We talk a lot about whether or not women can have it all in our culture. Can a mom have a successful career and a thriving home life? Can she throw in volunteering, too? Even in our Christian subculture we might not talk as much about women having it all, but we have our own ways of continuing the having it all discussion even among stay-at-home moms. Can a mom homeschool, volunteer at church, keep a side business of selling essential oils, and successfully save hundreds a month by couponing? Is it possible? Can women have it all?
Others, both in Christian culture and the broader culture, have answered these questions for us with a resounding “no”. Something usually has to give when we are attempting to have it all or do it all.
I’ve been thinking more about the whole “having it all” thing as I’ve watched the Olympics these past couple of weeks (I know. Another Olympics post. I just can’t help myself!). Often we frame the discussion as a female one, as if women are the only ones having to ask themselves whether the demands on their lives are more than are humanly possible. But I would argue that it’s actually a human dilemma, not just a female one. Men and women are both regularly confronted with the reality of their humanness when it comes up against their ambition, their capacity, or their season of life.
One thing that continues to come up during the backstory coverage of the Olympic athletes is how much so many have had to give up in order to compete at this level. Simone Biles has missed prom and homecoming. Michael Phelps missed hanging out on the weekends with friends. Some athletes even choose to retire earlier than is expected because they want to do other things with their lives. Even more forego college or just moving on with their lives in order to compete one more time in search of the elusive medal.
The prevailing idea that women are the ones who have to deal with the question of having it all is a false one. Of course, there is no denying that women are uniquely in a position where they must deal with the limits of their biology (like having babies and all that goes along with that) in a way that men are not, but even men will eventually come up against their desires and their season of life at some point.
What these athletes have had to deal with is the question of priorities. What do I want more than anything else? The having it all question forces us to deal with what we want. And when we want more than is reasonably possible for us we often don’t like it.
No one can have it all. My husband would love to play tennis more often, but he has a career, a ministry to our church, a family, and a need for sleep, personal time with the Lord, and anything else that comes up throughout his day. Sure, he needs to exercise, but right now running is what will do.
I would like to run a half marathon and spend more time writing, but I have small children, a husband, need for sleep and time with the Lord, and church commitments that are my first priority. We all have to decide at the end of the day what is most important to us, what God prioritizes for us, and what our own humanness limits us to.
All that surrounds the having it all discussion reveals something even more important about the debate, and that is our privilege. Only privileged people talk about having it all. We have the option to not have it all because we really have much. Elite athletes can forego the normal things of life because they are in a position to say “no.” My family is in a position to choose not to do certain things because we don’t have the pressures that many people face who are less fortunate than we are.
This is where sensitivity is needed when we talk about having it all. Who are we talking about? If we lump everyone into the same category, forgetting that some people don’t even have the time or privilege to have the discussion, we alienate and condemn people who need our compassion and help, not our elitism.
At the end of the day, no one can have it all. We all make sacrifices to do what we want to do most. Perhaps a greater question we should be asking is “where do your priorities lie”? Maybe then we could get to the heart of the matter.