Pre-children I had an exciting career that I loved, but that was all-consuming. I just can’t see it working now without my kids losing out in some way or my wellbeing suffering. Is the ability to have it all a myth?
I must start this letter with something of a disclaimer: I am not a mother. I watch my friends with children in awe, often wondering how they possibly get everything done, and how their severe sleep deprivation doesn’t make them want to hit childless people who say they are tired. Whether you realise it or not, you are a marvel, and I feel endless respect for you and for all mothers, working in paid employment or not.
All women will understand the pressure of being pulled in two directions by the patriarchy, whether it is through family vs. career, relationship vs. world travelling, dreams vs. societal expectations. Nobody asks men whether they feel they can have it all, because they do. Nobody guilts them at work. They are applauded if they stay at home with their children. Their choices are celebrated, while women’s choices are critiqued. I say this not to sound bitter, but just to acknowledge that the system is rigged against women, and that is really, really annoying, but can also be somewhat soothing. If you don’t feel you are winning right now, it’s more likely because you are playing with one hand tied behind your back than because of any move you as an individual make.
On a more practical level, you may want to consider what you can do to outsource your stress, so that you can spend more time with those you love, while also doing what you love. Housework can be a particular time stealer even if you and your partner share everything equally. Can you hire a cleaner? (Or just don’t do it: I am regularly inspired by Rose Milligan’s poem ‘Dust If You Must’.) Is there a chance of increasing your childcare? Do whatever you need to do to make it work for your family, and ignore the judgemental voices of others – and those in your head.
As for working, if your job was something you truly loved, see how you can make space for it in your life now. Don’t worry about your children missing out. My mother worked full-time for almost my whole life, and I never felt that I was lacking in love from her. On the contrary, it was empowering to be raised by a woman who took the time for her own career and made her own money, while loving us unconditionally at the same time. Your children will feel that love from you, no matter what.
The concept of ‘having it all’ is dangerous in lots of ways, because we only ever consider it when comparing ourselves to others. A very wise friend once told me that comparison is the thief of joy. Your choices are your own; don’t worry what others think about you. Success is all a matter of definition. When you take the chance to reframe what it means to you, you may find that you have more than succeeded already. I wish you luck on the journey ahead.
Other advice columns are available here.