Nobody can ‘have it all’

Women still can’t have it all, writes Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic. She left a high-powered State Department job to return to academia to have time for her children. She wants employers to let people — not just parents — work from home when possible and take time for family needs.

. . . women should think about the climb to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope, but as irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when they turn down promotions to remain in a job that works for their family situation; when they leave high-powered jobs and spend a year or two at home on a reduced schedule; or when they step off a conventional professional track to take a consulting position or project-based work for a number of years.

Remember the outcry when Felice Schwartz told employers to create a family-friendly alternative for professionals? It was dubbed the “mommy track.”

Men can’t have it all either, responds James Joyner. His wife died suddenly, leaving him with a toddler and an infant.

Not long after my wife’s passing, I was offered a promotion that would have helped bridge the loss of her income but would have required much more time at the office. Professionally, it was a good move. It also made sense financially, even though it would have meant paying for a few more hours of childcare. I nonetheless declined because my daughters needed me to spend that time with them. And, frankly, I needed to spend that time with them, too.

The fact is that life is full of trade-offs. It’s not possible to “have it all.” It never was. And never will be. For women or for men.

Of course, most people aren’t going to be CEO or Secretary of State no matter how hard or long they work.

About Joanne


  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    With the exception of people who are actually physically handling goods, I look for a future when most workers will work from home or from neighborhood walk in centers. To drive for two hours a day just to have few minutes of “interpersonal” relationship while the most part of your day is spent shoveling data is silly. Perhaps it is management that should commute.

  2. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Good point– Working from home as a contractor, and getting paid by output rather than the hour, I come pretty close to having it all.

    If I”d commit to hiring a maid, I would have it all……… (Because, contrary to the comments I’ve seen from people on various blogs covering this article, laundry and dishes for 7 people actually does take up a ton of time, even if both spouses help!)

  3. The bottom line is that if some people are taking “time for family needs”, some other people are expected to pick up the slack at work. In some fields, working from home, at least part of the time, is possible but in many that is not possible. I’ve already posted on this topic at the Kitchen Table Math website, but the crunch is hitting medicine, which obviously requires people to be physically present at work.

    Almost 50% of med students are women, there are more and more two-physician couples, and 25% of women physicians work only part time or are not working at all (AMA data). There is also the fact that women typically choose primary care specialties (family practice, internal medicine, OB/gyn, pediatrics). This issue will have significant impact on physician access. I know of a number of situations where women physicians have failed to comply with the conditions (on-call schedule, maternity leave etc) of the employment contracts they have signed, leaving others to cover their work responsibilities and their share of costs. I also have been friends with women physicians who have admitted that their family – kids in particular – has been short-changed. You really can’t have it all, at least all at the same time, without placing burdens on others.

  4. Chartermom says:

    Having it all really depends at least somewhat on how you define “all”. I define “all” as having a stable, loving family, a career that pays decently and has the flexibility I need for my family (and that doesn’t mean other people picking up my work — just the flexibility to mesh my work schedule with my home schedule at least most of the time) and time to keep me physically and emotionally healthy. Based on that criteria — I’ve come pretty darn close most of the time since my kids were born. But it has also required making choices and setting priorities.

  5. Amy in Texas says:

    Sadly, I think the underlying meaning of having it ALL means whether or not to have kids.
    The real question is not, “will I have a job?” it is “can I raise children well while I work?”

    I think that the answer is that yes, this can be done, but it requires at least two involved caregivers.

    So many of us do not have this.

  6. Hainish says:

    Of course. A woman can’t have it all, even when her husband does the “lion’s share” of the child rearing.

    A man can’t have it all when his wife literally drops dead.

    You can’t make this stuff up.