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What Does “Having It All” Mean?

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

It’s been a week and I can’t get The Atlantic cover story, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” out my head. I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it. Can we, or can’t we have it all, and if we can’t—why the hell not?

“Having it all” is relative, isn’t it? If you put 10 women in a room, I bet each one would tell you that “having it all” means something different to them. Here’s what it means to me.

Depending on the day (week or month) it changes. Some days I walk out of work thinking I do have it all—a healthy family, a happy child, a good career. I am blessed to have a great, well-paying job in a shitty economy; it’s seven blocks from my house and four blocks from my son’s preschool. Some days I feel like that’s having it all.

Other days? I’m tired, I’m crabby, and I don’t feel like going to work and leaving my son all day. Especially when he starts the morning off being cute, like yesterday when we were dancing around in my bathroom, getting ready.

Me: “You’re such a little peanut.”
Preston: [Giggles] “No…you’re a saaandwich.”

He kept telling me he loved me, and giving me big, meaningful hugs. All he wants in life is to spend more time with me, his mom who works. I swear, the kid doesn’t even want presents or anything material—he just wants his mommy.

But then? He wouldn’t brush his teeth, so I had to force brush them for him. I got blue toothpaste all over myself. He acted out. I yelled at him. He cried. I felt bad. He felt bad. He said, “Sowwy,” in his cute, whimpering voice. We rushed out of the house, I dropped him off at school, and I was glad to be going to work. (Then just as I was walking out of his classroom he asked me for one more hug…knife through the heart.)

I don’t take anything for granted, but I think “having it all,” while perfectly achievable, is probably fleeting. The minute I think my life is settled  and headed in the right direction, and I’m at peace with things the way they are, something throws that into question—like my desire to have more children, and the challenges that presents.

Other days I'm content with having only one child, and seriously consider that I’ve made choices in my life that have gotten me here, and I’m okay with that. Perhaps this is what our lives can handle right now, and maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. But almost as soon as I have those thoughts, my son asks when he can see his cousins, or our friends’ kids—who he talks about daily—and I see how happy he is being around other children, and I change my mind. He wants a sibling—there isn’t a doubt in my mind. And I think I’ll have some serious regrets if I don’t try my hardest to try to give him one.

I don’t have it all yet.

I bet women who strive to “have it all” never feel like they really do—the high-powered, successful working mom, juggling a career and kids, is always reaching for the top. Women who think in terms of “having it all” are always pushing the boundaries of what that even means. As much as I wish I could slow down sometimes, be home more and work less—I can’t stop my mind from working overtime to figure out my next freelance project or career move. Or, for that matter, my next child.

I think we can have it all—maybe not every second of every day. But if you define “having it all” by being happy—content even—I don’t see why that’s so impossible. Life is about sacrifices; you just have to be okay making them.

Do you think you have it all? What does that mean to you?

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