The discussion about working motherhood continues.

Today Professor Beth Haile added her voice to this conversation. Announcing her decision to leave “her other full-time job” as an assistant professor of theology in order to execute her first full-time job as a mother more contentedly, Professor Haile wonders about the happiness of her female colleagues who also parent.

I wonder if we haven’t largely just added another full-time job on top of the ones our moms and grandmothers had as homemakers and caregivers.

I am happy for Professor Haile.

But for the most part, all of us, not just Professor Haile, have been asking the wrong questions.

If motherhood is a full-time job, then isn’t fatherhood a full-time job? And if it isn’t, shouldn’t it be? And if it shouldn’t be, why not?

And, if we doubt the ability of women to be happy while working and raising children, then shouldn’t we all strive to create a world in which no mother has to work? A world in which any mother, not just the daughters of rich fathers or the wives of well to do husbands can choose to stay at home? If stay at home motherhood provides a vital path to flourishing as Haile suggests, then shouldn’t every woman be able to walk it?

Of course, the grandmothers of Latina women and African-American women and Appalachian women have been working outside the home for generations. And not always by choice.

No, women cannot have it all. Like all life, we are both bound by and made possible because of our finitude. But when “having it all” means parenting and pursuing a career with passion, then it seems that men can and indeed do have it all.

And that’s just not fair.

7 thoughts

  1. Katie, I really appreciate this post, especially when you question the socioeconomic necessities in which people can claim to “have it all.” I think the question–“If stay at home motherhood provides a vital path to flourishing as Haile suggests, then shouldn’t every woman be able to walk it?”–is one that must be asked time, and time again.

    However, I’d like to offer a slight emendation to your final sentence. While -some- men may be able to have it all, I certainly don’t feel as though I can. For the first two years we had children, I stayed home with the babies while my wife worked and I pursued a Master’s degree in the evenings. Since I have begun doctoral work, we switched roles–I work during the day (as strict an 8-5 as I can)–and my wife watches the kids. Believe me when I say that I do not believe I have it all. There is something I have given up, something vital, when I made the choice to go back to school full time. My classmates can attest to the fact that I have no graduate-student social life…I spend time with my family, our church community, etc.

    But, again, I don’t believe I have it all. I don’t work out of “necessity” in the sense that I couldn’t get another job, but I definitely made a choice in pursuing the doctoral program that takes away from me being able to parent my children. I agree with you that in the wider culture, men are certainly assumed to take the role of the part-time parent, full-time worker (The Atlantic did an interesting piece on this recently, where they looked at gender roles in straight and gay relationships), and such a view reflects definitely reflects the house I grew up in and many of my friends. But it doesn’t reflect my life nor my self-identity as a man.

    So my emendation is slight and highly personal. I think it is correct to say that our culture wrongfully implies that men can have it all whereas women shouldn’t feel like they can, but I can say without question that I do not have it all and, although I am highly fortunate to even be in my situation, I long for the summer when I can spend more time with my children.

    Thank you again for writing this reply to Prof. Haile. I hope I didn’t overstate my case in response. – John

    1. Hello John,
      Thank you for sharing. As your personal story demonstrates, dads can face some of the same stresses and challenges as women do. And you are definitely correct that no one can “have it all.” And I don’t even think “having it all” would necessarily be a good thing. Finiteness brings blessings as well as burdens.

      The social default setting still seems to place more of the burdens of work life balance on women though (and I don’t think you are contesting this).

      I think that the more men, regardless of their personal situation, consider this issue their problem, the better.

      Thanks again for chiming in.

  2. Mainstream American culture’s definition of “it all” is not the same as the fullness of life promised by Christ. I want the fullness of family life, the fullness of work life, the fullness of social life, the fullness of life itself — and I fear that we menfolk are better at deluding ourselves that we can attain these all at once in any meaningful and lasting way this side of the hereafter.

    All of us is missing out — some of us more than others. None of us has it all — and shame on those of us who think we do. My daughter is almost eight weeks old. I know already: fatherhood is hard; and motherhood is harder. I have the benefit of half-doing everything in my life. That’s how it feels, anyway. But I do get to do some of “it all.” My wife does not have that luxury, though she would like it. And you are right, it isn’t fair.

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