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You Can't Have it All, Said Emma Thompson to Maggie Gyllenhaal

By Kacy Faulconer |

A while ago I read this interview with Emma Thompson and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Maggie Gyllenhaal is still thinking about it.

These two fabulous ladies are talking about “having it all.”

I’m super into this conversation, but I’m just not sure Maggie Gyllenhaal and I are on the same page because she is talking about “carving out me time” by doing 2 1/2 hours of yoga every day.  I don’t relate.

I mean, maybe I would take 1 hour at the most on a treadmill but it’s more likely that my “me time” will take place behind a locked door in the bathroom or hiding in the pantry to eat chocolate chips. I’m not genteel like these Hollywood types.

Maggie Gyllenhaal describes how when she was playing the role of a frazzled mother driving a car with 5 kids and pets in Nanny McPhee 2, she “cracked.” Granted I ONLY have 4 kids but it’s my real life and I haven’t cracked. I mean, not clinically.  I wish I were Maggie’s acting coach because I would tell her, “Since these aren’t your real kids and you aren’t really driving them but only acting like they are your real kids and acting like you are driving them why don’t you pull a Robert Dinero and ACT LIKE YOU AREN’T CRACKED.” Actors–they act, right? Am I not getting it?

Nevertheless, Maggie Gyllenhaal is smart to take advice from Emma Thompson. She tells Maggie Gyllenhaal that you can’t have it all. It’s the post-feminist truth. I speculated about the types of jobs women can reasonably have here, along with Anne-Marie Slaughter. I still think Slaughter’s point about creating a more family-friendly work environment is totally valid.

But it has led a lot of people to pipe in on a separate (but equal!) point about how much a person can reasonably expect to have. All? Prolly not.

Because certain choices (4 kids) exclude other choices (2 1/2 hour yoga sessions).  You don’t need it all and you can’t have it. I don’t. But I have enough. You might think that I’m a fantastic blogger and my children are charming but I have a really fat stomach and I have to suck in all the time and it is very tiring. I might think you have a great life and shapely legs but your blog is really boring. See? None of us have it all. Anyways. I like what Emma Thompson says about this:

I don’t want [women] ever to think they have to have it all. I think that’s a revolting concept. It’s so false! Sometimes you’ll have some things, and sometimes you’ll have other things. And you do not need it all at once; it’s not good for you. You can’t be a great mom and work the whole time necessarily; those two things aren’t ideal. We have an awful lot to work on and to debate about in relation to our working lives, because it isn’t working for a lot of people, particularly for a lot of women….

The only way you can have it all is by delegating all the running of the home to other people — which I don’t ever want to do, nor does Mags. So you do it yourself, and it takes time and energy and effort. And if you give it the time, it’s profoundly enjoyable. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Emma Thompson Interview – Good Housekeeping

That being said, I think there is an interesting feminist backlash going on right now in the form of people who are really into homemaking. I happen to not be very naturally talented at homemaking. But I think a lot of people my age are “rebelling” or asserting their individuality by embracing the 50s because maybe they grew up in the 70s and 80s with a working mom and Claire Huxtabel so now baking bread in heels and an apron seems quaintly retro and awesome.

And their moms are going, “Red lipstick and homemade cupcakes? Yeah–we remember Donna Reed just a little too well for it to be awesome to us.” Kind of like how I remember fluorescent leggings and stinky plastic flats just a little too well for the 80s to be awesome to me.

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More of my Babbles.

The Mechanics of Becoming Lame

Good Luck, Charlie: Growing Up Female in a Disney World

Easy Makeup for Moms: 5 Cheap and 5 Splurges

Read more from Kacy at Every Day I Write the Book.
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About Kacy Faulconer


Kacy Faulconer

I'm Kacy Faulconer. I'm your friend. Read more from me at Every Day I Write the Book. Read bio and latest posts → Read Kacy's latest posts →

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10 thoughts on “You Can't Have it All, Said Emma Thompson to Maggie Gyllenhaal

  1. Lisa says:

    Yes! I remember reading this article and thinking , ” yeah, you’re going to crack?! It’s called acting!” blech.

    I love your perspective on this. I have five kids, a husband with, frankly, two demanding careers, etc blah, blah, and I have many varying interests. Over the years I’ve realized how our lives shift in stages. Some stages are harder than others for different reasons, but there are unique blessing to each stage as well, when not fully appreciated can create a false sense of inadequacy or scarcity. Working full time was demanding, but very fulfilling, having really little kids and being lumpy was hard and tiring, but also very tender and sacred in many ways, having older kids is demanding intellectually and ohysically in a different way than i anticipated, but its also really, really fun…and I think it’s ridiculous to tell women, or men, that they can have it all at the same time. I’m glad my parents never told me that. They were pretty honest about their experiences, their triumphs and regrets, and I want to be transparent with my kids as well. I want to teach my kids to want the best things, and not be afraid to sacrifice and work hard to protect the things that make you happy, no matter what stage you’re in.

  2. Jen Powell says:

    Love it, Kacy! You are brilliant and I am greatly appreciating your voice on this subject.

  3. Jamie says:

    I love this convo, too, Kacy. Two things:

    I believe the very best gift you can give your children is to be HAPPY. Some people can be totally happy spending 16 hours a day every day with their children. Some need an hour or two of “me time,” some are happier when they work outside the home. I don’t think you’re doing your kids any kind of favor to be home with them if you’re not happy. Just, no. But I also believe that it’s really important to know and believe the truth that there is a season to everything and a time to every purpose. It’s hard to see any kind of light at the end of a decade of sleepless nights and diapers, but it is inevitably (GLORIOUSLY) there.

    Also you mention the “Becky-Home-Ec-y” phenomenon (as my mom called it). It is interesting, and not in a negative (“weird”) way. I think a lot of women kinda “rediscovered” the joy of homemaking and that’s cool. AS LONG AS THEY ARE HAPPY. I do believe there was/is a backlash, and I had a convo with my mom back in 1996 when Martha Stewart was exploding in popularity. My mom (who graduated HS in 1969) was all, “I do NOT get why people love her, she is so annoying and she teaches the most basic dumb things people should have learned in 8th grade or Merrie Miss class!” And I was all, “Well, most people my age didn’t go to Merrie Miss class and their mothers worked and homemaking is like some lost art. Nobody taught us this stuff, or else they told us it was stupid, which makes it kind of cool and interesting territory.” So we’re at least 17 years into this…maybe the pendulum is fixin’ to swing back the other way, or hey–maybe it will finally settle in the middle and we can all just be who we wann be.

    1. Kacy Faulconer says:

      SUCH great comments! Thanks, everyone, for weighing in.

  4. Anna says:

    These are the things I keep thinking. When people tell me you can (and should) have it all it just makes me angry. I’m just trying to balance the few parts of “it all” that ive chosen and even that is exhausting.

  5. Tamsin says:

    “I might think you have a great life and shapely legs but your blog is really boring.”

    See, I know you don’t mean ME, because I have a shapely blog and really boring legs, as it happens.

  6. seymour says:

    i’ve been toying with the theory that the over-the-top homemaking, martha stewart, becky-home-ec-y trend is a new form of conspicuous consumption – particularly in those communities where having the husband work and the wife a sahm is the ‘preferred’ family dynamic. so instead of buying unneccesary and expensive stuff to show off/establish their social status, women spend all this luxurious time that they have on elaborate homemaking projects and then use blogs to display their wealth of discretionary time/money – because, depending on your community and the degree to which you believe a woman’s most significant domain is the home, then this display shows everyone that a) your husband makes enough money so you don’t have to work, b) if being at home is important, then you’re a huge success because look at this uber-home you’ve created and thus c) you get to garner the prestige/status/envy of being this righteous success. Nevermind that modernity has provided the gadgets and conveniences to totally streamline homemaking allowing us to be Mary and not Martha, or allowing us more time with our kids, or allowing us to be more philanthropic, or allowing us to do whatever …which, i guess for some means baking bread and running marathons. I agree that the current boon of feminism is that it provides options/choice/agency (though we’re all down a few options in this economy), so i’m not finding fault with what a woman may spend her day doing – just comparing the homemaking/blogging trend to the 19th century nouveau riche …and depending on your leanings, i suppose that could be offensive or an aspiration.

  7. Kacy Faulconer says:

    Seymour, YES.

  8. Sandra Dumais says:

    What a great article. Seriously – if I hear another “normal mother” talk about her “me time” being sacred (same amount of time everyday, at the same time, everyday, without fail, always, WHAT!?) I’m going to lose it. I have been wanting to write for some time now about how overblown the whole “me time” concept is at the moment among mothers. Sure it’s important, but can we give it a rest? Sometimes “me time” really is me, hiding in the bathroom, pretending to have an upset stomach, reading Chatelaine and soaking my feet in the tub. And that’s fine. Having a young family requires a certain amount of acceptance at losing a lot of your free time… I thought everybody knew that?

    1. Kacy Faulconer says:

      Your “me time” sounds so dreamy, Sandra.

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