Emma Thompson thinks “having it all” is “a revolting concept”


Emma Thompson and Maggie Gyllenhaal were the cover girls for the August issue of Good Housekeeping. I saw the issue but I always forgot to check out the interview for some reason. I should have known better – Emma is always a great interview, and she always has sh-t to say. Emma and Maggie are doing promotion for the Nanny McPhee movie, in which Emma revives the character she adapted for the screen. By the way, did you know that both Ralph Fiennes and Ewan McGregor are in the second film? True story. Anyway, through the course of the Good Housekeeping interview, Emma basically blasts the concept of “having it all” – a great family, motherhood, a great career, etc. But Emma is not Gisele. She’s not looking down her nose at us. Instead, she’s saying she’s one of us, and that she has lots of problems too:

She has long juggled her work as an actress with raising a family. But Emma Thompson believes that no woman can have the perfect career and be a faultless mother – at the same time.

The 51-year-old Oscar winner, who has a ten-year-old daughter, said trying to ‘have it all’ rarely works well for anyone in a family. She argued that the only way to manage motherhood and a full-time job was by enlisting hired help, something she insists she won’t do.

Her intervention comes at a time when the idea of ‘having it all’ is under attack from working mothers who find themselves run into the ground as they chase an impossible dream. Even its most ardent cheerleaders such as novelist Fay Weldon are thinking again as they see the effects on family life.

A recent survey by Grazia magazine revealed that one in ten women who has had children wants to give up work completely. The debate was further fuelled by Samantha Cameron, who is expecting a child in September and quit her full time job as creative director of Smythson, where she has worked for 14 years, within days of her husband becoming Prime Minister.

Miss Thompson made the comments in the US edition of Good Housekeeping magazine with actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, with whom she stars in the forthcoming sequel to Nanny Mcphee.

The British actress is married to actor Greg Wise, 44, and in addition to ten-year-old Gaia they adopted a 16-year-old Rwandan refugee named Tindyebwa Agaba, who is now 23.

Speaking to Good Housekeeping, Miss Thompson said: ‘I don’t want your readers 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 mum 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… So you do it yourself, and it takes time and energy and effort. And if you give it the time, it’s profoundly enjoyable.’

Miss Thompson added that when she had Gaia at 41 she was still not a ‘grown up’ but the experience has forced her to mature very quickly.

She does not have a regular nanny and she and Wise take turns to work so one is always home with their daughter.

She added: ‘We’re all supposed to be happy all the time. What is that about? Why have we lost contact with the possibility of saying, “Do you know what? I can’t do that. Sorry, I can’t manage that as well.”‘

In the interview Miss Gyllenhaal, who is married to actor Peter Sarsgaard -with whom she has a three-year-old daughter, Romana, told how Miss Thompson had inspired her to put her husband first more in her life.

The 32-year-old said: ‘Emma, you kind of gave me the idea that a part of my life, a part of my mind, has to be devoted to my husband. My mother’s generation has been bucking against that. But I’ve just been finding so much pleasure in sacrificing sometimes for my husband – going to where he’s working and tidying up his trailer because he couldn’t manage to do it, and bringing him things that will make him feel better, and being a wife in a more classical way. It feels really right to me.’

[From The Daily Mail]

As much as I think to myself, “Yeah, if I had Greg Wise at home waiting for me, I would never leave” I totally respect the realistic vision of family life Emma is presenting. I like when moms are honest. I like when anyone is honest, whether it’s Cameron Diaz not playing the “I can’t wait to be have babies!” game and simply acknowledging that she doesn’t feel the need to be a mother, or when it’s Emma saying that the idea of “having it all” is a trap. A trap we design for ourselves, for the most part.


Good Housekeeping cover courtesy of Celebrity Baby Scoop. Also: Emma in NYC on June 10, 2010. Credit: WENN.

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50 Responses to “Emma Thompson thinks “having it all” is “a revolting concept””

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  1. embertine says:

    Love her, love her, love her.

    Is it wrong that my first thought on her cover with Maggie was “I ship it”?


  2. Hautie says:

    Look how pretty Emma is at 51.

    No freakish work done to her face.

    Great complexion and aging beautifully.

    And she got to marry Willoby!

  3. meme says:

    @embertine – it’s early and i’m slow on the uptake…what do you mean “i ship it”

  4. Dorothy says:

    I love her!

  5. Gwen says:

    I love her too :D

  6. Me says:

    I love her, three!

  7. lucy2 says:

    I like her, and I like that she’s being honest and realistic. I agree with her about the idea of women feeling pressured to have it all.
    I do often wonder though if actors remember that not everyone has the luxury of taking turns working, and most working moms are doing it not to have it all, but to put food on the table.

  8. embertine says:

    meme, it basically means that I think they look like a cute couple on this cover. Silly, I know.

  9. danielle says:

    Emma is as wonderful as Gisele is awful.

  10. Delta Juliet says:

    @meme I’m wondering that too.

    I LOVE Emma…she seems like a wonderful person.

  11. meme says:

    @embertine – thanks for clearing that up.

  12. Me says:

    I absolutely agree with her. People who think they have it all are deluded, for things can change the very next day. I don’t even want to have it all, let alone brag about it, since it’s such an alien concept to me. Somehow nowadays people forget how to appreciate any little things and moments in life. Yes, it takes some balls to admit we fail every single day but at the same time, it’s very liberating. But you are all free to have a different opinion. Have a nice day, y’all!

  13. mln says:

    I love her non-botoxed face so much, and I love that she’s with Greg Wise remember how hot he was in Sense and Sensibility?

  14. Eileen says:

    She’s awesome-I loved her role in Love Actually as the wife and mother that busts her husband giving someone else the gift she thought was hers.
    Angels in America
    Sense and Sensibility
    Much Ado About Nothing
    Howard’s End…..

    And how lucky is Maggie if they end up good friends! Emma would be a great person to hang with and get advice!
    She rocks.

  15. Iggles says:

    danielle – Hehe. Well put!

    Emma is amazing :D

  16. SammyHammy says:

    I’ve always believed that you can have it all…just not at the same time.

  17. Whatever says:

    I completely agree with her. No surprise, I love her!

  18. gretchen says:

    always liked and admired her, also her beauty but don’t like the severe hair on her, she looks best with soft waves above the shoulder length IMO

  19. annaloo says:

    Maggie is crazy. CRAZY.

    “…I’ve just been finding so much pleasure in sacrificing sometimes for my husband – going to where he’s working and tidying up his trailer because he couldn’t manage to do it, and bringing him things that will make him feel better…”

    I don’t understand her choice of words or angle of looking at this as “sacrifice.” Feminism aside, doing nurturing acts for those that you love (especially husbands) doesn’t seem like a sacrifice, so much as it seems like something NICE that you do for someone you love. Why would we think that as weak or giving up of something.

    If she gave up a job for him, THAT’S sacrifice in my book. Tidying up a trailer? Puh-leeze. Please don’t tell me that Maggie deserves her place in the same slush pile of self centered, out of touch women such as Gisele and Gwyneth…

  20. TQB says:

    I had the amazing pleasure of meeting ET one night at a bar in London. She was as radiant and delightful as I always dreamed she would be, and was nothing but pleasant to me, the blubbering American gushing to her.

    We all need to explore what it means to not have it “all.” I agree it’s a terrible goal. Is what we’re doing here agreeing that you don’t need to have it “all;” that deciding not to have it all is NOT some sort of failure? I am down with that.

  21. sapphire says:

    Always loved her-talented, gorgeous, honest AND got to sleep with Branaugh and Greg Wise.

  22. tutu says:

    Having it all could mean managing it the best way you can and being content with your system.

  23. original kate says:

    could emma be any more fabulous?

  24. irishserra says:

    Emma is truly beautiful and I’ve been in love with Greg Wise since I first saw him as “Mr. Willoughby.” Dreamy…

  25. Green Is Good says:

    I respect and admire her as an actress, and now I respect and admire her frankness and genuineness. She’s not phony.

  26. Cletus says:

    I know what Maggie meant when she was talking about “sacrificing” for her husband. No, doing nice things for someone you love IS’NT a sacrifice, but if you have always thought of yourself as a feminist, cleaning up after your man seems like it IS kind of a sacrifice. I used to be the same way. I never cooked because I didn’t have to, and why should I when Dude can pick up a pot a cook something himself, and why should I do his laundy when he can do it himself…. blah blah blah. I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m with a fella I WANT to do stuff for, because I love him. I make him dinner (even though I really do hate to cook) because he likes to eat. I don’t feel put out by it anymore, like I used to. Maybe age has mellowed me. ANyway, I think Maggie meant it like that.

  27. Alarmjaguar says:

    Look, I think we need to have a conversation about ‘having it all’, but I also think it is important to focus on what Emma and her husband have worked out — he sacrifices, too, rather than the weird ‘I want to be a traditional wife and sacrifice for my husband’ bs that Maggie is spewing. Why are these discussions always about the wife/mother and never the parents?! Let’s re-evaluate the role of fathers (to be fair, society is doing some of that) and ask how couples as a whole can better balance the economic and emotional needs of entire families. How about a new model instead of falling back into the idea that women have to be housewives who please their breadwinning husbands. Why can’t we talk about flexible schedules, working from home, on-the-job daycare or any of the other options that will help parents participate in raising their children and keep their jobs (if that is what they want).

  28. dj says:

    She is so talented and real (beautiful too). I enjoy her intelligence and integrity and it gives me a different perspective on just how extremely disingenuine the majority of other actors/celebrities come across.

  29. Anastasia says:

    Well, yeah, you can do that when you can afford for one spouse at a time to work!

    You can do that when there are TWO parents living in the home!

    I mean, she’s an actress who has made millions and has a full-time partner raising her child with her.

    It’s a wee bit easier to make those CHOICES when you CAN make them!

    I’m not speaking from a point of bitterness–I’ve been married to my husband for nearly 20 years and we’ve been raising our daughter together all of her 15 years.

    But neither of us made enough money alone for the other one to have the LUXURY of choice! That worked out fine, since we both liked our careers and felt fulfilled by them, anyway. And it’s part of the reason we only had one child. We could manage that.

    But I just think her comments need a lot of asterisks leading to footnotes like

    *if you have made a lot of money

    *if you had your only child later in life

    *if you have a full-time partner

    If, if, if, see what I mean? Bully for her. Other women don’t really have that many choices.

  30. Anastasia says:

    Oh and I don’t want anyone to think I dislike Emma Thompson, QUITE the opposite, I LOVE her and have forever! She’s incredible.

  31. coup de grazia says:

    amen about cameron and emma. AMEN.

  32. TQB says:

    @Alarmjaguar, I completely agree. This isn’t a motherhood issue, it’s a parenthood issue. Let’s stop assuming that there aren’t a million terrific dads out there who hate having to leave their kids every day and go to work; who wouldn’t love to work flex time or something and spend more time at home. And let’s stop subliminally judging mothers who don’t have a problem working full time. Let’s figure out a way that the whole family unit has what it needs, emotionally.

  33. meme says:

    Maggie G. is an idiot. Not only because of this, her 9/11 ‘theories’ piss me off.

  34. irishserra says:

    I see what you mean, Anastasia. I imagine when one has lived a lifestyle like they have for so long that one might forget some of these little details.

  35. Jeri says:

    I think everyone has to find their own ideal of happiness. I think Emma is well on her way to that.

    It’s the people that announce how wonderful & perfect their life is (Gwynnie) that need to rethink their lives. Why do they feel the need to continually announce this.

  36. Rosanna says:

    I wonder why nobody EVER questions a father who works. But for a *woman* to actually be a mother and work is “too much”???? That only goes to “prove” that women don’t have the brain to do both things…?????

  37. fizXgirl3114 says:

    Wow, both of these women seem so out of touch to me :-/.

    Do they realize that with the divorce rate nowadays, no woman can really afford to sit around at home and not have some sort of backup skill? do they realize how many single mothers there are? how many families need more than one income to stay afloat?

    And “sacrificing” for your husband meaning tidying up his trailer? Does she realize for a lot of women, sacrificing means giving up their careers, families, homes, identiy etc etc for their husbands? Seriously? WOW… get with the times ladies… I know you’re millionaires but you can’t really be that disconnected from reality can you? :-/

  38. Theresa says:

    I am surprised to see so. Many. People claiming working mothers are judged. I was judged HEAVILY when I chose to stay home. Must be where I live.

  39. roxi says:

    Theresa, so true that stay-at-home-moms get judged heavily. It brings to light the fact that MOTHERS are constantly judged for their choices.

  40. Sally says:

    @embertine: Same here!

  41. Shawna says:

    I really don’t think Emma Thompson is ragging on us poor people. She’s smart enough to know she’s lucky. (Look how she gave back to society by adopting.)

    If mother or father of an infant can’t stay at home (at least for the first six months), OUR GOVERNMENT IS NOT USING OUR TAXES CORRECTLY. This is so important, and it’s not use trying to villainize women who already have the money or careers that allow them to stay at home if they so desire. We should be happy for them. The point is, WE ALL DESERVE TO BE FREE TO CHOOSE.

    Poor Maggie. I’m her age, and my peers are all so messed up because of the ideal of being the perfect working mom while being the perfect feminist. Sadly, it’s seen as not being feminist to want to stay home….yet many of us do want the time to cook and clean and raise kids, and no wonder many of us get conflicted. Some of you don’t want these things (and some of you love the deserved break from the family!), and that’s fine, but I see where the weirdness comes from. We talk about being nice to Mylie because she’s trying to learn how to grow up in front of the whole nation, so let’s be nice to Maggie for trying to learn how to be a wife and mother AND worker in front of the whole nation.

  42. Camille says:

    Well said Emma. You just made me love you more :) .

  43. Kelly says:

    Well duh. Does anyone outside a minivan even believe that shiz anyway?

    Personally, Im still overjoyed I never caved and had the kids I never wanted. I love the fact that I have a great partner in my husband and yet can hit the odd casual piece too. And it’s great that Im a stay at home girl who loves to take care of my booboo while at the same time cracking the whip and being the boss of what goes on.
    These and a thousand other freedoms are ours to enjoy, ladies! Let’s never lose sight of that because they were fought long and hard for.

  44. Aspen says:

    Rosanna, it’s because men and women are not the same. Equally important, yes, but not the same. Once children come into the equation, those gender differences are put in sharp focus.

    Babies and small children, in most families and with most couples, have different relationships with the mother than they do with the father.

    There are exceptions, sure, just like one in every so many births will have hair color unlike either parent.

    Women who wish to deny that our biology makes our natural roles in parenting different are delusional and immature and self-focused to a degree I would hope leads them to refrain from making babies.

    Of course women “have the brain” to give birth and keep a job. What they generally don’t have is the time and inclination to keep that career as the main focus while raising said baby they gave birth to.

    I know a lot of single mothers who do an admirable job of balancing. My question is, “Why would any woman force herself to balance like that unless she had to?” A lot of women HAVE to. Those who don’t have to but push themselves into it anyway are doing a disservice to themselves and their children if they force it…because it shouldn’t be about proving you can “do it” or that you can “have it.” It’s not about politics and feminist statements. It’s not about being equal to men, and it’s certainly not about making sure that fathers change exactly the same number of diapers as the mothers.

    It’s about raising children and experiencing mommyhood the best way you can. Don’t want kids? That is awesome. Seriously. Don’t have them and go out and achieve whatever you’d like for yourself. But whether or not we WANT it to be true, a mother and father are not freely interchangeable. Mommy and Daddy both matter. Mommy and Daddy TEND to have different roles in a child’s life and that’s not because of male fascism. It’s because of biology.

    A father can wipe butts and fill bottles and kiss tears away, sure. Just like a mother can raise a kid and pay the bills without a man present. It doesn’t mean that such scenarios are ideal. Remember, in the end, this whole discussion isn’t about us. It’s about the babies we make. What’s best for them is the question…not what WE want.

  45. Chris says:

    Good on ya Emma. I was moaning to a friend once about being single and said ” Is having a partner you’re attracted to and having a job you enjoy, too much to ask for?” and he said “Yes it is, when you consider that three quarters of the world are living in poverty.” It rang true to me.

  46. Stephy2485 says:

    It’s interesting that Maggie would take such a traditional approach to marriage, especially after she played such a strong minded, independent in Mona Lisa Smile and worked AGAINST this “male-public sphere” female-private sphere” scructuring…

  47. Stephy2485 says:

    @ Aspen…
    Strong commentary…I hope it’s not an opinon shared by the posters here… Alot of what you said sounded so antiquated and archaic…Like biology determines the relationship one has with their child due to inborn gender specific traits?
    …Sounds like advice from an issue of good housekeeping circa 1950 with all its anti-feminists propaganda…

  48. Alarmjaguar says:

    Um, Aspen, I’m sorry, but that’s pretty much bs. Why not just go ahead and say our biology makes it impossible for us to think politically and therefore we shouldn’t have the vote. We can still have a role in society, but we won’t have to strain ourselves by thinking all those big confusing thoughts that are better left to men.

  49. Ruffian9 says:

    My God I love her