“You can have it all…just not all at the same time.”
When my daughter was born, I made the difficult choice to go back to work. I was close to earning tenure at the college where I taught, and achieving tenure was a goal I had worked toward for many years. I never felt completely comfortable with that choice, though, and when I finally became pregnant with my second child after infertility treatment, I realized that where I needed to be was at home. I can’t say that choice was easier, but it felt more “right.” Over the next few years, I navigated my way through the work part-time, work from home maze that so many moms do, and had our third child along the way. Now that all of my kids are in school, I’m still in that maze, but it’s much easier to find at least some daytime hours to work (especially now that I’m in a vocation I love even more than teaching).
As I’ve wended my way through the various choices that confront moms today, I’ve been reminded of Maria Shriver’s words (which she says are her actually her mother Eunice Shriver’s words to her). I can have it all, just not all at the same time. Those words brought me comfort when I faced difficult choices about how to divide up my days between my work and my family responsibilities. I definitely found early on that if I wanted to continue the pace of my career, I would not get to spend the amount of time with my daughter that I wanted to. I spent a couple of years burning the candle at both ends, trying to be all things to all people. Lo and behold, I had trouble getting pregnant again because my body and my spirit were completely worn out. I had to devote a lot of time, money, and energy to resting and treating my body well enough to carry another child. Then, when I decided to leave my career, I realized that it was very difficult to leave part of my identity behind along with it. So I’ve spent a lot of time in this sort of middle place, where I’ve been lucky enough to carve out time for both my family and a career that is deeply meaningful to me. I know so many women who don’t have that great good fortune.
Along the way, I’ve also noticed that Maria’s quote says one thing, but really means something quite different. She says that we can “have” it all, just not all at one time. What she really means, though, is that we can’t DO it all. And she is absolutely right about that. There are so many women (men too, but I think women are particularly vulnerable here) who run themselves ragged trying to do all that they believe needs to be done, and who are trying to do all the things all by themselves. Women ask for help when they can see no other way to get it done, but they are often reluctant to ask for help otherwise. There are a few traps that we fall into if we do. We often feel selfish, or sometimes lazy or even entitled. Self-care is supposedly the antidote for too much running and doing, but that is also supposed to be fit into our “off” hours. Here’s the thing about that—moms don’t really have off hours. Studies have shown that women consistently shoulder more of the household responsibilities and what is called the “mental load” of a household—keeping track of what needs to be bought, who needs to be driven where, and things like whether the dishwasher or washing machine need emptying or filling, what time the school orientation takes place, and which child’s classmate is allergic to dairy. Women tend to hold this information in their brains in a way that men tend not to. (There are probably numerous reasons for that, but that’s another post. The point here is not to bash men, just to describe how it usually goes for women.)
So, where does all of that leave us? Tired in a way that sleep doesn’t fix, burned out, emotionally exhausted. I’ve been there, and those are the times that Maria’s quote has often bubbled up in my memory as well. I can have it all, just not all at once. The truth though, is that I can’t DO it all at once. If I focus on what I can HAVE, what I can experience in any given moment, the truth is that I can actually have anything that I truly want. I can have peace, joy, love, adventure, excitement, connection, grace, calm, a sense of accomplishment, or anything in between. I can experience anything I choose, anytime I choose it. But in order to do that, there are a few things I have to set aside. Here they are, in no particular order:
The notion that I can do it all, if everything and everyone would just cooperate. They won’t, I can’t, and that isn’t the goal anyway.
The idea that I don’t need sleep or rest or downtime. I absolutely do. I need to spend time each day being QUIET. Meditation, prayer, quiet reflection—it doesn’t matter what I call it, but it’s absolutely essential.
My devotion to fulfilling other people’s desires rather than my own. I have to contemplate (see #2) what brings me joy and spend time doing that. That is what people mean when they say to put on your own oxygen mask first. Find what gives you air to breathe, and then you can do that for your people as well.
My tendency to live according to other people’s expectations. It does not matter how other people think I should spend my day or what choices other people think I should make. It only matters that I live according to my deeply held values, which I have chosen based on intimate conversations between me and my higher consciousness (what many people choose to call God, but you can choose whatever name you like). Again, see #2.
My fixation on doing life, rather than experiencing life. Life will hand me circumstances that often change from day to day—which child is having difficulties, the choices that people around me make that affect how my life is going to go, whether someone cuts me off in traffic, whether I get sick or become injured, and on and on. I can’t “do” life the same way if my circumstances change. My to-do list and my agenda will change. But what can stay the same is how I EXPERIENCE life. I can approach any and every situation from a place of calm centeredness (see # 1-4) no matter what happens around me. It doesn’t mean that I always will—I am human after all—but I can always return to that place that I’ve identified as mine in the world.
Maria Shriver also says this: "My mother once said to me, 'There's a time to mother, a time to be single, a time to work, a time to volunteer, a time to pray, a time to be active, a time to be, a time to do, a time to talk to yourself, and a time to be quiet.” Only we can decide what calls to us at a particular time in our lives. It is up to us to listen and hear that call. Thanks, Maria <3