full time. Also working in my field means four months of hell during tax season where I work pretty much non-stop. Do you know how many school events happen between January and April 15th? It means my house is always messy. It means we eat out more than we should. It means there are dozens of unread books on my Kindle at any given moment.

    I can’t do it all. I just can’t. It seems like it’s expected, but I suppose I fail at that. I take the most important jobs and I do those to the best of my ability. The one that pays me and the amazing little people who call me mommy. The rest? Well hey who needs it?

    Some days I feel like the feminists went too far. Should women be able to do whatever they want? Yes. But the expectation that women should have full time jobs as well as do everything at home has gotten completely out of hand.

    1. I cannot imagine any feminist that fought for the right to work full time AND do everything at home. I think they fought for the right to have a career, and hoped that their husbands would do half of the work around the house. Who knows. I mean, I’m a feminist, in a pretty equal relationship. We share expenses, we share chores, we share it all. We share the worry that we’re not saving enough for our daughter’s college, that we’re never going to be able to retire, that we’re stuck in a two bedroom condo in the burbs because we can’t afford to move. Life’s not perfect, but the idea that someone would CHOOSE to work full time AND do all of the household chores? Insane. My mom was like you, a single mom. She did her best, and I learned a lot from watching her. How to cook and clean and have a job and make it work, whatever that meant at the time. And by 3rd or 4th grade, we were doing a lot of the cleaning. By high school, we cooked 4 nights a week. You’re doing an amazing job, and your kids will learn that from you. That having a relaxed, happy mother is more important than a freshly mopped floor.

  13. “I started my company when I was pregnant with my first daughter,” [redacted] says, ”and I only stopped running it for the four hours it took me to birth my second, earlier this month.”

    There is just something so messed up about that sentence that I can’t even begin to start dissecting it here.

    1. I want to clarify that I don’t think it’s messed up to feel a pull to get back to work quickly after having a baby. I myself felt a huge rush of energy after the births of my babies and was back to writing within hours. But there’s something in the tone here – it feels like bragging, not only about being back to work IMMEDIATELY but also mention of that FOUR HOUR LABOR (if yours was longer, you obviously aren’t efficient enough). It comes across like “Even birth didn’t slow me down, and it shouldn’t slow you down, either.”

      1. You’re right Meagan, I think that’s what bugged me to. Like it was some sort of contest to be back at work the fastest.

  14. I think there’s something to be said on the WAHM front as well — even though I’m “here” sometimes I’m not present at all — but I hear all the time about how my situation must be perfect. I would love nothing else than to have a space just for work that was relatively kid-free, but that’s not a reality for us right now. I generally hate the pressure put on women, no matter their maternal status, to be some perfect ideal that probably came from some male-scripted sitcom or advice book. I think we need to concentrate on enjoying our lives as they are and having what we do have, to whatever extent, be not only acceptable, but enough. And the only way we’re going to do that is by stopping comparing ourselves to others and just acknowledging whatever works for us and our families is best, and screw what other people say or think.

    1. That is exactly the approach we need to see more often. Yay for article!

      I still remember having one “women networking” session at previous company that had 3 executive VPs talk about their work and such. I was feeling mighty underachieving until someone popped the question of families. Well, it turns out, one is childless, one has stay-at-home husband that took care of their single child and one was explaining how her husband takes the brunt of child care, and that she does, indeed, occasionally regrets missed year end school recitals and presentations and… That was the moment when I realised that they made choices that are right for them, and I made mine, and nobody is underachiever here.

    2. Thank you so much for this Kerrie! Christa and I were actually honored at a luncheon together last year and we only talked briefly but she was terrific. So glad you pointed me towards her piece.

  15. I think we all do the best we can with what we have to work with. I have a child, husband, career, volunteer job, second seasonal job, and a blog that all cut into the time I could be watching “Dance Moms” and eating bon-bons, but you make your choices in life. I still miss the bon-bons sometimes.

  16. I wish I could be the unicorn that you could ride when you need to find the Fantasy Land where all things are good and true and easy. I wish I could assure you that this is finite, that one day your girls will be gone and that you and your partner will have more time for whatever you dream possible. But I can’t, because the whole freaking world is so uncertain. I can only hope that you keep writing, keep connecting with others who need your voice to echo their own. Because we are all in this together. Me, too.

  17. “We need to stop asking women to live up to impossible standards. Because we put enough pressure on ourselves as it is.” That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it? When I see a woman who is generally happy and energized with her life, then that is the woman I would label as “having it all,” whether she be a SAHM or WAHM or working outside the home or whatever.

    It’s not what you do, it’s how you feel about what you do.

  18. I hear ya Liz. Do you remember those scenes in Broadcast News where Jane (Holly Hunter) would break down and sob uncontrollably for a couple minutes? I used to think that was ridiculous (back in 1987 before I had 2 jobs, 2 kids, 2 mortgages.) And now… it’s a very important part of my ability to cope. I have it all (except a piece of my sanity.)

  19. Thank you so much for this blog entry. I too, am in a position to sort of ‘have it all’. I have a 7 month-old and a 3-year old. As one who works in academia, I have much more control over my schedule than my friends in 9-5 desk jobs. But I still struggle with keeping up with all the housework, shopping, cooking and general household management, even though my spouse is a complete hands-on dad and husband. My vision of ‘having it all’ would be having large chunks of time – hours – to just be with my kids, play with them, watch them, get into sandbox with them without wondering what my next task is or which email I forgot to answer. My hope for Marissa Mayer is that she looks into her newborn baby’s eyes and realizes that life is so short and so precious that Yahoo can wait a few hours or weeks. That child will need her. And she doesn’t know it yet, but she will need that child.

  20. We can do it all, and do it all well? Excuse my French, but that’s a crock of ****. The truth of the matter is that no matter how many things we may want to do there is ONE of each of us, and we only have so many hours in the day. And the fact that you manage to dedicate a fraction of that day to “all” the things you want to do doesn’t mean you are doing them well. In fact, if experience serves, if you hold everything on the same priority level you will soon start doing most of them half-assed.

    We all have a lot to do (well, expect maybe Paris Hilton.) And we have to prioritize what most important and try to do that, or those precious few things at the best of our abilities. We can do a lot. But we cannot do it all.

  21. I think it’s only human nature for us to compare ourselves to everyone else. And I know a lot people think you DO do it all, Liz (and the same goes for me too).

    But the truth is “all” is relative. And your all (and mine) isn’t someone else’s. I think that’s what my beef is. Stop putting your “all” ON ME.

    I hope we can all one day realize that we all make sacrifices. Some of which we don’t want to make. Some because we have to. Some because we do want to.

    And there is no “all” we’re trying to achieve. Unless it’s being able to lick all of Ryan Reynolds’ abs.

    I’m ALL up in ALL of that.

    And we can breathe a sigh of relief and say “this is all I can do” and that’s perfectly okay.

    1. Amen mama. I always say I do a lot, but I don’t do it all.

      Talking in absolutes doesn’t usually lead to much good.

  22. What exactly does ALL mean? This debate and the constant talking about “women having it all” is ludicrous; since as you point out–ALL is a big word. No one has it all–not even the person with seemingly everything.

    This idea that there is some ideal or that we can reach this promise land of having it all just contributes to our feelings of inferiority. So often all we see is the shell–it’s like the super skinny (mostly photoshopped) models on magazine covers. They look perfect. But is starving oneself or working out 8 hours a day really “having it all?” The same is said for these celebrities–we only see what they want us to see or their PR staff wants us to see.

    Having it all–doesn’t exist. I have finally decided that I don’t want it all–I want what is best for me and my family. That I’ll make the best choices for me and for my family. That is as much of the ALL as I am going to get and it is all I need.

  23. I’m a huge fan of Ellen Galinsky of the Families & Work Institute, have been for over 20 years. She talks about the impossible standards that seem to have taken hold in our current cultural imagination. It’s like “aspiring” to have a figure like Barbie’s, when Barbie’s figure, if translated to real life, would create a person who couldn’t stand upright. It’s just not real.

    I just have to say that Thalia’s wish for a magical zipline is the most touching thing ever. That love is TOTALLY real, untouchable, immune to perceived parenting “mistakes” or missteps. Our kids love us, imperfections and all. xo

    1. Hm, so many smart people in my life this week keep referencing her. A sign?

      And thank you – I thought that Thalia’s line was the most touching thing ever too.

  24. Yeah I had it all for about two years. The job I was awesome at, the loving supportive, super involved partner and the amazing child who loved her daycare providers and thrived in their daily care. And for the first year it was great. Tiring, but great.

    It took me a year to get to the point where I could even ask myself if I WANTED it all. Turns out I didn’t. I spent another year earning my way out of my job so I could stay home with my daughter and am happier than I ever way working. Because FOR ME, “all” was just too much to enjoy.

  25. Oh, I’m doing it all, alright, but probably not very well. In fact, most of the time I’m pretty dazed and confused, all while maintaining a frizzy hairdo*

    *This is the secret to my success.

    Doing it all well? Now THAT is highly overrated.

  26. I do believe the whole idea that people are owed “it all” is what drove us into a housing crisis a couple of years ago.

  27. I only seem to escape this debate while sleeping, which is rare.


    Here’s my thing, I am no stranger to the ache of failing to do it all and being reminded of it by people, sometimes my kids, sometimes perfect strangers. I completely understand the consequences of my choices, but it’s in the consequence, in the very pain of realizing I cannot do it all, that I am reminded of all that I actually can do. And yes, I often need my supportive partner to kick me in the can and say, “Babe, look around you. Look at the art on the fridge, the tutu hanging from the fan that you told the girls was a fairy chandelier. Our clients. Us,” so that I can see the value of what I do and the positive domino effect of my decisions.

    I don’t want to have it all because I think the moment I did, I’d take every damn bit of it for granted.

    1. That’s so awesome Amanda.

      I love the things I do. I don’t want to be told because I’m not living up to someone else’s standard that that’s not enough. I think it’s the argument both working moms and stay at home moms make, right?

      The supportive partner makes all the difference in the world. Count your (non-demnominational) blessings.

  28. My mom once said to me, “You can have anything you want. You just can’t have everything you want.”

    I can’t be a full time musician and be a full time luthier. I can’t live near my parents and live where I want to. I can’t run my own business and spend all my time traveling.

    But I’ve been lucky enough to be able to make choices that allow me to have many of the things I want. I love my children and my husband and my work. There’s a very “eat your cake and have it too” element to the question around “having it all.” I’m content to eat just some of the cake.

  29. Great post. Part of what makes the quest to “have it all” so harmful is that, somehow, privileged women of today have made having it all equate with having it all fabulously — as if it’s not enough to have a decent job, a comfortable house and a nice family, but we have to have a fantastic job, gorgeous homes, high-achieving children and the 24/7 great marriage. Part of the exhaustion comes from unreasonable expectations, don’t you think?

    1. I don’t know if that’s the expectation – is it? I don’t feel pressure to be rich. Just to do a million things well, all at once. But that could also different by community and peer group.

  30. “All” IS such a very, very big word, for one with so few letters. I’m all for junking any sentence that pairs ‘having it’ with those three letters. All my ‘alls’ are contingent and provisional and contextual and complicated and – end of the day – melt away, for the most part, when confronted by the world-spanning-string wishes of my own small people.

    Also, I love Jen’s comment above about ‘macho mama fairy tales.’ That’s what they are, right?

  31. I think women & mother’s are held to an impossible standard. There is so much pressure out there making us mom’s feel as though we need to be perfect employees, perfect mom’s, perfect cooks, perfect housekeepers, perfect wives, etc., etc. Sadly, I feel that a lot of that pressure comes from other mom’s who brag about having it all, having the best jobs, or the best kids, or the best husbands! Nothing in life is ever that perfect…it’s an impossibility! Why pretend, we’re all in your shoes and don’t believe it for a second!!! : ) I wake up every day confident that although I may not have it all together, my kids will go to bed that night, clean and happy. The house and everything else, can wait until the weekend!

  32. God I’m so tired of being told that we should be able to have it all. But only women get that lecture/pep-talk. No one talks about MEN having it all. Because the reality is there IS NO ALL. It’s impossible to have it all, to do it all, to carry IT ALL, and for some reason, only women are expected to want to, or try.

    NO ONE gets to have it all. Not moms, not dads, not single people, not kids, not anyone. Every single person on this planet has to make choices of what to do with their time and how to allocate it, and the reality is that everyone misses something of importance sometimes and makes choices that sometimes balance in one direction over another. So why do we insist that only moms try (and need) to have it all?

    1. Funny enough, a male friend and former client just said as much on my Facebook page – he’s waiting for the talk about how men can’t have it all either.

      I think the difference is there are still societal pressures on mothers around childrearing and homemaking that men have yet to face.

      1. I guess that’s part of my point. Moms are expected to do the childrearing & the homemaking (and do it with a sweet smile and not a hint of complaint), and so the having it all conversation revolves around “how does a mom deal with childrearing & homemaking AND work (if you want it) and a social life and personal interests.” That, to me, isn’t about having it all, that’s about the cultural expectation of what MOM means.

        Maybe I’m getting caught up in the wording of “having it all” but honestly, it drives me nuts that we use this phrase only for moms, when what we obviously really mean isn’t “how do you have it all” (something that should apply to every person) and instead we mean “how do you do what you’re expected to by society and also like your life?”

        1. Those are great points. I think the derivation of the phrase goes back to first wave feminists talking about having a family and a career which then equaled “all.” As in, I can have what a man has.

  33. All is indeed a very, very big word.

    There was an article that appeared recently in my local paper (though I think it was originally printed somewhere else) that suggested that if women “want it all” then perhaps they need to redefine the meaning of “all.” Mocha made a similar comment above — LOVE the way she worded it though — about recognizing the choices and sacrifices.

    Then I started thinking a bit more, and while I still love Mocha’s comment, I wish we could get rid of phrases like “wanting it all,” “having it all,” and “doing it all.” Rather than “doing it all,” I’d much rather “do what works for me and my family.” And for each person that will be different. And that’s okay. Otherwise, it feels like a competition, a competition that no one really wins.

  34. Oh, man. Thalia’s comment made me weepy in a way that had nothing to do with working moms or doing it all–that wish, to have access, instant and total access, to our loved ones is so powerful. Whether you’re working late or on a vacation without them, or they’re at school or summer camp, wanting to instantly have your mom is a real thing, you know? I still feel that way about my mom and she’s been gone for 7 years now.

    I think this is so interesting, this post and the discussion. I agree that All is a big word and also that it is subjective and relative. I have it All, according to me, but I’m sure I don’t even have HALF of All, according to others’ definitions of the word/concept. To me (only,) All means living the way I choose to live, making the decisions and sacrifices that I’ve chosen to make (and I’ve been privileged and lucky enough to be able to make it work for my family–of this I’m totally aware.)

    But the notion of Having it All translating into Doing Everything and Doing it All Well? I don’t know anyone, mom, dad, childless, ANYONE, who does everything and does it well. Sacrifices, drawbacks, failure, guilt, tradeoffs, etc. factor into everyone’s everyday life.

    Into EVERY life, a little rain is falling. I think anyone who says otherwise is probably selling something.

  35. You know, I just reread my comment and I think it sounds a little flip. I’m sitting here with wet hair, getting ready to go to work (heh) so, I think I wasn’t as thought out and finessed as I’d like to have been.

    I didn’t mean to be flip or judgy. SWEAR.

  36. I think women can do it all and do it all well, IF “all” is within reason. And that means saying no to some things. As women we are hard-wired to nurture and meet needs, and that usually means we don’t turn down opportunities to help or assist anyone and everyone who asks us to do something. In my opinion THAT is the crux of the whole thing, if we can be deliberate enough in our actions to say no once in a while, and to make ourselves MAKE TIME FOR OURSELVES, we can do it all and do it all well. Maybe time for yourself is at the spa, maybe it’s at the beach, maybe it’s on a run, or maybe it’s making yourself nap when your kids do instead of doing dishes/laundry/yardwork or maybe for you it’s taking them somewhere special or working together on a project they’re interested in.

    It’s hard because guilt tends to set in when we choose ourselves over others, especially our kids, but if we can learn to say no once in a while and live deliberately, I know it can be done.

  37. Sometimes I feel like you are in my head. I JUST went back to work a month ago and it is a constant struggle for me to give my best at work and still give my best at home with my kids while they are protesting baths, dinner and anything else I throw their way. It’s what I WANT to be doing, but it’s hard and I’m by no means doing it all and all of it well. I’m just trying to find balance and peace…. that’s as close to “all” as I’ll ever get.

  38. Definition of all-mighty ALL: I have:
    – a job
    – husband
    – two kids
    – roof over my head
    – full fridge
    – full (maybe a tad too full) closet
    – clean air (some smog days, but liveable)
    – tap water
    – free walk anywhere
    – health

    By my account, I’m doing it all, and well too (nobody is cold, hungry or miserable). So running from birthing table to conference call makes me wonder what is the person running from or running to? Doesn’t “doing it all and well” include savouring this exact moment you are in?

    1. Maybe we should all make a mental list of the ‘all’ that we have…

      might help ease some of the guilt when we cant do all of it all the time all at once.

  39. Whenever I get in a funk about being exhausted, or when I get bitter about being too busy, I just try to remember that no one forced my hand. It is my choice to work. (although for some, it’s not) It is my choice to cook real food. It is my choice to be an attentive parent. I feel so, so lucky to have these choices because honestly, I would rather be frazzled and tired than locked out of the workforce. (Also, I’m a pretty crappy housewife so really, it’s better for everyone that I work.)

  40. I really hope that future generations don’t only buy into the Murphy Brown quote “you can have it all but not at the same time” — To me, that implies you have to opt out to focus on kids and then try to get back into the workforce somehow. If younger women believe this, they may stop striving because they feel that having it all is an either/or proposition, i.e. career OR children, not both. To me, that is simply not true. You can be a good parent and good at your job.

    We have created a child-centered parental ideal with graduations for first-graders, elaborate themed parties, gymboree, etc.. as if that type of super involved parenthood is absolutely necessary and anything else is less. No wonder some women think they can’t manage work and family!

    My main problem with the “having it all” is that it’s a very narrow, career-focused definition of “all” and somewhat materialistic — big house, private schools, travel etc.. I have a decent career/job, a supportive spouse, kids, and rent a home. It’s not “all” but it’s enough. BTW, I think neither men nor women ever had it ALL. Back in the day (50s?), men did not see their children as often.

    1. I’m not sure I agree with the materialistic definition of all (as I said below – I don’t feel that kind of pressure, personally) but I think your point about a child-centered parental ideal is absolutely brilliant. For all I joke about Pinterest and how inadequate it makes me feel, I’m also thinking holy cow, there are people who look like they devoted A MONTH to a kid’s second birthday. That she won’t remember!

      I also agree that of course you can have a fulfilling career and a fulfilling family life. But something will give at some point – friends, date nights, PTA involvement, dinner from scratch or, as I keep hearing here, laundry!

  41. I HAVE it all. Well, except for the job outside of the home part. But I’m okay with that. I have ALL I need for me and my family for RIGHT NOW. So yeah, I have it all.

  42. All I can say is…incredible post. 🙂 Having it “all” for me is being a SAHM for 8 years and now back to teaching on a very part-time, flexible basis. Having “it all” is so relative to each one of us, but society seems to just have one standard: ALL in every single sense of the word. Stunning bodies from our 5 hours of workouts each week, beautiful homes, healthy & organic home cooked meals, vacations, parties, lessons, classes, private schools, weekly date nights, new cars, bread winning careers. And we all (at some point) gauge ourselves against these absurd standards and then always feel inadequate. Having it “all” is personal. LOVE your post!

  43. Oh, it makes me tired just to read this. I can’t help but feel our definition of “all” is incredibly warped by how MUCH we see all the time. Everywhere. Facebook: (look who’s travelling! Look what she made for dinner! look who made it to the concert in the park tonight!– Crap, I just vacuumed…kind of. Pinterest: Look how cute! How organized! How crafty! All I did was fold laundry and put it away… kind of.) etc. etc. and on and on forever. There was a time, and there still are places where doing it “all” means getting through the day with clean water and mostly full bellies, out of the elements… Our sense of “all” is on overload….

    1. Wow that’s such a good point. We see lots of people’s alls all at once and suddenly we feel like we’re not measuring up.

  44. Well, first I’d like to say that perhaps an area of Pinterest should be developed for those of us who live in less than fondant-perfection: a vacuumed room! folded laundry! look, clean dishes! Now THAT would be a site I’d pin to. I am struck, as I read through these comments, by the range of choices people have made: look at all the different ways people have figured out how to put together their lives. I think *that* is one of the goals of feminism: multiplicity, possibility, flexibility. But it seems to me that again, as we all list the choices we’ve made in our lives, what’s missing is a sense of how we can work together to create a system that will provide more help for families: equal pay for equal work, school schedules that make sense, corporations that see flex-time as good & not dangerous…the list goes on and on. How do we make “the gubmint” more responsive to the pressures we are all facing, at all demographic stops on the economic ladder?

  45. I do have it all, actually. Every bit of it. It’s all scattered around my house in piles, big and small, that I keep promising my husband I’ll get to…eventually…

  46. Wow, I guess I’m way more underachieving than I thought. I don’t know that “having it all” has ever been in my game plan. Ever. If I can make it most of the way through my “to do”s for the day and I can get in the maximum amount of time with my kids in a day, I think chalk it up as a good day.

    Yes, I’ve had a successful career so far and I’m well paid. But given a choice between that and my family, my family always wins. Truthfully, I like my job but I find myself wishing I could do something else…something more creative and that I could do from home, but reality is, I’m the sole earner in the family and unless that “something else” brings in the same income I’m making now, I have to stay where I am. Less than ideal, yes, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do!

    1. i feel the same way as you alyssa!! i like my job but would love the idea of working from home, and more creatively. but my job and the money i make is necessary.

  47. My idea of having it “all” is having ample time to relax and sit and chill by myself and with my family. I have absolutely no career drive right now, so to go to a business would be so NOT having it all for ME.

    I do think that people can do LOTS of things at the same time. But I don’t think that you can do them all really WELL. At least, not without some really highly paid help.

  48. i’m so thankful i’ve found your blog and all the smart insightful women/mothers i’ve found here. i wish i could give you a hug! i used to love the idea of having it all, i relished those that saw me that way, but on the back end, so much is/was falling apart. i’m finally stepping back and trying to understand that i can’t, and really don’t want to have it all anymore, to put those pieces back together. coming to grips with the things i’d rather scale back on (full time job) i cannot. i feel like i’m in limbo; i don’t feel like i fit in the fast paced corporate world, and i don’t fit into the full time mom world either. it’s taking a long time for me, but in the meantime, this post, all the comments here, make me feel better. i have no one like “me” amongst my friends; it’s hard to relate. some work, some don’t and if they do work it’s still not quite like me. my mom, my sister? very supportive, yet both did not work out of the home full time. a heartfelt thanks to you. i feel a lot less alone now.

    1. Welcome Susie! I know I’m biased, but I happen to think the community here is pretty awesome too. Glad you found us.

  49. I am sometimes mistaken for someone who has it all. I have a “real” job as a freelance copywriter (comme vous), I write other stuff, I do the mom thing, I clean up well. But what people don’t see is how insecure I often feel about my parenting, how frustrated I am with my inability to be more disciplined about writing (see? Here I am on the internets), how cluttered my house is, how flabby my abs are, how impatient and lazy I can be in my parenting, how little we’re saving for our kids’ future college tuition, etc. etc.

    All of which is to say that I think some women who appear to “have it all” don’t, actually. And others who brag about having it all are probably lying. Or are unconsciously depriving themselves or their families of something that’s going to come back and bite them in the tight, toned ass later.

    Anyway. I love this post. I love the Steven Wright and Murphy Brown quotes mentioned above, and love Korinthia’s mom too.

Comments are closed.