Is “Having It All” A Good Thing?

This morning I was waiting in a Starbucks to meet up with Liz and Carrie and their kids, and as I sat there with my overpriced cup of tea, I did the thing I love to do at coffee shops. I eavesdropped on someone else’s conversation. (Hey, I don’t claim to be the best person in the world.) A few seats down from me, two twenty-something women were discussing a mutual acquaintance.

“She lets her dishes sit for, like, two days before she washes them. And then she, like, gets a house cleaner,” said the first brunette.

“Ugh,” said the second. “You know, when you have children, you have to put what you want out of the way. It’s not about you anymore, you know?”

The first brunette agreed.

Now, on the one hand, there isn’t anything these two women said that was untrue. Still, I wanted to run my pen over their expensive pea coats or maybe pull out a clump of their pretty, coiffed hair from their heads. Just a tiny bit, enough to sting but not enough to look bad. Because, you know, moms do have to put themselves second. But….does that mean that we can’t have what we want, too?

Becoming a mother was the single most transformative life experience for me. It made me from a sulky, depressive woman who wasn’t disciplined or focused into…you know, me. Because suddenly there was someone else who totally ruled my life, around whom everything revolved, and it was great. It was wonderful to not think about myself all the time, to get a break from all that twenty-something angst and replace it with buying tiny little jars of organic baby food and wiping butts with tiny little organic wipes and fretting over tiny little organic runny noses. It was so nice to not think about me so much of the time.

Until, you know, it wasn’t.

I think I can unequivocally say that I would like to think about myself more often now. I want to have a successful career, and I want to have a nice body, and I want to live in a nice house. BUT? I also want to be home and help with homework and drive the boys to swim lessons and take them to art classes and bake chocolate chip cookies and make a homemade meal every night. I want the best for my children, but now I also want the best for myself, TOO.

And I know that saying that Oprah has, “You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at the same time.” That’s true, but…should I actually want it all? Do I have unrealistic expectations for myself as both an individual and a mother? After all, according to the brunettes, now that I’ve spawned, what I want doesn’t matter. (What a great way to teach love to my babies: CHILDREN WILL RUIN YOUR LIVES FOREEEVVEEEEEEEEEERRR.)

So, yes: I want to be the best mom, and I also want to be the most successful writer. Also, I’d like my marriage to not fall apart nor live under a pile of dust bunnies. Clearly I have to do it all, or give up what’s unnecessary. And the things that are unnecessary are always MY needs, because I’d never consider the children’s or husband’s needs as anything else but the pinnacle of importance.

Huh, I guess those brunettes were on to something.

Yet, here’s the thing: do men do this? Do we ask men to work outside of the house for 10-12 hours a day, and then come home, bake a homemade meal, sit down and do homework with the kids, clean up the dishes, file the taxes, walk the dog, make love to their spouses, and watch Downton Abbey, and then go to the gym for an to maintain their eight pack abs? Do we? Or do we just accept that women will pick up the slack so that the men can do only the most important things (those things being work, homework, and Downton).

This idea that women can have it all? Is a farce. The idea that women should WANT it all? Is an even bigger farce.

I, for one, need to stop juggling absolutely everything and focus on what I actually want. And sure, I want to be the super woman who can do it all, but I don’t have a Time Turner (isn’t it interesting that Hermione was the one who wanted to do it all, but none of the boys were ever so unrealistic?), and it turns out that having it all isn’t even a good thing. Not for me, anyhow.

So, from here on out, I’m trying to tell myself that I shouldn’t want it all, that it’s not the greatest thing in the world to juggle seven tasks at once and totally forget about myself. That’s not to say my kids will not be important. Instead, I’m taking other things that make me a “good mom” off the list so I can replace it with “good person that’s not cranky and overworked and can read books at night with the boys instead of stressing out.” Stuff like cooking from scratch every night and keeping the floors spotless and not sending my kids to daycare that they’d be perfectly happy to attend.

So I’m gonna put my younger kid in after school care for a few hours twice a week, eat frozen lasagna and take out pizza sometimes, and do fancy things like go to the doctor regularly, and write, and exercise. And be a better person. So that I can not have it all. So that I can focus on what I want and leave the silly competition to be perfect behind. So that I can tell my boys: having you made me a better person.

But not such a good person that I won’t still eavesdrop from time to time.


  1. Becky says

    You lost me somewhere, Shalini. But maybe it’s just that our definitions of “all” are different.

      • Becky says

        I like Ann’s comment too. I think I can have a fulfilling family life and work life and personal life all at the same time. I guess that’s what I consider “having it all.” I make sacrifices, but they’re sacrifices I’m ok with. If having it all means having a clean house and a picture-perfect life, then I do not have it all, and I also don’t want it all.

  2. says

    Okay: I think I get what you’re saying: basically, we screw ourselves by wanting to have it all. If that’s it, yes! I totally agree. Even *thinking* that you “have it all” is showing some real naïveté. The “have it all” discussion is akin to 1) us whining about why we aren’t princesses or 2) us assuming that some of us are already princesses. Hello. Grow up, get real! Pick your priorities, then pick your battles. And they’ll probably change over time. And that’s okay! But acting like there’s some perfect, staid, timeless version of life out there doesn’t do any of us any good. (I’m pretty blunt on this issue, huh?)

    • says

      Yes, that’s what I’m saying. But maybe not complaining that we’re princesses, but trying to have a pinterest-worthy life, be the best mom, have a career, without picking priorities.

  3. says

    I love this post. LOVE it!

    I don’t want it all. I just want to be happy. What is “all” anyway? I want a fulfilling healthy life, however that looks for me at any point in time.

    Did my life change absolutely when I became a mother? Yes. Am I still a human being? Hell yes. It was easy for my sense of self to be completely usurped by an infant, but I think that’s just how it has to be. Now that my child is older, I am able to find more time to explore this person I’ve grown into and find what pleases me. I don’t want to teach my child that having kids means your life is over. I am trying to illustrate this to her by showing her I have a life as Shelly, not just life as Mommy. I feel that doing this will set her up to be a great mother, should she have children one day.

    I’m sorry this is totally disjointed. That’s what I get for typing on my phone.

  4. Betsy says

    I am single with no kids. I have a career, and side jobs, and lots of activities.
    but my first thought was: what is “it all”? What is the limit? like, is there a moment when you are done?
    I struggle with this all the time…..trying to be happy with the present moment, and still working towards goals.
    Great, thought-provoking post. thanks!

  5. says

    You know what – it pisses me off that guys don’t really have to think about this at all. This has been a HUGE question for me and has affected how I think and treat a lot of things in my life. I do want it all but if I have to choose, unfortunately and honestly, I feel like I would choose me (which is kind of what I’ve been doing). Does that make you happier?

  6. JP says

    Please write a book or two or three. I don’t care the subject. I will read what you write because it is amazing and insightful and thought provoking and I love it!

  7. says

    1) I am still determined that you and I shall be great friends even though I was a) late and b) a little out of it this morning.

    2) if you were to judge my life from the outside, I would seem to have it all figured out and be making work/life all great. Trust me, I do not. Appearances lie, big time.

    3) seriously, it was great to finally meet you today. Thank you for being so kind to Ethan, he’s still talking about you.

  8. says

    If we adjust what it means to “have it all” I think we can. To me have it all means to occassionally have a clean house, work out regularly, work hard at my job, occassionally go on dates alone with my husband and with friends, and make sure my little peanut knows I love her unconditionally. I agree we can’t have everything at once, but that’s okay.

  9. says

    I gave up a $uper $alary Package and a whole lot of other intangibles like status, confidence and subject-matter-expertise, to be a SAHM in which let alone expertise, I barely even KNEW what’s included in Subject Matter! Having gone around in circles figuring stuff out for over 5 yrs, these last 6 months, I revisit my schedule every few weeks. I do this to make sure I find time to fit in activities that make me truly happy & inspired. Its working for me. A Happy & Inspired Mom having a pile of laundry waiting to be sorted & need-to-be-wiped counters, is more effective than the grumpy one who always had one chore or the other chasing her because she HAS to get it all done to feel she’s any good at her job.

  10. grammy says

    See…you’re older and wiser than those young women. We do get smarter (about some things) as time moves on. Look and see how brilliant Pap and I are! Grammy

  11. Miava says

    I’m not sure about “having it all” but I definitely “do it all”. I do everything. My husband and I work the same hours but he does zilch at home. And I mean nothing. Precious’s mother in “Push” does more. So instead of divorce or murder, I’m getting a housekeeper. But I’m still considering the first two.