A recent article by Ann-Marie Slaughter in Atlantic magazine received more than a million hits and has women talking again about the old feminist mantra of “having it all.”
Slaughter, the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, tells of an evening when she was having a hard time enjoying a high-level Washington social event because she felt she should be with one of her teenage sons who needed her that night.
She writes: “As the evening wore on, I ran into a colleague who held a senior position in the White House. She has two sons exactly my sons’ ages, but she had chosen to move them from California to D.C. when she got her job, which meant her husband commuted back to California regularly. I told her how difficult I was finding it to be away from my son when he clearly needed me. Then I said, 'When this is over, I’m going to write an op-ed titled ‘Women Can’t Have It All.’”
She finally did write that article, and it questions whether the goal of “having it all” is a disservice to younger women who try to do the impossible by devoting themselves completely to their careers and, at the same time, to their children and families.
She concludes that perhaps the only way a mother can have it all is if she has her own company or is her own boss and can decide where to spend her time or mental energy on any given day.
As you read the article, you can tell that Ms. Slaughter, while admirably trying to prioritize her family, still defines herself largely by her professional accomplishments. After leaving her government post to have more time for her kids, she feels compelled to clarify, “I have not exactly left the ranks of full-time career women: I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book.”
Why have we gotten to a place in this country where we define ourselves so much in terms of our careers and our professional achievements? Is that really the best way to measure our lives or our success? Is everything else — our families, our personal relationships, and even our faith and inner peace — secondary to our jobs? Should we define ourselves by our careers and our achievements or by our relationships and our families? Should our families and our lifestyles be designed to support our careers or is it the other way around, with our professions and our jobs supporting our families?
C.S. Lewis knew the answer. He said: “The homemaker is the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose, and that is to support the ultimate career.”
Clayton Christensen knows the answer. In his new book “How Will You Measure Your Life?” he concludes that work and profession are the support mechanism for a life prioritized by faith and family.
Perhaps the essential mistake of the mantra “have it all” is that it implies that the individual is the essential element and that it is individuals who have to have it all.
How much the equation changes if we think of families as the basic unit or entity rather than individuals!
The simple fact is that it is much more feasible for a family to have it all than for an individual to have it all.
A married couple and a family can divide up responsibilities and share priorities and legitimately try to have it all both in their “inner” family relationships and in their “outer” careers and professions. If one parent decides to stay at home and play the lead role in parenting and the other to devote him or herself to career, a wonderful kind of specialized synergy can result. If both parents work, they can, to some extent, adjust schedules or leaves of absence or jobs themselves to accommodate the top priority of kids and family.
Bottom line: If you want to “have it all,” your best chance is to pursue it as a family!
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Read Linda's blog at www.deseretnews.com/blog/81/A-World-of-Good.html and visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com.