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No, Ladies, We Cannot Have It All

No, Ladies, We Cannot Have It All

The phrase “having it all” came from the title of a 1982 book written by Helen Gurley Brown, then editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine. As Antoinette Lattouf, writing in The Guardian in early 2023, put it, this self-help book for women focused on “money, sex, diet, exercise, and appearance.” Notably, it made no mention of children or family.

Since then, of course, the phrase has come to take on an even broader meaning. Today, “having it all” is touted as a woman’s reaching her full potential by having an education, lucrative formal career, rewarding marriage, happy children, and an active social life. Of course, this ideal is vague at best and destructive at worst.

On the surface, having it all sounds empowering and rewarding. Modern women don’t have to conform when they can succeed in every area of life, right? Why should we sacrifice a beloved job just because we had a baby? Why not maintain a party lifestyle and let someone else take the kids to soccer practice?

But in real life, women are far from inspired by this mantra. “Having it all” is actually a recipe for despair. Those who soldier on year after year toward this ideal may find themselves exhausted or, worse, in lackluster marriages and disconnected from their children.

The problem is obvious. Having it all implies that nothing must be sacrificed; indeed, to sacrifice something would be the ultimate form of female failure. However, this overlooks a simple fact of life: Nobody can possess mutually exclusive things.

Our time is a limited resource, and we cannot spend it everywhere we want. If we spend 60 hours a week in the office, we cannot use those same 60 hours to be at home with our children. That time is gone. Now triple those expectations without increasing our time and we have the exponential lie of “having it all.” If I spent eight years in school, worked hard 10 hours a day at the office, went out with my friends every weekend, was a loving wife and primary caregiver to my children, and of course kept myself and my house in tip-top shape, I would probably need each day to consist of at least 40 hours. It’s impossible. Time doesn’t work that way.

Trying to have it all like this, anyone would be stretched too thin to accomplish or even enjoy any of those areas. All we would get is a meager fraction of each thing, a shattered piece of what should have been a whole. We would end up exhausted, depressed, and disconnected from anything meaningful.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I want to live. Women, men, and families deserve so much better than that. In order to truly have something, we have to prioritize it over other things. Something must be sacrificed in order to make way for something else. A professional leaves the previous job to take the promotion. A man sacrifices his bachelorhood to become a husband. A woman sacrifices her body to become a mother.

And this is a very, very good thing. It is good to sacrifice one thing in pursuit of something greater.

Modern culture lies by saying we can have mutually exclusive things. Feminism sold us a bill of false goods that we could be happy with just a little bit of everything and nothing in its entirety. But what women really need is to know what we value and brush aside what we don’t. Only then can we actually build fulfilling lives.

Women are waking up to this. So many great ladies I personally know are deeply assessing what they want in life, and they are making firm choices accordingly. Some of us really do want a career with a graduate-level education. But many others of us prefer a life centered on marriage and family. If we don’t make an effort to prioritize what we truly value, we might accidentally sacrifice what matters most.

A recent TikTok trend featured women talking about their “dream babies.” Many, if not most, of these women were typical modern feminists: career women who perhaps spent years in hookup culture, eschewed marriage, and put off—if not swore off—having children. Then, in their 30s or later, something in them shifted. These women began sharing their incredibly realistic dreams of babies they’d never had, children they’d never carried. The overwhelming reaction from the women in these videos, as well as those who added comments, was grief. Grieving for the dream baby who seemed so real, grieving for the family they never had, or grieving over their choice to never be a mother. Some even began questioning whether they were ever happy at all, or if they’d been chasing all the wrong things in life.

To me, this “dream baby” epidemic indicates that an entire generation of women is wondering whether they have prioritized the wrong things in life, and now are realizing it might be too late to actually have the other things at all. Inadvertently, many of these women sacrificed marriage and children in order to pursue hookup culture and various careers. Many likely didn’t realize what they were giving up in the first place.

This is why it’s so important for us women to realize we cannot have it all (and even perhaps that we don’t really want it all). We will end up with nothing in the end because we will have failed to pursue what really matters to us. What we value and how we build our lives will inevitably vary. But I encourage us all to be bold and reject the lie of having it all. Instead, let’s focus on what we value, how we want to live, and start cutting out the excess. Don’t settle for pieces of a broken life—opt to build a whole, fulfilling life around what truly matters.

Image credit: Pexels


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  • Avatar
    January 18, 2024, 8:51 am

    Well said. The "dream babies" phenomenon is a fascinating and telling one.

  • Avatar
    Linda Murdock
    January 20, 2024, 10:46 am

    Fine. But where are the quality men to marry?

    • Avatar
      Cadence McManimon @Linda Murdock
      January 21, 2024, 9:20 pm

      I'm so glad you asked! Check out my first article on ITO called "Top Ten Tips From A Dating Advisor," where I hit the high points from my five years writing dating content and interviewing traditional couples :).


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