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What Constitutes 'Having It All'?

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The Atlantic
The Atlantic

What does it mean to have it all? Does it mean you are happy and satisfied with your life and enjoy what you have? Does it mean the ability to register success and progress when you've achieved it? Does it mean loving a partner, parenting a child or making an impact in the workplace? What "having it all" means is different for each person and changes from phase to phase of our life.

As I follow the interviews and responses to Anne-Marie Slaughter's recent article in The Atlantic, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," I am struck by the complexities of real life -- the life that is much more about juggling than it is about balancing. Known for telling women that they "can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field" they are in, Slaughter, the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, reached a stage in life where she had to rethink this adage and the belief system it fosters. Given a two-year window within which she could return to her position as Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy at Princeton University, Slaughter re-evaluated and decided it would no longer work for her to parent under the required conditions. Her two sons, ages 12 and 14, were suffering as a result of their mother being away all week and home only on the weekend.

Why would intelligent women assume that the number of hours we work and our proximity to home wouldn't impact our children and other loved ones? If one chooses to become a parent, what you do and how you do it is inevitably going to affect your kid. Marriages and children need attention if they are to flourish and be sustained. Choices have to get made, and they do. Some parents -- fathers and mothers -- choose to do all that they can to help their kids through difficult times, and that's good parenting. So if "having it all" depends upon not being there for your kids when they need you, then, in my book, that definition need to be challenged.

"Having it all" will be different for every working parent. I, for one, feel blessed to have it all -- I have a loving marriage of over 30 years, young adult daughters who are directed and thriving, meaningful work, deep friendships and trusted colleagues. For me, it doesn't get much better than that.

If I defined "having it all" as being free from any degree of financial worry, free from body ailments or free from loss or disappointment, I'd certainly not conclude that I have it all. This working mother of two says bravo to Anne-Marie Slaughter. She does have it all because she's figured out how to maximize a win-win for herself and her family. Bravo for success in family life being deemed a significant enough value to honor and protect over all other areas of interests.

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