Can Women Have It All? No. But Neither Can Men.

Can Women Have It All? No. But Neither Can Men.

You may remember Lori Gottlieb — author of the bestseller, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. I was Lori’s dating coach while she wrote her book and I remain a fan of her writing, which is generally funny, self-aware, and accessible. Her latest article, in The Atlantic, is no different: Why There’s No Such Thing as ‘Having It All’–and There Never Will Be. This piece is a reaction to this week’s Atlantic cover story by Anne-Marie Slaughter, titled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.

I was inclined to write a long response, adding fuel to the fire, but this series of articles has gone so viral that there’s now an entire page dedicated to women’s work/life balance on the Atlantic website.

The one that best describes my thoughts, apart from the Gottlieb piece, was the one written by James Joyner, entitled “Men Can’t Have It All Either”.

To sum up, in short, people do what they want. Not men. Not women. People. If you want to work 70 hours a week, your relationships will suffer. If you want to be there for your children, you have to work less. If you want to achieve great things in your career, you better have a supportive spouse who is willing to somewhat sacrifice his/her career OR have a lot of money to pay for a full-time nanny. As others have already pointed out, these are simply rich people problems. The vast majority of the world doesn’t even have the illusion of “having it all”.

If you want to achieve great things in your career, you better have a supportive spouse who is willing to somewhat sacrifice his/her career OR have a lot of money to pay for a full-time nanny.

As a driven, successful man, I’m thrilled to have a wife who, by her own accord, decided to become a full-time mom after 17 years at her company. She found the calling of motherhood to be more important than her satisfying career and was surprised that she doesn’t even feel the pull for part-time work right now.

She’s equally entitled to her career. This was her choice. If she decided to work again, these would be our choices:

If she went back part time, we’d need a nanny for the 2 days a week she would work.
If she went back full-time, we’d need a full-time nanny/daycare.
And if she were really ambitious, it would fall upon me to work part-time in order to accommodate her travel and 70 hour work weeks.

You either need a ton of money or one partner has to give.

Unfortunately for smart, strong, successful women, there are fewer men who are willing to give up their careers to stay home with the kids. In fact, 78% of men prefer full time work after marriage, while 58% of women prefer part-time work. Not to mention that the men who are content being house-husbands often don’t inspire the attraction of most smart, strong, successful women. At least this is what I’ve heard, ad nauseum, as a coach for successful women.

Which brings us to the reason that these type of articles are still being written: feminists feel they’re getting a raw deal. Because there are fewer men who are willing to work part-time to be more available parents, women feel that they are the ones who have to compromise. This is true – but only if you insist on choosing a man who puts his career first.

Because there are fewer men who are willing to work part-time to be more available parents, women feel that they are the ones who have to compromise. This is true — but only if you insist on choosing a man who puts his career first.

If you – like me – choose a partner who isn’t as ambitious, then you can work full-time and be an available parent. But if you work 70 hours a week and so does your husband, what kind of marriage do you have? What kind of relationship will you have with your kids? That’s right: if NEITHER of you is going to compromise on work, then NEITHER of you is going to have much time with each other and your family.

That’s not the patriarchy speaking. That’s life. Most men want to work full-time. Most women don’t. Ultimately, we’re all equals and you can do whatever you want, as long as you are conscious of your goals, your tradeoffs, and finding a partner who enables your dreams.

What I find interesting is that everyone is focusing solely on the fact that certain ambitious women need to compromise. How about the 58% of women who don’t see working part-time as a compromise – they see it as a luxury. For they have the ability to either work part-time or be a stay-at-home parent without having to support the family – an option that virtually no men have. And you don’t see many men writing articles about how unfair it is that they have to work, do you?

I don’t have a horse in this race; I’m just not a fan of hypocrisy and blind spots. And I think Lori Gottlieb and James Joyner did a good job in punching holes in Slaughter’s original, smart and measured piece.

Read the full article here.

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  1. 1

    I applaud you, Evan that you guys decided to let your wife be a full time mom. There is nothing better for a new born baby than to have his mom available 24/7. Wish more men were as wise.

    1. 1.1
      James Fickling

      How can you blame men’s wisdom for a woman’s decisions? When is your gender going to grow into adulthood and accept responsibility? You should be ashamed of your blatant ignorance! Husbands who don’t “let” their wives do as they please get raped in divorce court and lose their children, we can’t tell you to do anything. Women are in charge, it’s what you fought for, now put on your big girl panties and suck it up.

  2. 2

    I also think Ms Slaughter knew from the very start that she wanted to be at the very top of her profession, and knew that she’d have to compromise terribly on motherhood (time w her kids). She’s pretending that it hurts her but if that was so impossible to live with, she’d have moved to a less demanding job at a less prestigious university. This was a conscious, planned choice.

  3. 3
    Jackie Holness

    Even as a single woman, I know I can’t have it all…If you want to lead a balanced life, it does require balance…

  4. 4

    I would have to agree, if you are both working full time even 40 hours a week, let alone 70 that leaves little to no time to really have a relationship or family time. I can understand both working long hours if your trying to save up money to buy a house for example, but if you have children it’s not good for them to grow up with parents who they rarely see.

  5. 5

    I think you can have it all, just not all at the same time!

  6. 6

    Agreed. And as someone who chooses family and the pursuit of passions first on my priority list, I know that I need to give up an ambitious career – or at least know that I can’t have all of them at the same time. Some people might see women who don’t go full steam ahead on their careers as poor souls who can’t/don’t realize their full potential – but I don’t share that perspective at all. I see myself as a woman who is realizing her full potential in other aspects of life that I personally value *more* than having a fantastic career.

  7. 7

    I don’t think there’s much to argue with here.

    I will just re-emphasize the point: You have to be VERY, VERY sure you want to have kids before you actually have them. They change the whole picture – of your life, of your relationships, of your marriage, of your work.  Don’t leap into it blindly just because you perceive that others are.

  8. 8

    Thanks for the share Evan!   

    These 2 articles are some of my favorites that I’ve ever read…  

    Slaughter’s and Lori’s take on this whole “You can have it all” mentality deal directly with the men and women from my generation (mid 20s).

    It’s refreshing to hear from someone who’s been there…done that and see how it’s worked out (or not) for them.

    I now have  an even stronger incentive to “make it big” as soon as I can so that I’d have more time with my family by the time I settle down.  

    And I have a quick question for you and your wife:

    When she was still building her career in her 20s, did she ever think “When I have a child, I will be a full-time mom?”

    Or did she realize how important family is to her AFTER she had your child?

  9. 9
    David T

    @John 4 if you are both working full time even 40 hours a week, let alone 70 that leaves little to no time to really have a relationship or family time.
    I disagree. I have seen couples with both parents working full time outside the home with fulfilling marriages and giving the kids enough attention. Of course you have less relationship and family time than if only one works, but you can still have a very fulfilling home life. My bro and sis-in-law did this: he went in early and came home early to be with the kids and made dinner.   She sees them off to school in the morning and comes home in time for dinner.   Every 6 months or so they swapped.   They made alone time for just them a schedule priority. They hired sitters sometimes.
    The first few years of a child’s life are trickier, true, but by elementary school age, this is not the case. In the example above, they did choose to have their first child in day care from what I considered a depressingly young age, and hired a 20-30 hour/week for a couple of years while both kids were preschool for a couple of years. Those were their choices and it worked for them. It can be done.

  10. 10

    You can’t have it all, not all at the same time, as Ms Slaughter’s article indicates. Even after she earned tenure, she continued to work as hard because there were opportunities for further advancement. If she had not kept climbing she would have stalled her career and not been able to get back on the ladder.  

    @Helen, this is why we should stop talking about having it all. Not possible

  11. 11

    can anyone have it all? depends on what ”it all” is.   I know couples who are more than happy with a 70 hour work week and kids in daycare. others who struggle on minimum wage – but happily – in order to spend more time with family. others where the Dad is primary care giver. And others, single parents who are doing a little of everything.   If you asked them they would all say there were highs and lows, pluses and minuses however most would say they are CONTENT even if they didn’t have ”it all”.  

  12. 12

    David T: your brother’s family sounds super-organized.

    Daphne and Susan: exactly. Not only can we not have it all, I would argue that we don’t really WANT it all. I totally agree with Daphne 2.   I think Ms Slaughter was  perfectly aware of the choices she was making.   She just  feels as though she SHOULD be ashamed that she chose  to pursue career over extensive family time.   A lot of us  career women are made to feel that way.    

    As a career woman, I want to put my foot in and say that there is nothing wrong with pursuing one’s career. I love my children and would put them first if it came to an all-or-nothing choice, but! – On a day-to-day basis, I do enjoy  “work” better than kid activities.  My work is enormously stimulating and rewarding, my colleagues are excellent, and I get a rush from what I do every single day, even though I’ve been working in this area for over a decade. In contrast, I really don’t enjoy kid activities. I don’t enjoy chauffeuring them to multiple activities, don’t enjoy kid parties, don’t enjoy taking them to playgrounds, don’t enjoy having to coordinate being in multiple places at multiple times because each child has their own playdate, meeting, game, etc. Sorry – I’m just being honest here. And this is just the tip of the iceberg; I’m so glad that the youngest is long out of diapers now and that the oldest is so far a reasonable tween.

    I think these types of articles wouldn’t  even be written if we mothers would be honest and stop acting ashamed  for not wanting and doing everything. I don’t see any fathers throwing themselves into a tizzy because they aren’t serving on the PTO. I do see my female colleagues doing that.  Some fathers want to be more involved in kid activities; some mothers want to be more career-oriented. There’s space for all kinds. Be yourself. Don’t feel as though you need to apologize to the world for your choices and preferences. It’s no one else’s business. You make it easier for others by choosing what you want and allowing others to do the same.

  13. 13

    I agree with you.   I don’t know why women who work feel like they need to keep up with the women who don’t and who run the PTO, and I don’t know why they can’t let go and let those women do it.
    Leave the cookie baking to people who don’t have to show up in court, or at an office, or a hospital for their jobs.
    At any rate, I also think that when these women wind up middle-aged and divorced and unable to support themselves b/c they made the “noble” choice, I don’t really want to hear about it either.   You’re taking a big chance putting your financial future in someone else’s hands, b/c it relies upon their fortunes and health remaining intact in addition to their feelings towards you.
    So it might be great to stay at home if your husband can support you well, but you know, a lot of those men lose the urge to pay your bills after a divorce. And if I had a house husband and divorced him I wouldn’t want to pay his bills either.
    And I don’t think I could ever forget that (or the fates of women who are widowed and also unable to support themselves b/c they’ve been out of work for too long).   
    But for sure, choose what you want.   I just people didn’t just always paint it as if the people who choose the opposite of them are bad or selfish or lazy or whatever.   

  14. 14

    Sometimes very financially successful women and career driven women forget that everyone’s idea of “it all” is different. Some tend to look down their noses at women who forge a different path. As if that woman is somehow doing herself and all women a disservice. Like she’s missing out on something.  

    The thought of working a 70 hour week makes me want to run away screaming. Even 40 hours is too much for me and I do not do it. Even though I have a career I love. I wouldn’t love it very long if I had to do it that much.

    Said it in the comments on the blog about women missing out on funding for startups…My family will be my priority and i’ll be financially comfortable and that is ALL I want. Life is too short for me to spend it working my ass off.   I’d much rather be experiencing it with those I love.  

    I own a home that pays for itself, own a nice sporty little car outright, have a wonderful extended family and a couple really good friends. I had a husband but that didn’t work out although I have found a super guy who I love and loves me. I travel to beautiful and fun places…Once I get to the point of having kids I WILL have it all. The more I think about it the more I realize it must be terribly unfulfilling to have an idea of “it all” that is completely impossible to achieve.

    I also realize now why niether article really spoke to me. Because I CAN have it all. Everything I really want. Just not everything that everyone else seems to want. I wont even make an attempt at it.

  15. 15

    Interestingly, even those of us who don’t have children are not unaffected by this whole “home vs career” issue…. I m often asked WHY I don’t have children, as though I have somehow made an odd (not to say highly suspect) choice, and get the feeling some people automatically brqand me some sort of hard-nosed career woman because I haven’t reproduced. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth – although at 47 I now have a high paying job, I’ve never been madly interested in having a “career” as such – I don’t even consider that I have  a “career”, more just a succession of varied jobs that have happened to land me where I am. Career aspirations were never a factor in my not having children, although a long period of job instability in my 30 probably played a part. Now that I am divorced, I do try to pay more attention to my career prospects – what choice do I have??! but I am often made to feel uncomfortable for being a childless divorced person, like there is something not quite right about me, and my situation must be the result of having the   wrong priorities… Basically, life just happens, and you just have to handle what comes along as best you can.

  16. 16

    EMK wrote: “Most men want to work full-time. Most women don’t.”
    I pretty much agree with your post except for this statement. Maybe I’m partly basing this on the people I know, but most of my friends with kids, whether married or single, want to work full-time, and all of my friends without kids, whether married or single, do also. The problem is that many women who do work full-time are also responsible for the lion’s share of child-rearing duties and house-hold chores for their entire family, which means that they are actually working MORE than 40 hours a week. Most people, regardless of gender, do not enjoy working that much. Perhaps what they are doing isn’t really considered work or even that important, and is still considered “women’s work.”

    1. 16.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      @Ruby – I quoted that from a study. It’s not my opinion. Thus you can’t disagree with it. I mean you can disagree with it, you’d just be disagreeing with a fact.

      Most of what I do is based on observing what the majority of people want and telling others to adjust accordingly.

      So, to repeat myself, I didn’t say that women aren’t entitled to do everything that men do. I said that the vast majority of men want to work full time and 58% of women don’t. As such, there are more men who can find women who are willing to sacrifice their careers to spend more time with family than women who can find men who are willing to do the same. And sure enough, real life backs up this observation.

  17. 17

    EMK #17
    I actually found the study and read that paragraph. It says that “…married mothers are especially likely to prefer part-time work (58%)”. Something about your wording implies to me a much larger number of all women, however.
    Only 59% of women are actually married when they have kids. 47% of women aged 15-44 don’t have kids at all. One in five women today remain childless. And many married women (haven’t found that percentage yet) don’t have kids. So 58% of married women with children would prefer to work part-time, but that is not such a large percentage of all women. Most women don’t have the luxury of not having to work.

    1. 17.1

      Sheesh. His interpretation of the facts is accurate. Let it go.

    2. 17.2

      Figures don’t change it a lot.
      At least not in my country.
      They just spend time with other family members and friends.
      Work-life balance not work-kids balance.

  18. 18

    What’s wrong with a society, where to have a successful career meaning to work 70hours per week? what is wrong in a society, where one should choose between career and children?

  19. 19

    Ruby: good points. Let’s assume that of all women, 40% are both married and have children under age 18 (this seems like a pretty reasonable assumption). Then 58% of 40% is about 23% of all women.   It is less than a quarter of all women.   Not really a big proportion when you consider it.  

    Of course, I’m sure some of the remaining 77% also prefer to work part-time, but in any case that 58% statistic can’t be used to make broad sweeping statements about which gender should do more of the child care.

    1. 19.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      @Ruby and @Helen – you guys are going way off topic here.

      This post was about having it all – specifically, having the time and desire to be a great full-time employee and a great mom. If you don’t want to work that hard, fine. If you don’t want kids, fine. If your kids are older, fine. None of that was what Slaughter was talking about.

      I pointed out that 78% of fathers want to work full-time – which explains why it’s harder for women to find men who want to help out at home. And until more men want to work part-time – and women start respecting those men as men respect part-time women – it’s pretty much impossible for Helen’s 23% to “have it all”.

      Those 23% of women are the only ones who are trying to have it all in the sense that the Slaughter and Gottlieb articles were discussing.

  20. 20

    “until more men want to work part-time — and women start respecting those men as men respect part-time women — it’s pretty much impossible for Helen’s 23% to “have it all”.” Regardless of the numbers, Evan has an excellent point here. The pressure to be the main breadwinner is still present for many men. And furthermore, men who have modest salaries and more frugal lifestyles are often skipped over or seriously questioned as long term partners. As I said on another thread here, it’s really damaging to judge people primarily in terms of their net worth or earning potential.
    Personally, I think American society isn’t set up for the vast majority of people to “have it all” in the sense Slaughter + Gottlieb are talking about. The middle class is rapidly disappearing, and more and more of us are working not for luxuries, but to make ends meet. We also as a whole have highly inflated “needs” lists, and think that being successful is mostly about accumulating the most stuff, having the biggest house and newest car, and generally working too much in order to have money that we end up burning on things that don’t make us happy. In other words, many have the wrong ideas about “success,” and they’re chasing those ideas in an economy that breeds that kind of success for fewer and fewer people.

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