Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” bucks the feminist manifesto and says what many mothers have long known to be true. There is no having it all. Something always gives. While I don’t agree with all of Slaughter’s assumptions or conclusions, I like her assessment that the women we consider as “having it all” are either: a. Self-employed
I’m grateful for Slaughter’s upfront admission that we can’t really make her life - or Sheryl Sandberg’s life (COO of Facebook) or Marissa Mayer’s life (CEO of Yahoo) for that matter - any kind of point of comparison for the rest of us, who don’t have the means to afford round-the-clock childcare or housekeeping.
But even if we were to eliminate rich from our calculus, we still have that nagging category of superwomen, those built from some kind of superior bionic material.
Women like Ann Voskamp.
Ann Voskamp writes a beautiful blog, has published a bestselling book, travels and speaks for Compassion International, and homeschools her six beautiful children.
If all this (extraordinarily humble, I might add) accomplishment weren’t enough, on her blog, Voskamp alludes to trysts with the Farmer.
Where, oh where, does she find the energy?
In this article, Ann explains her process for writing, one aspect of her life that I find myself particularly interested in. Apparently, she’s up with the roosters and farmhands (a.k.a. her children) at 5 a.m., writing a couple of hours in the morning before her long day of homeschooling and housework begins. She’s back at the computer at 9 p.m., often writing until 2 a.m.
And what does her life’s example have me thinking?
I am a schmuck.
The truth is, these discussions of women having-it-all and the comparisons they engender produce an inevitable kind of self-reproach. And that self-reproach is likely unmerited. Comparisons of one life to another are the absolute WORST standard of measurement. We simply cannot understand and measure all the variables of another woman's life.
Take again as an example, Ann Voskamp. Yes, the woman is, by all accounts of those who’ve met her and heard her speak, filled with the Spirit of Jesus. And we know what Jesus does with the bread and fish of our lives given in His hands. He multiplies them. I’ve long believed this – that though my resources are greatly inadequate, surrendered to Him, they can become sufficient for the purposes for which He intends. Voskamp is a shining example of this: capacity increased for the glory of God.
It is also true that the month before her book deadline, Farmer husband assumed the responsibility for ALL of the housework, laundry, cooking and homeschooling.
Families are equations, and one helpful husband can go a long way toward contributing what a woman is able to do outside of the home. I’m not advocating that this is necessarily their role, just simply stating that this is the way many women accomplish what they do. They have someone at home helping.
Which leads me to the reason I titled this post, “Why I’ve let my cleaning lady go.” For seven years, I’ve had help with my housekeeping. I’ve shelled out thousands of dollars to have someone help me scrub my toilets and mop my floors. Weekly.
I want to feel guilty about it. According to Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing up Bébé, we American women make an Olympic sport out of guilt. We valorize it, says Druckerman. That is, we actually feel better for feeling guilty. It soothes us, this rhythm of guilt. If we can’t fix the causes of our inadequacy, at least we can wallow in it.
But I want to tell you I’m letting my cleaning lady go, less to assuage my stricken conscience, and more to dispel the “superwoman” myth. I am often called this, though I know this has less to do with who I am or what I accomplish, and more to do with the fact that I have five children. People just tend to assume there is something heroic and saintly about you when you have lots of kids.
As I’ve now admitted to you, I’ve had help. Invisible help. You didn’t know to factor that into the equation, did you, when you felt that reflexive impulse to compare your life with mine? And now you know: I’m not superwoman, just a woman with a little bit of means. I guess Slaughter was right after all.
For the last seven years, I’ve been buying back time with the help I’ve hired: time to write, time to serve, time to have people into my home, and discretionary time to paint my toenails. My husband is not Farmer: his job is year-round demanding and inflexible. That’s the equation of our family, which is why for the past seven years I’ve hired outside help rather than relying on him. (I don't mean to make him sound unwilling, just busy.)
This fall, because all of the children will be in school full-time, I’ll have the time that I, for the last seven years, have been buying back and no longer need the outside help.
I could be made to feel guilty about that, too. But that’s a topic for another day’s post.
Suffice it to say that most of the women we think to be "superwomen" aren't. And feeling like a schmuck next to these women is inordinately unhelpful. It's produces self-incrimination of the worst kind, resulting often in paralysis. If I can't do it like them, I shan't even try.
Remember that your family is a unique equation.
Remember that God grants each woman varying capacities.
Remember that comparisons are lethal.
Stay faithful in your particular calling and context.
And most importantly, hear the gospel's invitation to lay down your pursuit of the cape. There are NO superwomen in the kingdom. Just children and the least of these.