Having it all?

A Christian Science perspective: Anne-Marie Slaughter's recent article in The Atlantic magazine revisits the challenges women face when trying to achieve a work-family balance. Here are some ideas about what a spiritual perspective on the issue can offer.

Wouldn’t it be great if we each could “have it all”?

That phrase has gained considerable coinage in recent years. It’s about working mothers with families who have somehow achieved the perfect work-life balance. Women who “have it all” supposedly manage meaningful careers, their children, their marriages, and themselves with perfect coordination, and may seem to do so effortlessly. But this can be a difficult balancing act, satirized in numerous movies and books, because, for lots of working mothers, the “having it all” lifestyle seems elusive.

Having it all was back in the news recently due to an article in the July/August issue of The Atlantic called “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” which has received a vociferous reaction. The author, college professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, recently felt compelled to quit her time-intensive, high-level post in a government department in order to spend time with her children.

From a Christian Science perspective, is there any way to resolve the mother’s work-life dilemma in a healing way that meets financial needs as well as provides emotional fulfillment? In my own quest to achieve some kind of reasonable work-family balance, I’ve found that the study of Christian Science can bring guidance, understanding, and solutions.

Mary Baker Eddy, the author of the Christian Science textbook, believed that it was right for women to experience opportunity, progress, and freedom. Under the marginal heading “The rights of woman” in her textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mrs. Eddy states that women should be accorded greater equality: “[I]t is a marvel why usage should accord woman less rights than does either Christian Science or civilization” (p. 63).

One of the main points of Ms. Slaughter’s article is that if mothers are going to gain greater equality in the form of advancement in serious careers, then society – including husbands, fathers, and bosses – needs to do more to support their efforts with change in the structure of the work environment.

I’ve learned in Christian Science that “[God] guides every event of our careers,” as  Eddy says in her book “Unity of Good (p. 3). No stereotyped, rigid views can stop the progress of society in helping men and women achieve their full potential. She writes in Science and Health, “[P]rogress is the law of God, whose law demands of us only what we can certainly fulfil” (p. 233). We can therefore expect the unfolding of right progress in the structure of work environments if that will advance humankind.

But it is also evident in Eddy’s writings that she believed that nothing can change the importance of the relationship between mother and child. In her book “Retrospection and Introspection,” she said, “Who can feel and comprehend the needs of her babe like the ardent mother? What other heart yearns with her solicitude, endures with her patience, waits with her hope, and labors with her love, to promote the welfare and happiness of her children?” (p. 90).

Of late, there has been a resurgence of the importance placed on the mother-child relationship. In her article, Slaughter admitted that her teenage children needed her and that she also needed to spend time with them.

Like others who have written on this topic, I believe that one key to resolving the mother’s work-life dilemma is a new definition, or understanding, of what having it all might mean. For one working mother, it might mean having the freedom and support to become a high government official, a chief executive officer, or a partner in a law firm. For other mothers, it could be expressed as starting a business from home, having time in an art studio, or being given the opportunity to help others a few days a week. And, of course, those who choose to be full-time mothers should be valued and respected. Each solution could, for the individual involved, be fulfilling – an experience of having it all.

In my own life I’ve found that spiritual inspiration and turning to God for direction have helped give me a satisfying individual work-life balance. In Psalms, the Bible gives us a prayer of petition to God regarding work: “[E]stablish thou the work of our hands upon us” (90:17).

Turning to a spiritual source for guidance has helped me avoid some of the extremes that having it all can bring – excessive stress, disrupted relationships, child-rearing conflicts, and potential burn-out. Those possible byproducts can make having it all not all that desirable. My own prayers for unfoldment of work as a mother has led me to meaningful work that could be accomplished flexibly from home.

In Christian Science, God is defined as “All-in-all” (Science and Health, p. 113). Prayer can result in right, fulfilling activity so that we can live as the expression of God’s allness. That, in the best sense, is having it all.

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