The “having it all” myth

Every now and then Facebook reads my mind in a non-creepy way. I really don’t like how it tries to be my friend and wish me good morning and send me ads about the last thing I Googled. That’s a bit ewwww.

But sometimes it serves up stories that voice thoughts I’ve been having and articulates them perfectly.

Over the weekend, an article from Huffington Post appeared called “Having it all kinda sucks”.

It was by a woman called Amy Westervelt who’s having a tough time trying to juggle work with a one-month-0ld baby. She’s American and, if you think the maternity leave system here sucks, you’d get a rude shock if you were trying to manage there. Women frequently head back at work virtually straight after giving birth because they don’t have much choice. The leave entitlements are sparse. They need to cling onto the health care benefits provided by their employers. And all the other economic reasons that force people back into the workplace.

I’m no longer in the trenches of juggling early childhood hassles with career, but one of the paragraphs she wrote echoes the exact words that ran through my head as I drove home from the office last week:

“We should cut it out with the fairy tales already. Stop telling women they can have everything without sacrificing anything. Here’s the truth: You want to have a career and kids? You totally can, but both will suffer. You will never feel like you are devoting enough time to either. You will never feel like you are good enough at either. You will never get time off (at least for the first several years). You will always be choosing between things that need your attention, and you will almost never choose yourself.”

That’s not the message we’re supposed to give women. We’re supposed to tell them that having it all is a wonderful and achieveable thing. It’s almost regarded as anti-feminist to suggest otherwise.

But I felt exactly the same way as Amy when I went back to work two months after giving birth to my first child because I didn’t want to lose my job.

And the feeling has dogged me ever since.

About four years ago I decided to give up on having everything. I’d worked hard and pretty much continuously since I was 17. I was tired, I wanted to just be a mum and we were finally financial stable enough to do it.

A few weeks after I stopped trying to have everything and just be a mum, my marriage broke up.

I had to get back on that treadmill of “having it all” … because I needed the money. I was very, very angry about that for a very, very long time. It sucked to have that brief moment of freedom snatched from me.

Now I’m just very, very tired.

There is no stop the world, I want to get off when you are a single mum. Well, not for most of us. We just need to get up each morning and get on with it.

It’s not just single mums. Single dads, married mums and married dads all face similar pressures.

Amy writes: “No woman (or man, for that matter) ever said, hey, you know what would be great? If I could get up at 5 a.m., make breakfast for everyone, then get dressed (with heels, natch), drop my kids off at daycare, go to work for 10 hours, pick the kids up, come home, cook dinner, clean up, put the kids to bed, work in bed ‘til midnight so I don’t get behind at work, then do it all again tomorrow on 5 hours sleep.”

But somehow that’s what modern life has morphed into. Forget the days of leaving the office at 5pm – only lazy slackers do THAT.

At the same time, anxiety and depression are spiralling out of control.

It infects kids when they shouldn’t have a care in the world and dogs adults as they struggle to cope and find peace in the chaos.

Amy notes: “This whole ‘having it all’ business has been grossly misinterpreted by our society at large. … Doing all of it at the same time was never the idea.”

The gossip in my suburb over the weekend was all about a school mum caught by the police at 12.45pm driving at nine times over the legal alcohol limit.

Nine times. At lunchtime.

That’s a lot of liquid unhappiness  running through her veins.

I’m horrified by her actions, but I wonder if they’re the result of her feeling like she’s failed at living the “perfect” life.

I wish I had answers to how we stop putting so much pressures on ourselves and each other, but I don’t.

Amy suggests “Let’s redefine ‘having it all’ or better yet let each woman define for herself what the best version of her life might look like.”

That’s all very well, but what if you don’t have the luxury of redefinition? What if those balls need to stay up in the air?

And on that cheery note … I’m signing off to pay a few of the bills that have been piling up on my kitchen counter – beside the groceries I still haven’t put away from yesterday’s supermarket shop – before I ice 24 reindeer cupcakes for a school band fundraiser tonight, while feeling guilty about how long it’s been since I took the dogs for a walk … all on five hours sleep … bloody garbage trucks at 4.30am.

Song of the day: Dolly Parton “9 to 5”

 

 

 

 

 

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