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. 21

    EMK and nathan: the 23% represented an estimate of proportion of married women with children who want to work part-time. So no, this isn’t the proportion of women who want it all (because clearly they’re not having “it all” in terms of career), nor are they expecting their men to work part-time.   But anyway.

    The pressure for women to be domestic is just as strong as the pressure for men to be the main breadwinner. BOTH stereotypes and expectations should weaken substantially  in the coming years – at least, that is what I hope, unless we regress.  

    nathan: even after adjusting for inflation, American households  have on average much more discretionary monies than they did just a few decades ago; so if anything, the middle class is expanding. Does that make us happier, though? That is not so clear-cut.  At least part of the reason for increased spending money is increasing numbers of women entering the workforce. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me at least, I’m  much happier working than being a stay-at-home wife and mother. And for other women who enjoy work, I’d say our segment of society is much happier now than we would have been a few decades ago, forced through multiple pressures to give up work and stay home. I can’t say for other segments of society, though – men, women who want to stay home, etc.

  2. 22
    Barentt | LoveHack

    It is only natural for a man to want to take the lead and be the ‘bread winner’, for this written in the bible (1 Timothy 5:8) as  a requirement to be husband.
    And I’d rather struggle to make ends meet than compromise with having to work more and spending time with my family…

    It is sad  how making money and the illusion of ‘having it all’ is an often unnoticed  disability  in many families today.

  3. 23

    There’s some book out now, that I was skimming in the bookstore, about how this idea that the 20s are a time to do whatever you want, and that 30 is the new 20, is really damaging to people. Basically, people  don’t understand  that a failure to plan when younger means they’ll be trying to do a bunch of things in a very narrow period of time later on, like go to law school, find a husband, have a kid … Then, there are the women who are unbelievably foolish (no offense, a lot of the types that are Evan’s clients or post here) in that they are in their mid-30s and want marriage and kids, but are still chasing bad boys, or passed up great relationship opportunities when they were younger, or focused on their career to the exclusion of dates, and then find themselves facing much slimmer odds of being able to have a child when they’re close to 40, if they can even get a guy.

    Plus, I get the sense that a lot of really  career-driven women aren’t TRULY interested in being maternal and raising children, but having kids is something on their checklist. So that’s another reason they find themselves run ragged trying to “have it all” – do they even WANT it all, or do they just think they’re supposed to?

    I think even if a single woman under 30 isn’t sure she wants to be the 100 percent career woman, or try to juggle that and kids, or whatever, she should still date around as though she were looking for an ltr (not  carelessly discarding good men, not chasing chemistry and looks),  so that she’s at least exercising some options. Maybe she’ll decide eventually that that life is not for her, but you don’t really know unless you spend your 20s dedicated to your career AND regularly going on dates with men to get a sense of what’s going to work for you in your 30s when these “have it all” issues really intensify.

  4. 24
    David T

    “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”

  5. 25

    Barentt, that passage in I Timothy refers to anyone of either sex, not just men. And it is an exhortation to care for needy relatives. The Bible never discourages women from working and providing for their families. Take a look at Proverbs 31.

  6. 26

    Evan: This post was about having it all — specifically, having the time and desire to be a great full-time employee and a great mom

    You CAN have it all if you ignore somebody else’s idea of what “being a great mom” means. And, for that matter, what having “a great career” means too. Who said you can’t be a great mom unless you drive your kids to 5 playdates a week in addition to so called “soccer”, “ballet” and other such activities, or change their dipers 10 times a day? Who says you can’t have a great career unless you spend 70 hrs a week in the office? This is nonsense.    

  7. 27

    @ Helen, I’m kind of in the middle on this. I like what I do; work was a great creative outlet when the kids were very young; but I really, REALLY dislike having to work crazy long hours so I never see my family, or being on call 24×7 so I cannot dedicate my nights and weekends to my family, etc. Besides, I have hobbies outside of work. I definitely like working outside of home, but only to a certain level. If my job demands start to exceed that level, I change jobs. But I agree with you that it is more about applying your talents than it is (as is often the assumption) about making money. I wish people would stop saying that the only reason a woman works outside of home is because she needs my shoes or a bigger TV. We are people too, with brains, that we don’t mind putting to good use.
    Re the original article, there’s a point I wanted to make and that is — very few people (men or women) have Mrs. Slaughter’s skills, drive, and energy. What she is writing about does not even apply to most of us. It’s not like, if you let one mother work for Hillary Clinton, all others will do the same — personally I wouldn’t want a demanding job like that, nor am I capable of doing it! She is an exception. And I agree with Helen that she should not be beating herself up for not being a generic, suburban mom — she doesn’t have to be one. Her sons look pretty happy and well-adjusted in the photos, and I am sure they can manage themselves really well on their own — after all, they’ve got the genes for that.
    Another thing I wanted to bring up — in my opinion, for a driven, energetic woman like Mrs.Slaughter, or one of the company CEOs that we discussed a few posts back, having a woman like that dedicate most of her time and energy to her children, in many cases, will be bad for the children. How do I know? Because my Mom was that woman. Back in her time and geographical location, she couldn’t have a high-powered career, but she did really well compared to other mothers around her. At home however, my mom was a helicopter parent before that term was even invented. She never got home before 5:30 and she still micromanaged me every step of the way. If she stayed at home, or worked part-time, I swear I wouldn’t have made it out with my sanity intact! The way I see it, if you have a laid-back woman of slightly-above-average abilities like myself stay at home with kids, she’ll spend some time with the kids, some time on her hobbies, and have fun along the way. If you make a perfectionist, hard-working, CEO stay home with kids, she’ll approach her kids as if they are her new job, with the same dedication and the same intense demands of immaculate performance. She will run these poor kids into the ground. So I’m saying, live and let live. There’s one type of family that works best for me, another for a stay-at-home mom next door, yet another for Mrs.Slaughter or a startup CEO. What works for me, would not work for them, and vice versa. Why do we think that everyone has to fit into the same mold?
    So, no, you can’t “have it all”, if by “having it all” you mean being yourself and at the same time being the kind of suburban mother that gets the approval of her neighbors. Good news, you do not need to, “have it all” in this sense. Who gives a rat’s ass about what your neighbors think of how you run your family?!
    One last thing — I believe the large percentage of American women wanting to stay at home or work part-time, is cultural. That’s what they are used to seeing around them, growing up. They were raised to think that a stay-at-home mom is normal, and a working mother, a deviation. This was not the case in my home country. My mother and grandmother both worked full-time (grandmother, after her husband’s death, worked several jobs), as did everyone else around them. To work or not to work, wasn’t even up for discussion. Then again, we had long maternity leaves and cheap government-subsidized daycare, something that’s sorely missing around here. If I were given a choice between leaving my job and putting a six-week old baby in a daycare center, I honestly don’t know what I would do, it’s pretty brutal! I think the short maternity leaves, expensive daycare, etc all reflect the fact that it is still not socially acceptable for mothers to work outside of home in the US. Very sad.

  8. 28

    Helen, about the middle class. 50 million + Americans are currently without health insurance. Hard to know what will truly happen with the ACA now that the Supreme Court has decided, but that’s just the uninsured. It doesn’t include the millions with lousy coverage. Over 1.5 million Americans declared bankruptcy in 2011, the majority due to an inability to pay medical bills. Between 2007 and 2010, nearly 3 million homes were repossessed by banks. The reported national unemployment rate is 8.2 %, and hovers near 11% in states like California and Nevada. You can easily add 2-3% to those numbers, given that many aren’t in the system, but are still out of work. The average student debt for a 2011 grad: $25,000. I could go on, but as far as I’m concerned, that discretionary income average is really top heavy.  

  9. 29

    @ Mia #
    “Plus, I get the sense that a lot of really  career-driven women aren’t TRULY interested in being maternal and raising children, but having kids is something on their checklist.”
    Yep. This is exactly what my mom told me once. She had me because she felt she was supposed to have a kid. Then she refused to have anymore kids because she felt more than one child would have been bad for her career. I’m totally cool with it, hey my oldest was a surprise baby, so who am I to judge. Just writing this to confirm that you’re 100% correct on this one.
    My opinion, if a woman makes a huge difference by what she does, more power to her. If I’d never had kids and thrown myself into my job, probably the most I would’ve achieved is raise some corporation’s stock price by a couple dollars for a couple weeks — not worth it. If, on the other hand, I had the potential to cure cancer or solve world hunger, I’d probably have approached my family-career balance differently.

  10. 30

    @stacy- you kind of have to change diapers when they need to be changed, bit aside from that I agree! My career in nursing is very fulfilling and I consider myself successful. I work 25 hrs a week. Like I said before I will and do have everything I want. I get that this is about having “it all” but if we start to take that in the literal sense it just gets even more ludicrous! what do these people want?? The high paying, and apparently ridiculously demanding career, spouse, kids, mansion, their own business, to author a book, extensive travel, their own tv show, a ferrari, a boat, an airplane, a private island, a perfect face/body, recognition as an artist, a castle, the ENTIRE WORLD? I mean…C’mon!! Of course no one can have “it all”. Some people can’t even meet their own basic needs.  


  11. 31

    Goldie 29: not surprisingly, I agree with all your points. Especially the point that many women ARE driven to follow challenges and passions, just as men are (just as humans are, really); and forcing her to stay at home will only make her turn her energies onto her children, with possible negative results.
    Mia 25: I think it would do you (and the author of the book you mention) good to be a little easier on other people. People can plan all they want in their 20s, yet that still won’t guarantee them everything they want or expect. LIFE HAPPENS. I’m sure you know the saying “Sh_t happens.” It’s so true, despite the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Of course, not just sh_t happens in life; many good things happen as well.   The point is that we can’t control them, most of the time. Personally I’ve seen no evidence that those who carefully plan in their 20s have better outcomes a decade or two later than those who take their 20s to explore and allow serendipity.
    And I wouldn’t call those who aren’t married in their mid-30s “unbelievably foolish.” Relationships are one of those areas in which you really can’t plan and organize down to the last letter, I’m afraid to say. You can improve your odds, as Evan tries to teach others to do, but in the end, so much of it boils down to sheer dumb luck. Understanding these things – and living a little longer – may help you to go a little easier on others.

  12. 32

    @ Helene:

    Being a childless divorced woman myself, I get that often.   People think (or assume) that I want a high pressure, hot career and nothing else.   Nothing could be further from the truth.   I’ve dated men who were always so busy with work, or were gone alot because of being military contractors sent overseas to war zones, and I learned that all that money, wasn’t worth it to me.   I didn’t like not having a guy around.

    Also, having worked in the healthcare field for most of my adult life, I often get, “Oh man, you should marry a doctor!”   Ummmmm….no.   People don’t realize that doctors work INSANE hours and often sacrifice family, couple, and alone time to take care of patients, and work.   Sure, doctors here in the US make a good deal of money, but to me, the other drawbacks aren’t worth it to me.

    Like EMK said, people will do what they want to do.   And I don’t want to marry some workaholic who won’t pay attention to me.   Heck, I used to even just bypass a guy’s profile when he’d mention that he was “very busy and didn’t have a whole lot of free time.”   Next!   If he doesn’t have much time now, he won’t have much time for me in a relationship, so why bother.   People can want to work crazy hours, have a crazy career, etc. etc.   That’s fine.   And I can want to not date them, and date someone who will make time for me.

  13. 33

    Helen, I didn’t mean to sound harsh and judgmental – and trust me, I’m just as hard on myself as I am on others at times. There is nothing wrong with being mid30s and unmarried at 35 and I could very well be in that position. I only meant that if a WOman knows she wants kids but spends her 20s chasing alphas, ditching good men, and being “too busy” for a relationship,there’s a real failure to plan ahead that will catch up to her. I know all too many guys and gals 30 and under who still look at these decisions as something to be made way off in the future , and they don’t even TRY to understand how their current decision making will play out in the 39s/40s.  

  14. 34

    Mia: this isn’t meant to be an argument with you, but again, I see no evidence that women who “try” harder to get a man so that she can have babies are more successful in landing men than women who are more laid-back about it. It doesn’t matter if she’s in her 20s or 30s; a woman trying too hard to find a baby-daddy gives off an air of desperation that fails to attract men.  

    That is the funny thing about relationships –  they’re different from other things we might strive for. If you  strive to do well in your job, you’re more likely to succeed than someone who slacks more. If you strive to learn calculus or physics or a sport or musical instrument, you’ll do better than someone who puts in less effort. But relationships require two people, and no one likes to be the focused object of another person’s striving or attentions. It feels very uncomfortable.

    That’s why, paradoxically, the best thing to do in relationships is to relax and not  strive too hard. Relaxing also allows you to become more open to what the other person is thinking and feeling, which gives you useful cues about how to interact with them.

  15. 35

    You’re right Helen that luck plays a huge part in it but Mia has a point; many women waste years chasing men out of their league. I find it usually happens to women who are successful in most things in life such as college, career etc, but aren’t quite attractive enough to get the man they really want. Some of them use their feminine wiles to catch him for a while, but it never lasts. I know a few of these women and they just keep getting hurt again and again!

  16. 36
    Two of Us Dating Service

    Wow, I have to agree.   Growing up I always wanted to be a highly successful career woman, but after I saw how hard it was for my friends to raise children and work, my aspirations have changed a bit.   I am all about equality but I’m also very realistic.   Definitely can’t have it all.  

  17. 37

    I had aspirations of this big radio career in a major market.   When I cried after having to go back to work when my oldest child was born, that nipped that in the bud real quick.   I’ve HAD to work; I will have to continue working.   I accept that and don’t complain.   But my heart has ALWAYS been with my kids.

  18. 38

    @ Tom: many men also waste years chasing women out of their league!

  19. 39

    @ Joe

    Many men also waste years chasing women out of their league!”

    I fully agree. My friends and I are absolutely guilty of this; we’re ordinary blokes but we want spectacular women and we will ‘waste’ as many years as necessary to get them (I know this is unreasonable / unrealistic). I don’t think men mind taking their time as much though?

  20. 40

    How on earth does working 70 hours a week qualify as “having it all”???
    To me that means having extremely little.

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