ahhh, the life of a diplomatic princess . . .

My Definition of “All”–It’s Only Mine, That’s the Point

There has been a lot of very interesting discussion on the heels of two Atlantic pieces written by women about “having it all.” I thought both pieces (found here and here) were interesting and thoughtful but, also, slightly grating for this reason: the assumption that there is a universal definition of “all,” some recipe that you have to find the ingredients to before being able to find your bliss. Two parts highly demanding and powerful job, two parts children, one part spouse, mix and voila! You have “all!” Except that’s not my definition of all. We each have different requirements for feeling fulfilled and content so why does our society continue to hang on to the idea that, in order for a woman to be successful and considered to have it all, she must fit into a certain mold? To me, that seems rather oppressive and the opposite of feminist. I understand why that idea still holds–because for so long women were forced into a different formula and mold and nobody wants to go back there. But today’s formula doesn’t seem right to me either. In fact, no formulaic idea of “all” or “happy” is right for everyone. So why are we still teaching this universal idea of “all” to the next generation of women?

When I decided to leave the workforce in order to have a baby I got a bit of blowback from some people, less than subtle hints that I was betraying feminism, settling for less. Then I had a conversation about it with my dad, one of my feminist role models (another, of course, is my mom). He reminded me that feminism isn’t about requiring women to have a job and kids and everything else we’re told equals “all,” it’s about women making choices for themselves. I’ve never forgotten that conversation, I remind myself of it when I feel pressure to “go back to work.”

My decision wasn’t easy, I’m one of the lucky folks who found a way to make money (not a lot of money but enough) doing something that I felt passionately about. I worked with animals who’d been tossed aside, neglected, abused, forgotten. I loved it, I felt I was making a difference. But I also felt like, if possible, my child should have a parent at home so I willingly left the workforce and I don’t regret that decision for a second. When I write “if possible,” I don’t only mean financially, I also mean if it’s possible for the parent to feel fulfilled by staying home because an unhappy parent makes for an unhappy kid and that is in nobody’s best interest. The decision I’ve made, my own personal formula, wouldn’t work for everyone but that’s okay because it’s mine. My life now, with three amazing kids, an incredibly devoted husband who makes my tummy grow butterflies still, an interesting and nomadic life, supportive family and friends, and being able to volunteer to do what I love–that’s my formula for all. I hope, as my children grow, they find their own formulas for “all” and never let anyone try to define that for them.

So enough with the idea that having it “all” means having certain things. Enough with the tired, counter-productive mommy wars. Enough with the belief that women who choose to stay home have thrown in the towel on feminism. Enough with the belief that women who have chosen to work, or who have to by necessity, are inadequate mothers. People make personal choices and nobody should be judging the right and wrong of those choices. We should each get to define what “all” is for ourselves. Here’s my formula:



Being able to take our kids to places like this


Two of the awesome grandparents–our kids are lucky enough to have 7, and 2 great-grandparents!


The fact that I’ve had the same best friend since I was 14, and she’s absolutely incredible, that’s a big part of my formula.


The privilege of giving animals like Squiggles, who was thrown into a trashcan with two siblings who didn’t make it, a second chance at life.

Plus, whatever makes me happy on a given day. Plus all the hard stuff that happens and shapes me. Voila! Heather’s one of a kind formula for “all!” Unique and crazy and lovely. It makes me happy, it makes my family happy, to me that is “all.”


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2 thoughts on “My Definition of “All”–It’s Only Mine, That’s the Point

  1. Lynne on said:

    Love it. So true!

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