“Can you really have it all?” was the question I was asked to moderate and discuss on a panel at the Britmums conference. Sitting with me was Eleanor Mills of The Sunday Times, Hannah Brewer another mum blogger who has a blog called Muddling Along Mummy and Michelle Chance a lawyer with the Association of Professional Working Parents.
My friend says perhaps a more relevant question today would have been “what is having it all”. Not sure there is the elusive all to get and is it directly related to happiness?
We had a very good discussion about whether “Having It All” was at all possible, even though I introduced the conversation by saying that clearly I was there to add comedy value because as a single mother of three I clearly didn’t have it all…
Obviously there is no single answer as to how to juggle all the balls we do as parents – it is very different for every relationship and every parent, but interestingly most of the other panelists believed it was entirely possible to have it all, just not necessarily at the same time.
I asked the provocative question “Should a career be more important than raising children?” or in the words of Angela Neuslatter, who has brought out a book on the subject “are working mothers worse parents?”. She says that “feminism puts women’s rights above our children” and suggests that by choosing ourselves above our children we make our lives more complicated and miserable and that ultimately we overlook our parental responsibility to the children we bring into the world because we are not there physically and emotionally for them.
We discussed the woeful state of childcare in the UK and how it should be more affordable – UK families are spending more than a quarter of their income on childcare on average and there has been a drop in child minder’s because of the declining pay and additional red tape.
Cherie Blair, I suspect has made herself even more unpopular this week by hitting out at the “yummy mummies” who are happy to rely on their husbands to support them whilst devoting themselves to raising the children. She says “mothers who put all their effort into their children instead of working set a poorer example than those who go out and make a living”. Is that true? She is worried that today’s young mothers are turning their backs on feminism and now regard motherhood as an acceptable alternative to a career, but she thinks you should strive for both. “Every woman needs to be self-sufficient”. Well I agree with that, but if you could bottle hindsight, wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing? I talked personally about the fact that I gave up my high flying career to travel abroad with my husband and be a stay at home mum. Once my marriage went wrong, I was in no position to get back out into the work place at the same level. I chose to re-train in something that meant I could still be around to pick my children up from school and I’m pleased that I’m around for them then, but not everyone agrees with that decision.
Eleanor Mills strongly believes that girls should choose a career they can do around the children, working from home to get a satisfactory work/life balance, but when I pointed out that worryingly my daughter was of the opinion that mothers should stay at home to bring up their children because she felt that was the most important role they could play – a member of the audience questioned why I said “worryingly” and suggested that I was setting her up for failure because I was encouraging her to think about her career and make sure she didn’t end up disempowered like me.
I’m really not sure that you can “have it all”. If you successfully manage a full time career as well as bringing up your children that is great. But how do your children feel about it? Or your partner? Surely it can’t suit everyone in the equation? There appears to be a growing trend in the number of highly educated stay at home mothers – “an international phenomenon” notes a recent survey of Harvard Business school graduates.
It’s not right that Cherie Blair should dismiss SAHM in such a way I don’t think. Having won maternity rights and flexible working hours there are more choices available to us and if women want to stay with their children and work part time then isn’t that a choice we should all embrace? If that choice suits that particular family then who are we to criticise?
Each to their own I say and the way forward is for us women to embrace each and every choice. If you “work” you shouldn’t slate the women who don’t “work”. Each choice is “work” in a different guise even if you can’t put a monetary value on one of them. Being a mother is one of the hardest jobs in the world and we should all live and let live instead of criticising. Of course many women have no choice but to work and that too can be very difficult for the family as a whole. The one thing that I think is important here is that we work together as a team (penalty shoot outs excluded). Those women at the top should be pulling others up with them who want to be there and forcing changes in the work place to suit everybody’s differing needs.
It will be very interesting to watch the next generation of young adults make their choices. Will they decide, having spent much time in nurseries and with child minders and au pairs to do the opposite of the full time working mother and take a more shared, flexible approach? There are many professional women that regret that they didn’t spend more time with their children when they were young and children who resent their mother’s work ethic – as well as many SAHM’s who are bored and unsatisfied. Everybody needs to find their own way. My theory is that each generation tries to correct the errors of their parents in a Philip Larkin sort of way – so watch this space.
Would love to know what you think?
Reluctant Memsahib has been prompted to write an interesting post about the concept – check her blog out. It’s brilliant.