Can we “have it all?” If we make a plan, stay focused, anything is possible. Women run the world, right? It might not be so simple. Norah O’Donnell claims the term “have it all” feeds an elitist nature. When I look over my life and what I have or have not accomplished and the sacrifices I made (or did not make), I tend to agree. For women to have a powerful career, a thriving family, the white picket fence, and two dogs, sacrifices must be made, and help must be enlisted.
Some women are fortunate enough to marry a partner who will spend equal amounts of time (if not more) taking care of the household and the children. According to the Women’s Leadership Initiative, the majority of society still wants to view the man as the primary breadwinner of the family. This can be a battle in any partnership. On top of the societal pressures, a 2013 study reported men who engaged in chores traditionally referred to as ‘women’s work’ were less likely to have sex. Sheryl Sandberg said it best in her commencement speech at Barnard, “The most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is. If you pick someone who’s willing to share the burdens and the joys of your personal life, you’re going to go further.” One study found the odds of divorce were highest when wives contributed 50-75% of the household income. What happens if your partnership dissolves?
Other women have enlisted the help of family. I certainly used this option. I started from the bottom when I went back to work and could not afford outside childcare. If it were not for my retired parents, I never would have had a career. Although some women can afford outside childcare, there’s still the sacrifice of the time spent with your family. To move your career forward, sacrifices at home have to be made. This includes your family, your social life, and your self-care. You will miss field trips, dinner time, ball games, vacations, spa days, hair washing (your child’s and your own), root touch-ups, and movie nights.
When your career is on track is the point where you realize that help must be enlisted to stay on top of things. Everything has to be managed with military precision, or it will fall through the cracks. Your boss and your employees are depending on you. Your spouse and your children are depending on you. Does your partner have control of your home life so that you can focus on your career? Will your partnership survive the pressure? Can you afford to hire outside help to manage some of the trivial things?
So far I have been writing from the point of view that you have a partner and a family. What if you’re young and single, just starting out? When you’re young, you will focus on your career. You will establish that before you have children, so you can afford the help you know you will desperately need when they arrive. When will you have time to find a partner and make a family together? Maybe you will meet your partner at the office. According to Career Builder, 39% of workers have reported dating a co-worker. However, dating a co-worker can make you the target of office gossip. Co-workers will question your loyalty to them or your romantic partner. If you date a superior, you will certainly be suspected for using the relationship to get ahead.
The most important piece in “having it all” is the maternal instinct that kicks in after the children arrive. The Pew Research Center reports that 10% of highly educated women choose to stay at home after the baby is born. The maternal instinct is much stronger than many women expect, it certainly was for me. I stayed at home until my son was three. Some women don’t return to work at all. The mommy guilt is strong in both cases. I felt guilty for not spending time with my family and the resentment I built up against my husband for not being as ambitious as I was. Other women feel guilty for not setting an example for their children or for letting their ambitions go.
For some women having it all stops with the family. To these women, a family is all they ever wanted. These women choose to stay at home and take care of their husbands and children. A lot of these SAHM’s run mommy blogs, do MLM sales, or other entrepreneurial endeavors. While living on one income can be feasible, it is often tight. If women choose to forgo any income at all they must sacrifice their time to cut any and every corner necessary to make ends meet. They clip coupons; they barter for services, they spend their time doing things themselves because hiring someone isn’t an option. Not only do they sacrifice their time, but they also sacrifice adult interaction. I can confirm how soul-crushing this one piece of the puzzle can be. I was a SAHM until my son was three. When my husband came home from work, I was so hyped to talk to an adult that I annoyed him. I never gave him a moment to decompress. I also had nothing to say that was even remotely of interest; I had been at home folding laundry, changing diapers, and clipping coupons. According to the American Journal of Sociology marriages in which there is a sole breadwinner get divorced at a rate 14% above average, the highest of any income split. I am not surprised my first marriage didn’t survive.
Can we “have it all?” I think we can, but…we have to decide as individuals what this means. I think Jacqueline Miller said it best in this HuffPost piece, “Define what it means for you and then live by that. Don’t worry about what “having it all” means for someone else. Focus on you.” We will never be able to create the perfect life plan. There will be unforeseeable events along the way. Course corrections will be necessary. Life happens, I am living proof of this. My version of “having it all” has changed several times over the course of my life. I had my life plan in place; I was working towards having it all and then this happened. I am currently working on my newest version of “having it all” and I make no apologies for what that looks like to me. For me, I will “have it all”, just not at the same time. What’s your version of “having it all?” Share below in the comments and keep the conversation going.
Photos by: Sherika Mathis Sims