To come to a discussion about "having it all" as a single woman seems like I've already failed.
Surely when women say they want it "all," they mean an education, a fulfilling career, an exciting marriage, and creative or athletic children (or both). With no husband or children to speak of, do I even have a voice in the conversation about having it all?
This is not a new conversation, but it got new wind in its sails by Anne-Marie Slaughter's July/August cover story in The Atlantic, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." Her two-year stint as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department in the Obama administration ended when she went home to spend more time with her family, particularly her teenage son.
As expected, the discussion centers around balance between work and family, with men and women both coming down on all sides of the discussion. Some say it is a matter of timing -- we can have it all, just not all at the same time. Others say that we can have it all, we just aren't committed enough. Still others say, why would you want to work when you have children to care for? And others? Wr why would you even want to have children?
I understand the desire to have it all. I want to get married. I want children. I want a career that brings meaning to my life. I want the big house and the new car and the dreamy vacations and shopping trips and publishing contracts. But I also want time alone, good books to read, opportunities to write, meaningful friendships, and a slower pace in life.
In other words, I want things that don't go together. It's not the "all" that is the problem here. That's just hyperbole. The real problem is "I want" what I don't have. Some might call that ambition. For me, it's more like discontentment.
In her response to the Atlantic article for Qideas, Kate Harris latches on to the idea of constraint as a way to make sense of not having it all. The limitations of 24 hours, of a body that is aging, of a house that needs cleaning, of a family that demands attention, of more work than I can finish: these things tell us without anyone else saying a word that we are never, ever going to have it all.
On any given ordinary, unsexy day I may have a million options about how to manage, divide, or share my time and attentions between work and kids, or kids and friends, or kids and husband, or countless variations on this theme. Still, what I need help thinking about is how to make choices that will serve me well over time, and allow for honest and faithful stewardship of all the skills, longings and commitments that give shape, weight, and meaning to my life. Fortunately for Christians, more than any other group of people, we have a theology sufficient to help women take up these questions of constraint and to do so in the coherent context of holistic, lifelong vocation.
That theology, she suggests, is understanding the constraint of the incarnation.
In the doctrine of the Incarnation we see a God who constrained himself in flesh, in history, in time and place, and was made man. He consented to this as an act of will - not effort, mind you- to demonstrate that His love is unbounded, but also to highlight the bounds of what it is to be human. By taking on bone and blood He gave our human constraints dignity and purpose, and He also tells us something fundamentally true about our circumstance. We are not – in this life at least - infinite beings. We cannot do, or have, or accomplish, all that we want by our own humble means. Yet even as we yield to constraint, in the upside-down-ness of the Christian gospel – the weak will be strong, the mourning will be comforted, the hungry will be satisfied–we again encounter the counterintuitive truth that our will is not nearly so capable in its effort as in its consent.
Essentially, this idea of constraint says that not only am I incapable of having it all, even I were capable, all of that doing would be destructive to the consenting that often defines us more acutely. When we are openhanded with our time and our lives and our hopes, we see that God constrains us for our good.
So, back to where I started. How does a single woman contribute to a conversation about having it all? By acknowledging that this situation I find myself in - being single my whole life, at least until now - is exactly the kind of constraint that helps me see value in the narrowed choices. I don't have a husband or children, but I have another calling that matters. And in giving myself to what I have instead of striving for what I don't have, I may just find myself becoming more like Jesus.
Deidra Riggs is responding to the Atlantic article over at The High Calling. Visit her there for more discussion and links to other perspectives on this issue.
Photo by hill.josh, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.