The Common Good

Men Can't Have It All, and Why They Never Did

Five of my female Facebook friends had posted the article in a span of about two hours. The headline, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” stared at me, daring me to respond.

Overwhelmed man image, Rene Jansa / Shutterstock.com
Overwhelmed man image, Rene Jansa / Shutterstock.com

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Read it, first. Then come back here. Go ahead, take the half-hour (it’s a long one). Read the WHOLE thing.

Back?

OK, so there are some good points in there, right? If you want to be a political power player in Washington, D.C., forcing you to live long-distance from your husband and children, maaaaybe you’re not going to be the happiest person ever. Maybe you can’t “have it all.”

But why is that the question to begin with? Why does this topic of conversation perennially rear it’s head to make women feel like they’re not doing it right? And why is the question never asked of men?

To begin with, whether you can have it all completely depends on your vision of “it all.” Does having it all mean an 80-hour workweek clawing your way to a leadership position, a husband with a career ensuring that with your dual-income, you can afford that McMansion in the suburbs with 2.4 kids and labradoodle?

If so, maybe it’s not a matter of can’t. Maybe some of us—the career-minded included—simply don’t want it.

Give me a job that utilizes my God-given talents and makes me feel like I’m making a difference. Give me a husband who can’t wait to leave work at 5 p.m. so we can go out for happy hour (because who pays full-price these days?) and debrief our day. Give me a tiny, urban apartment with the lullaby of sirens going past my window. Give me the patience it takes to wait and start a family when God decides it’s time.

Maybe it’s generational. Millennials have never really assumed we’ll have a position at the top. We’re just hoping for a position out of our parents’ basements.

But to my point, why have we conceded that this is a women’s issue? I talked about this with my husband a little bit last night — mulling it over a Moscow Mule at happy hour.

“Well, men can’t have it all either.”

Preach, hubbs. (He’s a preacher; he does that.)

It’s obvious, but has everyone just decided to be OK with it? If you grew up in an age when your father left before sunrise and came home after dark, maybe it’s a given.

The working woman has lessened a bit the real financial burden for the man to be the lone provider, but the pressures still exist. So what does having it all mean to a man? The career, the house, the perfect kids, the pretty wife?

For the most part, my husband’s desires echo my own, but I know that topping the list for most men is that responsibility of being a provider. 

He describes his drive to “provide for the family” akin to some women’s innate desire to become mothers. Since he cannot give birth, and I was privileged enough to not be born male, I guess we’ll never know how comparable the two are. But from a Christian perspective, I get what he’s saying. Biblically speaking, Adam’s job was to lead (and he did such a smash-up job). But his label of leader doesn’t preclude Eve from leading right along with him.

Being a provider is a noble responsibility. But we have to remember what that can entail when the responsibility becomes an identifier—a means to “having it all.” It can mean sacrificing time with your family to an extreme. It can mean adult children trying to form relationships with their fathers 20 years too late. It can mean marriages that get put on the backburner or fail altogether.

Society’s idea of having it all—this myth perpetuated every time this conversation restarts—is overrated.

An egalitarian relationship, in which both spouses work and develop their careers, share childcare responsibilities to form strong bonds with their children, and spend time fostering their marriage is having it all …. for me.

What is it for you?

Sandi Villarreal is Associate Web Editor at Sojourners. Follower her on Twitter @Sandi.

Overwhelmed man image, Rene Jansa / Shutterstock.com

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