Can we really have it all?

Can we really have it all? I am a woman in my thirties. I focus on this question, trying to answer it and understand it and conform to it's projected meaning.  It is so general, so assuming, so basic.  Too basic for my complex emotions and needs and definitely too basic for the beautifully complex women around me. 

Let me tell you what asking this question does to me.  It has me saying yes when I really should say no.  It has me with terrible boundaries, an overbooked calendar and disappointed faces when I cancel last minute because I wanted to have it all and suddenly realize at the last hour that I am supposed to be three places at once.

I have wrestled with this topic before but a recent girls weekend brought it full circle. Once the weekend wrapped up I called my sister and asked her, "Did I do this? Did I build a life that has no room for a partner? For a husband and a child? Did I get so ambitious and independent and busy that men look at me and think, "There is no way there is room for me in that life."?

We talked for awhile about growing up being told we can do anything we put our minds to by our parents, our mother telling us to depend on "no one for anything" and then her death spiraling us into soul searching mode to find meaning in our loss.  "I just want the suffering to stop," I exclaimed through the Facetime app. 

The girls weekend was fascinating.  Women from all over the country at different stages in their lives wrestling with variations of true identity, coming together to celebrate a friend taking the leap into marriage; her exiting one stage of womanhood and entering the unknown territory of being a wife. What is a wife?

To me it is all unknown territory.  Last week on the phone with a friend who has also chosen career and passion, at least for now, we discussed this sadness that comes with independence.  I often wonder, is it this uncharted chapter where we delay marriage and motherhood and are now left to discover what else, if anything, holds meaning that is the cause of our pain? 

The generations before us, yes paved the way for career opportunity and advanced education--becoming mothers early and working full time, but they didn't delay the process. They were mothers AND, they were wives AND.  This to say, that in every generation there have been woman who never became wives and mothers but for the purpose of this I refer to the majority. Should we label ourselves the explorers, the ones heading out into uncharted waters moving the line forward for those who come after us? Are we the ones that by delaying motherhood and marriage to discover ourselves are suffering on behalf of the next generation? Are we paving the way for them to have more choices? 

I hold a friend's newborn and tears come to my eyes at the joy of seeing this little person and all of his newness and fragility.  A family member's pregnancy announcement brings me such excitement, the kind of excitement I haven't felt in a very very long time.  Is this all that life is about? Motherhood? Family? Partnership? Have I gotten it wrong?  Should I have made more room for a partner and less room for a career? 

These aren't questions I am necessarily seeking answers to--as much as I am exploring.  There is no right way.  There is no having it all. The women from the girls weekend each struggle with their identity, purpose, and value in varying ways.  The wife and stay at home mom wondering if she is enough in these roles.  The about to go back to work mother accepting that she craves more than just motherhood to feel complete.  The twenty something still young enough to not have guilt but old enough to wonder what is next. The tired new mom missing her daughter and wishing she could sleep. Then there is me, awake enough to know that I am not currently on the same path as most women my age, curious enough to wonder if my sadness would dissipate if I became a wife and a mother, and lonely enough to wish for partnership despite my familiarity with independence. "I don't want to settle," I say to my married friends.  "If my independence and career are too much for a man, then I suppose he is not for me," I say, trying to disguise the disappointment in my voice. Can I not be a career woman, a mother and a wife? Is that path not an option? Would I feel like enough in any of those roles if I tried to take them all on? These fears delay my commitment to the tradition.  Am I choosing men that aren't ready because I myself am too afraid I would fail them? Or too afraid I would fail my children? 

Then there is the friend who was advised to freeze her eggs at her last doctors appointment.  "Are we doing that now?" She asks me over morning tea. "I don't know," I reply, "I read an article about it once." 

Then the almost first time parents who jokingly mumble, "What do you mean there is not roadmap? We are terrified". 

But they are right, there is no roadmap.  Should this generation be drawing one for the next?  Would my roadmap even be helpful to them? Will the women born ten years after me even know the suffering I endured in order to show them another way? Is this way really even relevant?

The greatest discovery of the girls weekend was that no one is having it all. Each of us, wherever we are on our journey of womanhood, are struggling with purpose and identity and value.  We seek connections and validation, reassurance and individuality. It is perhaps in this sharing of suffering that we can suffer less.  The more we can talk about the fear and the loneliness the less afraid and lonely we will feel.  I found coming together and sharing experiences and emotions to be freeing.  Perhaps we need more of these girls weekends.

I also think the roadmap we can leave for the next generation is simply an acknowledgement that none of it is particularly easy and all of it is somewhat rewarding. Which is probably why it is so complex. The women before me fought so hard for me to have choice, am I really going to waste that by not trying to have it all? 

At times my career does hold deep meaning for me, giving me validation and confidence. At other times it is lonely and isolating and frustrating. I think sometimes people see how you are living your life and they assume that you, do indeed, have it all. Wrong.  I might love what I do and love creating things but crave companionship and family.  And perhaps I would give up part of one to have more of the other. 

It seems that my friends who are mothers feel the exact same way. There is no right. There is no having it all. But the beauty is in the reality that we are all in this, feeling these feelings, doubting our purpose and wondering if the grass is greener.  And knowing all of that might just be enough to get us through the muck and the doubt. 

A great mother today, a mediocre sister tomorrow, an executive in the morning, a daughter in the evenings, a forgetful wife on the weekends.  Womanhood is complex, we are so many things to so many people and yet we also have to find a way to be something to ourselves. Make room I say to the exhausted mother, ask for what you need I coach the newlywed--but it is not simple and it is not black and white and no, we can not have it all. The sooner we realize that this is true, the less suffering we will encounter. 

Interested in exploring these topics more? If you are a woman seeking connection and conversation with other women head over to the Jump Network and join us! We've built a curated network of women excited to help you on your journey.