For a number of reasons Thought Tools and Susan’s Musing posted 24 hours behind schedule this week. Why am I mentioning this? In addition to apologizing for being late, I thought that what occurred provided an apt introduction for what I had planned to write concerning Anne-Marie Slaughter’s lament, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All. Many, including my friend Diane Medved, have written insightful pieces about The Atlantic magazine article, in which the author expresses her disappointment that society hasn’t progressed enough to actualize the feminist vision of being highly successful in one’s career while also having a stellar marriage and an exemplary family life. She is perturbed that her prestigious and powerful job responsibilities conflicted with her children’s needs and her desire to be more involved in their lives. I wanted to ignore the article and comment on the misconception the title reveals.
Frequently, authors don’t get to choose titles, but even if the title was crafted by an anonymous editor, it is still telling. What immature calculation suggests that anybody – man, woman or child, can “have it all”? One of the major tasks that good parents perform is teaching their children to deal with a finite world. A newborn infant wants everything he wants, RIGHT NOW! To the best of their abilities, his parents comply. Yet, as the months and years go on, toddlers and young children learn to deal with realities of the physical world. It won’t snow just because I want it to; my ball won’t change trajectory and avoid the neighbor’s window no matter how much I wish for that to happen. Expanding maturity teaches them to consider others’ wants and needs as well. At a relatively young age, we teach our children than they cannot have both friends and the option of only playing the games they choose; they cannot ridicule a classmate one day and expect to be invited to her birthday picnic the next. High school and college students continue learning truths. “If I go to the party tonight, I might do poorly on tomorrow’s test.” “If I go out for football I can’t also go out for baseball and track.”
In what alternate universe does anyone have it all? What does that even mean? In a passage of Genesis, after fleeing the house of Lavan, his father-in-law, Jacob encounters his richer, outrageously more powerful brother, Esau. The interchange between them gives a different perspective on having it all. Despite his wealth and position, Esau tells his brother, “I have much.” Two verses later, Jacob says, “I have all.” (Genesis 33: 9-11)
Esau, like most human beings, can find more to want, no matter how much he already has. Money, status, power, satisfying work, vacation time, lack of stress, a wealthy lifestyle, marriage exactly when it fits one’s schedule, a happy marriage, commitment, a lack of commitment when desired, a younger, more attractive spouse, health, no children when you want, children when you want, perfect children, a longer life, a society free from want, a world free from war… If you put on ‘dissatisfied’ glasses, you will always see what you don’t have. In contrast to his sibling, Jacob’s spectacles look at what he has. “I have all.” That doesn’t mean objectively having every possible desire fulfilled nor does it mean meekly accepting the status quo. It does mean living in reality, shouldering the consequences of one’s decisions and choosing appreciation over grievance.
Having it all is a result of working on our attitudes and perceptions. Neither women nor men can “have it all,” anywhere but in their own minds. What does this have to do with Thought Tools and my Musing being late? I have enough of an ego to believe that had I wanted to pursue an esteemed professional life, with attendant stature and income, as Ms. Slaughter did, I could have done so. Certainly, with his many talents, my husband could have taken a different path as well. Instead, we chose, and continue to choose, a road that allows us to integrate our love for God, for each other and our children, while we hope that we strengthen our country and offer resources of value to many of its citizens and others around the world. Not being in the corridors of power and having the concomitant benefits that Ms. Slaughter had, we have more flexibility than she did in her position. Unlike her, we don’t think that society is at fault if we can’t “have it all.”
On Friday, just before Shabbat, my husband and I discovered that one of our grandsons was hospitalized with a serious infection. We were filled with gratitude to God (and to the scientists, doctors and nurses who were His messengers) when we heard after the Sabbath that the infection was under control. Nevertheless, our grandson needed to stay in the hospital for a few more days. We agreed that I should head over to our daughter’s home a few hours away, to provide an extra pair of hands as she and her husband juggled caring for their eldest with the needs of their younger children and their other responsibilities. I was delighted to do so, but I was also reminded what an undertaking caring for young children is. My computer was barely opened from the time I got to their house until I left, certainly not enough to post these weekly messages.
Once again, I apologize for the delay, but on this Fourth of July, I am grateful for so much, including the freedom to make choices. It is a wonderful day to be reminded that the illusion that government and societal intervention can solve every problem and fulfill every desire is false and that pursuing that path is dangerous and destructive.