Having it all. What does that mean?

by Liz Marchant

Can women have it all? How do you balance a career and kids? How do you balance your work and dating life?

Dr Libby Weaver, author of The Invisible Load: A guide to overcoming stress and overwhelm, says that women are doing the jobs our fathers held, while still holding onto our mother’s responsibilities. In Australia, women spend twice as much time on housework and childcare as men, and that’s on top of having a job.[1]

Millennials, many of who have grown up with working mothers as the norm, recognise that ‘having it all’, means ‘doing it all’; and that’s not a compromise they’re eager to accept. As millennials now make up more than half the workforce, it’s essential that we re-define the expectation of ‘having it all’.[2]

Women are rarely making it to the top of anything. Australian women represent 17.1 per cent of CEOs[3], and 32 per cent of government MPs[4]. Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, famously suggested that this is due to women not ‘leaning in’. Sandberg says that women may be unconsciously holding themselves back from professional advancements due to future plans to have a family. Maybe they don’t put themselves forward for a promotion because they just got engaged; maybe they didn’t ask for that raise because they are thinking about trying for a child; or maybe they are fresh out of university and haven’t set ‘big’ future goals because they know that one day, they want kids. These subconscious thoughts make us leave before we leave, limiting our capacity for success before having kids is even a practical thought.

The concept of ‘having it all’ can be overwhelming for some women, combining a lingering sense of failure with the idea that procreating sets them back in their career. This idea that women are expected to give 100 per cent to the demands of their career and being a parent isn’t realistic. If that’s the only measure of success then they will fail.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about ‘having it all’ saying, “Nope, not at the same time, that’s a lie”. Being successful in your career and being a mother each take dedication, focus and passion. When it’s not humanly possible to give 200 per cent, your focus is elsewhere. It is possible to have a successful career and be a great mother but, as Obama says, “not at the same time”.

Just doing it all doesn’t mean you’re having it all. Usually, it just leaves you exhausted, burnt out and miserable. So, it’s essential to find ways to spread the load and reduce the pressure. Here are four ways you can do this:

Make your partner a real partner

Equally splitting the workload of parenting and household duties between you and your spouse is the only way you will survive the mental load of this double workload. Research has found that women downplay our achievements, while males overplay theirs.[5] It is important when negotiating duties with your partner, that you don’t downplay your success, your job requirements or your household commitment. This will only result in an unfair partnership. To have equality at work, you need equality at home.

Be prepared to compromise

Successfully managing home and work life comes down to compromise. Understand that sometimes you are going to miss a school concert, a work meeting or even a deadline. To be a successful working mother, women need to stop holding themselves to unrealistic expectations. As Sandberg said, “No matter what any of us has… no one has it all. Nor can they.” You are not a failure if you don’t have it all, because having it all doesn’t exist.

Stop demanding perfection

Dr. Libby said, “We think that we’re stressed and overwhelmed by all the things we have to do in a day, and I’m not denying that for many of us our lives and responsibilities are often overflowing. But these aren’t the cause of our stress. Your obligations and responsibilities are not your stress; it’s your thoughts about those things in relation to yourself that cause it.” We need to stop fuelling this idea of having it all and accept that we cannot be perfect because there is no such thing!

Don’t believe what you see on social media: talk to your friends

Most of us curate our social media presence to make it look like we are, in fact, having it all and having a ball while we do it. However, if you really talk to your close friends, you’ll understand that none of us really has it all together. Of course we present our best selves on social media. Reality is almost always very different. So, when you’re feeling stressed or inadequate or just plain irritated, chat to the friends you trust. Being honest with each other will help us all overcome this feeling that, somehow, we must be doing something wrong.

We live in a time of great opportunity. Don’t let the challenges of parenthood and career aspirations cause you to take your foot off the gas pedal. You can have a successful career, and you can be an incredible mother. But expecting perfect output for both simultaneously, without a willingness to compromise, will never leave you feeling satisfied.