I have to admit a gripe. I am tired of being force-fed the notion that as mothers we should be superwomen. That is the ideal set before us. The notion that “You can – and should – have it all! A thriving career! Well-adjusted, high-achieving children and a doting husband! A beautiful home with all the latest!”
I have five lovely daughters. And this is what I’m supposed to tell them? You can (and should) do anything you want. You really don’t need anyone. If you have kids one day, you deserve inexpensive childcare so that you can still pursue your dreams…while at the same time managing your home, serving nutritious meals, and attending concerts, sports events and dentist appointments. You can do it all, and you deserve to have it all.’
Now, I am all for equality in women’s rights. I love it that my daughters are fortunate enough to be born and raised in a country that abounds with limitless opportunity. But could it be that what began as a noble push for female equality in so many ways has ballooned into something ugly – a narcissistic, hyper-individualized and unrealistic mindset among our girls? And that the promised “all” may not include happiness?
It seems that the message we so often hear in the ‘all-powerful girl’ narrative is one that is conspicuously missing a few vital elements. Never mind the superwomen that make Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. They are like anorexic supermodels – not likely to be found on your street. My personal chances of making that list are slim indeed. I’m talking about the majority of women struggling to balance work and family life. The ones who are stressed out trying to figure out how to get to school on time to pick up their kids. The ones who are lucky if they can catch 15 minutes of down-time during the day. The ones who suffer from perma-guilt for feeling that both their families and their career goals are being short-changed. This is not the ideal that I dream of for my daughters.
The UK’s Daily Mail, back in 2011, reported that “Depression in women doubles since the 1970s as they ‘try to have it all’…. Scientists say that the strain of trying to cope with having a family and pursuing a career is leaving women with a ‘tremendous burden.’” Right. This is preaching to the choir to many, if not most women who are in the midst of the juggle. CNN followed up last year with a blunt “You can’t have it all.” http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/19/opinions/rushkoff-slaughter-having-it-all/
I’m not advocating a return to the 1950’s. Here we are in 2016 and we should appreciate and take advantage of the many hard-won freedoms and opportunities before us.
But the ‘have it all’ message is seriously incomplete. The ‘cost’ of a happy and healthy family is missing in the equation – I mean our daughters’ own future families. There is no thriving brood of kids and stable marriage without some personal sacrifice – often a lot of personal sacrifice. Life can quickly become messy and derail plans. Something usually has to give. And that’s ok. Before our daughters get too far along their career paths, they could find themselves staring into the beautiful, life-changing eyes of a newborn. They will discover that being a parent is a demanding, full-time job. And that it’s impossible to be two places at once – in mind or body. The question of priorities will glare at them.
What’s missing from the ‘have it all’ message is also the truth that children are a sacred trust and that they are best cared for, if possible, by their parents, because no one else will love them as much. That they are worth spending our very precious time and energy on.
There are some women who seem to have wide open and uncluttered paths to pursue career dreams while enjoying a stable family. Those who have smallish families and supportive husbands with flexible schedules; who have financial comfort and the support of extended family, especially with childcare.
But for many, one or more of these elements are missing. Especially for mothers of larger families, the infant/toddler stage of life can last for many years. And it is practically impossible for these children not to put a major crimp in a young woman’s career aspirations.
So what will I tell my daughters? Live life fully, girls. Be grateful for the many opportunities before you as bright, capable young women, and confidently grasp those opportunities. Explore your talents and abilities. Dream big and shoot high – but place your dreams and career aspirations within the greater context of your future family, and the even greater context of God’s will for you. You can ‘have it all’, but maybe not all at the same time.
Don’t become guilt-ridden and depressed over the different track your personal aspirations may take when family demands become greater than expected. Ignore the condescending glances of those around you who feel that you are ‘missing out’ and that your abilities are being ‘wasted’ if you choose to stay home and care for your children. Careers can often shift to part-time or work-from-home arrangements, or be suspended, and then picked up at a later date.
So girls, can you have it all? Yes, probably. But if and when you reach that time in life that you see love and family coming your way, remember that it is no longer only about you. Keep your priorities – God, family, personal career goals – in mind even as you plan for the future. My wish for you is that you flourish in every area. So that at the end of a hopefully long and abundant life, you will look back and know that you put love first.