Having it All

I got a lovely Mother’s Day card from one of my daughters that brought tears of joy to my eyes, but it also highlighted one of the enemies of successful living.

Among other sweet words, she wrote, “I am only now starting to realize how much of your own life and time and personal pursuits you must have sacrificed to raise us…”

The gratitude is appreciated and the sentiment is lovely. It is also wrong.  It is wrong, not only in terms of motherhood but also in terms of marriage, work and life.

My husband and I once sailed in the Caribbean. When we visited one island, the dock was not only extraordinarily narrow but also in ill repair. It shifted and rocked with each step we took. Being six months pregnant and not quite as nimble as usual, that posed a challenge. What made it even more worrying were the sharks swimming beneath the dock. Falling in the water was not really an acceptable option.

Imagine that there had been magnificent flower beds surrounding the dock instead. I would never have wanted to fall into them, crushing the beautiful blossoms. But my thought process would have been entirely different. I would have taken the same care walking as I did on the shark-surrounded dock, but instead of fear, pleasure would have been my companion.

Teachers often want their students to remain silent when walking down the hall. I once watched two first-grade teachers prepare their students for a trip past several other classrooms on their way to the music room. Neither teacher wanted her group to be disruptive. One teacher spoke about how important it was not to interrupt the other classes and how proud she would be if her students walked in a quiet and orderly fashion, two by two.

The other teacher spun a story, leading her students to picture that they were explorers going through the woods to spy on an enemy camp. One sound and they might be captured!

Both groups were quiet. First graders want to please their teachers. But the second group’s faces were filled with expectation and joy. They weren’t behaving well; they were having an adventure.

Our attitude towards what we are doing makes all the difference. Despite what my daughter wrote, I did not sacrifice to raise my children. That was my chosen vocation and the normal and inevitable consequence was that I had less time and energy for other activities. As a human being living in a world with 24 hours in a day, I can’t do everything and be everywhere. Among my friends I number social workers, CEOs, accountants, teachers, doctors and pilots. The same calculus applies to them.

There were days while my children were young when I couldn’t see how I could possibly cope for five more minutes. I distinctly remember hiding behind some dresses in my closet to steal just a few minutes of quiet.   When I got married I could have chosen a professional business path.  I could have had fewer children. I could have paid others to care for my children. I had the option of paying tuition at a private school or using the public schools rather than homeschooling as we did. I even could have walked out on my family, unshackling myself from my obligations and responsibilities. Would that have gotten me “all”?

Did I sacrifice by staying in my marriage and devoting myself to my family? Not at all. I made choices and reaped the benefits from those choices, while paying the associated costs. That is called reality.

It’s easy to imagine the life that we did not  choose through rose colored glasses. We picture that other us as an executive wearing expensive, tailored clothing and jetting off to exotic vacation locales. We see ourselves saving lives as a surgeon or being feted as teacher of the year.  Yet, somehow, we never picture ourselves as a bored lower level employee struggling to make ends meet or as an executive cowering in the ladies room steeling herself to fire an employee she likes.  Nor do we picture ourselves as someone earning a great living and relishing the challenges and successes of her career who frequently has to force a smile while yearning to be home with her child or having more energy to devote to her marriage.

There is no job, career, vocation or life that has only sunshine. It is up to us to focus on the positives in the life we choose rather than focusing on those things that our choice excluded. Our attitude, not our reality, decides whether we are sacrificing ourselves or finding fulfillment.

A culture of entitlement bombards us. It is a culture that breeds envy, resentment and unhappiness. I find it amusing that the first person recorded who said he “had it all,” meant it in an entirely different way than we use the phrase today. In Genesis 33:11, Jacob asks his wealthier, stronger and more established brother Esau to accept his gifts, claiming that he, Jacob, has ‘everything.’  By objective standards, he certainly didn’t. In fact, he was fleeing from one home and not sure where he’d end up.

He was focused on what he did have including his relationship with God, his family and the ability to choose how to lead his life. Can we realistically ask for more?

So, my darling daughter who is understandably sometimes overwhelmed by her busy household. Don’t think in terms of sacrifice. Think of the life you have chosen and been granted; a husband, children, extended family, community and faith. Even when it is at its least attractive, acknowledge that you would choose it again. Take a minute to breathe, shed a few tears if you need to, but still be grateful for your life and know that the only way to “have it all,” is to choose that frame of mind. With a nod to the American poet, Robert Frost, we all face many roads that diverge in a wood, and how we think about the one we choose makes all the difference.

47 thoughts on “Having it All”

  1. Mrs. Lapin,
    Thank your for writing this and sharing that you had moments where you’ve hid in your closet. You’re such a stong woman. Thank you so much.
    Hugs from Brooklyn NY

    1. Oh, Isabel. There were times that I wished I had made it to the closet before opening my mouth!

  2. Dear Susan, My husband and I, started watching your show a few months ago. It has been such a blessing to us. It has challenged us to dig more in the Bible and get closer to God. Thank you for this article. I am a stay home mom and also homeschool my children. I couldn’t agree with you more . I am where I am because I know that’s God purpose for me. It was a choice and I am reaping the benefits and costs of it. Thank you for encouraging us to endure, and go back to why we chose that route. I read your wise words as a mom to her daughter, as the words my mom could have written to me when she was alive. God bless you!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Gisel-
      Your husband and children are blessed. May it grow from strength to strength.

  3. Dear Susan,
    I feel so encouraged by your words. I am a mother of two young children and I had worked for ten years before I decided to be a SAHM. I do intend to go back to work when our youngest,a 9month old,turns 3 years and goes to school. I have been putting off feelings of ‘fulfilment’ and ‘accomplishment’ for when I go back to work and earn some money even though work and money never gave me the satisfaction I feel at raising little people. Your words have encouraged to live and love my today exactly as it is.

    Lots of love from Nairobi,Kenya.

    1. Grace, I am so glad if I have helped you realize that you can find fulfillment and accomplishment at home as well as in the work force.

  4. I get what you are saying. I also think that sacrifice as a parent is very real. Yes, it’s a choice I made and I don’t regret the choice, but there are times when I would really like to listen to the child within and do what I want, not what my kids needed. The fact that my child as an adult now realizes the times I denied my own desires for the good of her and offers her thanks for it, I think I’d simply say, You’re welcome dear. It was a sacrifice, but I’m glad I chose to make it. You were worth it.

    1. I am delighted that she recognized the trade-offs I made. I want to strengthen her, however, not to think in terms of sacrifice. I think she will be a happier mom that way.

  5. I’m late in reading this but it is a wonderful musing. I’ve always said being a mom was my best and most favorite job! Thanks for putting into words exactly how I looked at my role as mother and homeschool mom. Right now I’m in CA taking care of grand babies for my daughter whose regular sitter is on vacation. What joy for me! But I miss the other grand babies back home! So thankful for my life. Wouldn’t want it to be any different.

      1. Loved your article. I have done both: worked outside of the home and stayed there. Many regrets that I did not believe sooner that having “more” was actually less. I will be forwarding this to several other empty-nesters that homeschooled with us!

        Blessings to you,

        1. I know mothers who work outside the home and do feel that is what’s best for their families. They don’t spend time feeling miserable at the trade-off and just accept that there will be rough days. The goal is to rejoice rather than complain.

  6. Gratefulness. This is what seems to shine forth! In spite of difficult circumstances and difficult people you chose to finish the work you started in being a wife and mother in the home office. Thank you for being faithful. Ladies never give up, never give up, never give up on your children and your husband.

    1. Well, I can’t say that I had difficult circumstances or people, just normal frustrations and problems. My hat goes off to many women and men I know who truly persevere under excruciating circumstances.

  7. Oh my goodness Susan! Wonderful! This is how I feel as a mom of three wonderful children! There have been ups and downs, as I can relate to hiding in the closet! I hid in the bathroom because I could lock the door! I love reading your musings, sometimes you express yourself in a way that I am thinking, but don’t know how to say. Thank you!

    1. As unique as we all are, we share so much. It always helps to know that others feel the same way. Thanks, Kristy.

  8. I enjoyed this very much. I have had difficulty having children and so I’ve ended up on the career route for now. I sent this on to a few of my close friends that are stay-at-home mothers. It was meaningful to all of us, even though we are not all on similar paths. I see them wondering about whether their decision to stay home with their children is right or fulfilling, meanwhile I believe they may see my life through rose-colored glasses, while I’m yearning for the lives they lead with their children. It was a great message.

    1. Laurie, it is a strong human failing to yearn for what we don’t have while we take for granted what we do have. Accepting the life that God has picked for us is work enough to last a lifetime. I bless you that your prayers are answered and that what you do in your career brings joy to you and God.

  9. This was a beautiful story and so, so true! The world makes mothers think that parenting is a sacrifice rather than a privilege. When I became a young woman I craved motherhood, however, the society had changed and the young men didn’t want marriage let alone a family. If a young lady is fortunate enough to find someone to marry who wants children and supports her being a full time mother I think it’s the best gift anyone could give another in today’s climate. I’ve had many careers but parenthood has always been the hardest job I’ve ever performed.

    1. Marie, the blessing goes in both ways. Men and women who both recognize the gift of being devoted to their marriage and family.

  10. You speak wisdom passed through the ages, Susan!

    It’s been a while since I’ve commented because there was another death the day after my last comment. Then a month following that I was so busy with my family and our work. I’m also happy to report that I’ve been making adorable baby sock bouquets and personalized graduation letters for loved ones!

    I especially wanted to comment on a previous post you’d written about marriage; in it you mention Mike and Karen Pence and then told a story about a Jewish man who’s wife had a foot problem and he told the doctor (paraphrasing), “our foot hurts.” I read about him before seeing your blog that day, and I remembered how deeply I desired the type of relationship that would grow into such a strong bond. I only bring the previous post up here because this current post has similarly touched me.

    We Economists would say that there are ‘opportunity costs’ to consider when making our choices for work or investment or clothing…after all, one might die if one wears a bikini outdoors during a snowstorm.

    Rather, we moms will (hopefully) say that we were gifted from God with abundant capacity to handle the most important, life giving and fulfilling career choice nature has to offer! I’m not suggesting that other career choices are unfulfilling. However, women are created to carry delicate human life. I would also suggest that this ‘job’ is much more than a ‘career’ choice, it is a divine calling.

    1. My condolences on the death in the family and congratulations on the lovely events coming up. One of the difficulties, LJ, is that in addition to young women not recognizing the gift of marriage and motherhood, boys are not being guided into becoming men who can appreciate the gift.

      1. Susan, many thanks for your words. I have always appreciated the way that you and RDL articulate your thoughts. God’s infinite wisdom most definitely needs passing along to young men and young ladies.

        There are currently a lot of anti-Biblical messages in many communities of faith, but also abundantly in the public sector. This reality is challenging for all parents because it is their responsibility to train their own children to know the Bible. I have not met too many people, even atheists, who disagreed with the last six of the Ten ‘Commandments’ or suggestions for living well; and the first through the fifth offer some indication about ourselves and where we come from.

        Yes, we must train our youths to appreciate marital cooperation between a male and a female because this divine relationship is the reason we’re all here.

  11. Oh thank you! This describes my life – the one I chose and enjoyed with all my heart, despite the occasional frantic moments that we all experience. I so agree with Nancy’s thoughts. God bless you.

    1. Pamela, too many young women aren’t realizing they have this choice until they miss the boat on much of it.

  12. When one of my sons told me how he thought he might not marry and have children because he wasn’t sure if he could sacrifice his wants as I had, I knew I had to change my attitude. Now that he’s older and almost ready to leave the nest, I realize how quickly the time went and wish I could have that time back. Mothering and homeschooling was the perfect “career” for me.

    1. How interesting that you were able to see that your son was holding up a mirror, Lori. The time does go quickly even if some days last forever.

  13. I had a different epiphany when I had my first child — I told my mother that I didn’t realize how much she loved us. And I knew then that despite the fact that she was a doctor who eventually stopped practicing to shepherd her 5 kids, she never thought of it as a sacrifice. She was fond of repeating what her mother had told her — that every new child brings its own love into the world. That’s a blessing, not a sacrifice.

  14. Nancy Novellano

    I can so identify with your thoughts! MY grown children and now precious grandchildren are my treasures. IN my early mothering days the culture screamed “it is quality time not quantity time” that is important. I knew in my heart that that slogan was wrong because children spell love, t-I-m-e. I am so grateful that I was a full time mother nurturing the very best that I knew how. Would I do it all again? Oh yes.

    1. Nancy, that is one of those sayings that sounds good but has little to do with reality. The way I see it, you do need quality time, but that means making sure that you make that time within your quantity time.

  15. This really spoke to me,
    “we picture ourselves in tailored suits and jetting off to glamorous locations”..
    I quite agree, we make choices and we choose the life we want by the choices we make.
    Thank yoU!

    1. Yes, Jennifer. If I think of picking a career track, I certainly don’t picture myself doing anything unglamorous or tearing my hair out when I can’t make ends meet.

  16. This quote from your article is like pure gold, “Our attitude, not our reality, decides whether we are sacrificing ourselves or finding fulfillment.” Thank you for sharing this article it is fabulous!

  17. Thank you for this…

    My Mother also wanted nothing more than to be a good wife and mother.

    And while I have always appreciated the “sacrifices” they made for me, with this musing, I see my “error” – horror – I have progressive thinking.

    Even though I think I am not influenced by it (progressive / feminism), seeking to applaud my Mother – I didn’t

    This statement “Did I sacrifice by staying in my marriage and devoting myself to my family? Not at all. I made choices and reaped the benefits from those choices, while paying the associated costs. That is called reality.” Could have been spoken by my Mother

    As always – thanks for the eye opening

    1. Don’t be hard on yourself, Karen! If you’ve read our book Buried Treasure with its chapter on the Hebrew for sacrifice, you’ll know that I could have written an entirely different piece praising the word. I just was guessing how my daughter is feeling right now and want to, hopefully, give her another way to approach the 15th call for help during the day.

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