There seems to have been a lot in the news over the last few months about mothers “not being able to have it all” – that is, that juggling parenthood and a successful career isn’t possible for mothers (why fathers can have it all is another question entirely, but hey).
First of all, isn’t that a lovely lesson to be teaching the impressionable young women who look up to you as a role model? “Sorry girls, but because you have a vagina, you’re going to have to choose between a career or having a family. Men are fine, though”.
Secondly, I thought we were still trying to discourage young people from having kids early – why are we now saying they need to make their choice before they’ve even taken their GCSEs?
Thirdly, I hate this assumption that motherhood is an ambition-killer. You can be a high-flying, big-city, hot-shot worker with an amazing reputation and massive respect in your chosen field – but the second you give birth, you’re suddenly a cooing, mushy mess of a woman with zero career ambition? I don’t think so.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s easy in the long term for two parents to be working full-time as well as raising a family – but I hate the idea that the woman should be the one to give up work, especially when I’m yet to see any real convincing argument as to why. The closest anyone has come is “Because she gave birth” – and what that has to do with working two or three years down the line is anyone’s guess.
It’s taboo to talk about it, but I honestly don’t think I’m cut out for being a stay-at-home parent long term. I like having projects and deadlines, I need to have that routine and focus otherwise my anxiety goes out of control and I lose track of the days. That doesn’t make me a bad parent. We celebrate stay-at-home dads as a “win” for progress at the same time as berating the mother for abandoning her child. Where’s the same backlash when a man goes back to work after his child is born?
I love spending time with SB. I spend as much time as possible with her, and I love it. Spending time with her isn’t the problem I have with stay-at-home-motherhood – it’s the lack of routine; the lack of structure. I couldn’t cope with it. That’s not a comment on my parenting skills, nor is it a comment on the parenting skills of stay-at-home parents. Daf, on the other hand, was an amazing stay-at-home-dad last summer; really fantastic.
People always seemed genuinely surprised to find out that I was working while he stayed at home with SB, and I just don’t understand why. I know it’s unusual for a man to be the stay-at-home parent, even in this day and age, but surely it’s not that much of a shock?
What I found really shocking was how many people agreed with these statements. “No, mums can’t have it all. They can’t have a family and a successful full-time career”. First of all, what happens when the baby has two mums? Do they both stay home with the baby? Does the mum who gave birth stay at home with the baby? Does the fabric of society unravel as we work ourselves into a tizzy trying to figure out whose ambition is killed by motherhood and whose ambition remains intact?
Or, we could just let mums get on with it, without over-analysing every little move they make, and declaring that mums MUST have it all, or they CAN’T have it all. Maybe more mums could have it all, if society was a little more supportive of it? More rights regarding part-time work after finishing maternity leave; more information about sharing maternity leave between both parents, less of this expectation that once women return to work after having a child, all they’ll do is talk babies all day. That’s what we need – not to be telling the next generation of women “Don’t bother, because it didn’t work for me”. Surely part of raising strong, independent daughters is to tell them “It doesn’t matter if a thousand other people have struggled – none of them are you, so if you want to try, you give it all you’ve got”?
If women want one or the other, that’s fine. Good for them, for knowing their mind, and knowing what they want, and not being afraid to get it. They’re not immune from this criticism either, though. Working moms are “selfish”, and stay-at-home moms are “lazy”. Mums who want to “have it all” are just plain delusional.
Motherhood did not kill my ambition. It fuelled my ambition. It lit a spark inside me that so far, nothing has managed to quell. Motherhood made me determined to create the best dissertation piece I was capable of – so I did it, and I got a first. Motherhood made me adamant that I would have a great career – not only did I go straight into work from university, but I’m also on track for that great career. Motherhood made me promise that my family would always be my number one priority – and it is, which is why providing for said family and instilling in them a strong work ethic is so important to me.
I may not have it all yet, but the operative word there is “yet”. I’ll never stop striving to “have it all”, because the closer we get, the better things are.
I will never tell SB that she cannot have it all, just as I’ll never tell any potential future sons that they can’t have it all either. If she doesn’t want “it all”, I’ll tell her that I’m proud of her for making a choice for herself. If she does, I’ll tell her to go for it with all she’s got – she may not achieve it all, but she’s got a much better chance than those who listen to women like Vivienne Durham and Drew Barrymore, and don’t even try.
What do you think? Can women “have it all”? Do you feel like motherhood killed or changed your ambition? Let me know in the comments!