Can Women Have it All?


“So, although I don’t have it all, I want all that I have.”

I grew up during the turbulence of the 60s and 70s and benefited mightily from the work of feminists, who burned their bras and walked out on ‘convention’ in order to permanently change the status of women. Women in my mother’s generation did not have a smorgasbord of choices available to them. My mother once told me that besides marriage, she had the option of “teaching, secretarial work, or nursing.” Other than a nunnery, all other doors were closed.

My mom wanted to go to college, to dance like Martha Graham and Moira Shearer, to wander the earth learning and growing in much the same way that I did as a young woman.  Instead, she married my father when she was 19 and gave birth to four children by the time she was 28.  She threw her creative spirit into our home.  She read voraciously, teaching us to live our values and use our minds and talents.  Although she juggled a very tenuous financial situation, she still managed to make each one of us feel as though we were special, loved, and everything she’d always wanted out of life.  I admire the hell out of her tenacious spirit.  My mother is a warrior woman if there ever was one, but did she want more out of her life?  Possibly.  I am sure that there are many things that are still on her life’s list as aspirations and dreams.  How could there not be?

As a young woman, I recall my mother’s admonishment that I would have to choose: a career or marriage and children.  I resented her for it and went out of my way to prove her wrong.  But― it turns out― my ambition as an artist, musician, songwriter, and writer all trumped my capacity to carve out space for anything else.  I have stretched my capacity and would love to share my life with someone, but I will not shove the rest of my life into a thimble to do so.  Loving deeply is something I have experienced though, even if I have not been married.  I have risked my heart and I have gotten it broken.

I don’t have any children.  Having a child was something that I assumed would eventually happen for me; however, I never met a man I wanted to have a child with, and even when I did, he was divorced and had exercised his option to have a vasectomy.  At 40 it became clear that children (whether biological or adoptive) were not likely for me.  Instead, I nurture hundreds of students, some of them in their first year of college, some just diving into the idea that they are individuals with voices and dreams and ideas for the future.  I have fostered dozens of young women over the years through my Buddhist practice.  I am proud of all of them.  Many have gone on to get their doctoral degrees, to travel the world, and to offer themselves up to make a difference in whatever they do.  I “parent” my pets, and I am a tender friend, but at least for this lifetime, I will not physically give birth to a child. 

Years ago I was with a girlfriend when she had her son.  Moments after Alexander was born, I held him in my arms and walked through the delivery room singing to him through a rush of tears.  He was not my son, but in that one slow moment at the opening of his life, I was the person singing in his ear.  I treasure that memory.  I lost touch with his mother years ago; however, I hope that he’s turned into a beautiful, grounded, well-adjusted young man.  I doubt I will ever know, but I keep that moment wrapped up inside of me as a reminder of not only what I chose to forgo this lifetime, but also that there are many ways to nurture our fellow human beings.  Parenting a child is just one of them.

So, can women have it all? 

I circle back to that question. I guess it depends on whether you prefer to savor one beautiful meal or devour a whole table of food. In both instances you are eating, but who is really enjoying the process? At the end of all this, I am struck by the idea that although there are some women who manage to have a man, a family, a career, and time for themselves – those who do are rare, and those who do often have a lot of help

My mother told me a few years ago that “women can have it all; just not all at once.”  She felt that you have to sacrifice something in order to be a good parent.  These days, I tend to agree.  You can have a relationship, a career, a home, a family….but there will be bumps and sacrifices along the way. 

I get irritated when I see society implying that all women should be striving to have it all.  There is a weariness I associate with that sort of expectation.  The fact of the matter is that we are not all cut from the same sort of cloth.  I feel bad for women (particularly those currently trying to juggle marriages, children, and work) when the social mores seem to be saying that there is “something wrong or lacking” in a woman who is not all things to all people.  

Some of us need to focus on one thing and one thing only. 

I have no desire to be a pole dancer for my partner, while simultaneously giving birth to twenty children, cooking a gourmet meal, scouring the oven and the toilet, and giving a quarterly report to the board of directors of a multi-national corporation.  It is enough to get up every day and be the best teacher and the best writer and the best woman I can be.  As a single woman without children, I have a lot of freedom.  I can do what I want with my days.  There is time to read, to sit, to pray and to think.  I am in charge of the life I am living.  There is a certain catharsis in that.

We each make the choices that we make.  We always have to live with the consequences of those choices.  And although there are moments in my life when I mourn the loss of those things that I have not experienced during my life, I realize acutely that I have absolutely no regrets about the choices that I have made.   In fact, every day I become more and more aware that I am, in fact, exactly the woman I dreamt I’d be.   

So, although, I don’t have it all, I want all I have. 

That is a good place to be.

© 2008 Shavawn M. Berry

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