It’s the ubiquitous, age-old question that I have avoided answering for years. A cliché offshoot of the feminist movement, “having it all” was another way we yelled I am woman, hear me roar. The reason I avoided the question is because it implies an assumption that there is one universal definition to all women of ”having it all”. And what if I didn’t measure up?
“Having it all” traditionally refers to an unfounded and unrealistic ideal that someone, once upon a time, determined that women can only be truly satisfied if they achieve exactly the same credentials as a man; equal political representation, equal earning power, equal opportunity for professional status, all while running a successful home life with the presumed average 2.5 children, the supposed intention is lovely.
There’s only one problem. We’re not men. We’re wired differently. We naturally have competing priorities, not necessarily one better than the other, just different. There are traditional gender expectations. Among other things, men feel expected to “provide” and women, well, they have a uterus. When it comes to care giving, a woman has been primed by nine months of hormonal accommodation in a way that a man has not.
I resigned from a budding career, that I loved, in fashion merchandising and marketing many years ago to raise my kids and be a doting wife. Knowing my personality and my desire to be busy and feel acknowledged, I had reservations, but I acquiesced. It was the right thing to do. I had kids, I would be the one to take care of them. All the energy that I used to put into crunching numbers, talking to vendors, maximizing sales and schmoozing executives, now went into making dinners from scratch, changing diapers, volunteering at school, and keeping an impeccable house.
But it wasn’t enough.
I became crafty. I frequented the fabric store to make my own pillows or sew up curtains (buying them off the shelf just wouldn’t do.) I refinished furniture, layed bathroom tile, and painted and repainted rooms too many times to count. Still being a chauffeur to kid’s activities, potty training, creating reward charts, and having a freshly prepared meal on the table for my husband and children each night.
Yet, I still felt like something was missing.
I began to plan parties. It started with a baby shower, and then another, then maybe a classroom party or ten. Before I knew it, I was the go-to person that planned neighborhood block parties for over 100 people and class reunions. All the while, I still went to parent- teacher conferences, nursed sick kids back to health, and helped with homework.
It wasn’t until my fourth child was 2, that it dawned on me, the more I stacked on my plate was still not giving me the fulfillment I was looking for. I spent 11 years being everything to everyone, except me.
Five years ago, I started writing. For no one else, but myself. It has been a journey that has taught me more about myself than I would have thought possible. I realized how empty I felt being a stay at home mom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I had the chance. I got to watch them grow and experience things. My kids are kind, sensitive, and respectful and I take credit for that, but I sacrificed a bit of myself in the process. I’ve spent 17 years as an adult trying to have it all and I’ve learned that part of that was figuring out what made me complete, what brought me the right balance of worth, contentment, and reward. What was my “all”?
A woman can be successful professionally, with fancy abbreviations behind her name, come home to a quite house and a cat and that makes her happy- she has it all. Another woman may be a cashier at a gas station and come home each day to a loving, supportive husband and she is satisfied- she has it all. A woman can be a stay at home mom to her three kids, have a husband that loves her and truly makes her happy- she has it all.
Every woman’s definition of having it all is different. Dare a woman challenge the status quo by not wanting children or feeling perfectly content raising children and not working outside of the home! It’s not about having. It’s about being able to try to get it, if we want it, having the opportunity.
Which brings me back to the question: can women have it all? Absolutely. But my “all” may be very different from your “all”. And they’re both right.