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What is this ‘all’ and do I really want to have it?

This post has been burbling away at the back of my mind for a while – it started when I was asked to be part of a discussion with Lucy Campbell at BritmumsLive around whether you can have it all and the posts that have come out of that session have poked and prodded at my thoughts over the last couple of weeks

I think the idea of ‘having it all’ is a curse of our generation and the media is mostly to blame.  When we left home and moved into shared digs we were supposed to live a life that mirrored ‘Friends’ – to get ourselves a loyal bunch of housemates who had great jobs (but didn’t spend too much time doing them), spent time together having fun and laughs, lived in a great flat and yet never really seemed to have to deal with any particularly big bumps in the road

We were doomed to never get this – a dingy flat in Shepherds Bush couldn’t compete with their airy apartment, working like a demon to stay on my graduate training programme didn’t leave much time for sitting in coffee shops shooting the breeze and whilst my friends are wonderful, real life has ups and downs that mean that collectively you are never going to be as funny or have as much time as those guys seemed to

Being a parent is much the same – Hollywood and the media perpetuate the myth that we can all continue to have the body of a 25 year old even after the ravages of pregnancy, that children are delightful, adorable, compliant beings that never, ever push the boundaries too far and that good parents manage to be glamorous, caring, fun, people

None of this is even close the reality – parenting is incredibly hard work, sleep deprivation turns the best of us into irrational zombies and a capsule wardrobe usually means a pair of jeans and 2 maternity vests or a comfy pair of pyjamas

The ideal we are all supposed to be aiming for is nothing more than a myth – ‘having it all’ is something we can’t live up to because it doesn’t exist in the real world

If you want a career, children, a marriage and a lovely home then yes that probably looks like having it all from the outside but the view from the inside is different – too much time spent letting other people look after your family, never having time to do the things you want to (like exercise or visiting the doctor), friendships that wither from a lack of attention and a perpetual feeling of not quite managing to do anything properly

We can have it ‘all’ if we work out what that ‘all’ is to us and which compromises we need to make to get a set of bits of it all that works out for us.  The reality is that as adults we need to make adult choices faced with a set of incompatible pieces that make up our lives – we can’t be a stay at home mother with a high flying career who cooks every meal from scratch, keeps a house Martha Stewart would be proud of whilst raising beautiful, obedient children who sleep through every night

What we need to start doing is to stop even thinking that is something we should be aiming for – we can’t get that so why should we beat ourselves up when we don’t attain it?

We need to be more honest about what we do have – every person has a different view of what ‘having it all’ is for them and different choices won’t work for other families.  We need to accept that we can’t all be perfect and try and find a way to measure ourselves off the tangible reality of raising a happy, confident family; having a strong, loving relationship with our partners; and measuring ourselves against real women and not the fantasy that the media think we want

What do you think?  Is it possible to live that Hollywood life or should we find our own role models that define the reality of being a modern mother in a way that works for real women today?

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24 comments to What is this ‘all’ and do I really want to have it?

  • I completely agree – I am busily thinking up a new term – we must get away from the assumption that HIA is the aim – in my case, wonderful chaos and “non conventional” living is much more attractive for lots of reasons. Will be back when I’ve thought about it but great article Lx

  • Ha! I drafted an almost identical post yesterday. I shall now redraft :D

  • Juliet

    Genius. You’ve covered ‘it all’. I love this post. I agree, LIKE LIKE LIKE, Friends, Sex in the City .. has a lot to answer for! My ragged body is feeling ragged, as I ping from VA back to Mum, back to Nail Fairy!?!? Keep writing – and you know what? So glad you’re in my life. Mwah.

  • I went to a conference recently (Not Britmums!) and the speaker encouraged us to stop trying to ‘have other people’s all’ but instead look at our own lives and decide what is in our ‘to do’ list and what is in our ‘dont do list’. For each person, that is different. What gives you a buzz, might not do it for me etc. This way, it hopefully stops us feeling under pressure to do it/have it all, just because that person nextdoor seems to be doing it like that. Does that make any sense? Great post!

    • Exactly – we need to focus on what is right for us and stop trying to be other people because their choices will probably not work for us

      And in any case we can’t see what they have given up to get their ‘all’

  • That was one of my favourite sessions at BritMums. So thought provoking and you hit nail on head when you said horses for courses (except you said it better than that). I said then I thought you could have it all, just not at the same time. But left thinking what, exactly, is ‘all’. And then you posted this. I heart.

    • I heart you too

      I think ‘all’ has to be different for us all – we can’t be Martha Stewart at home, Margaret Thatcher at work and have a super duper loved up relationship on top of it all – just aren’t enough hours in the day

  • Is impossible, totally…

    Sorry no ray of happiness here….

  • it’s simply impossible to have it all. And even prioritising is almost impossible. Yes the media is responsible but also parenting books and magazines. Starting from those blooming pregnancy pictures (my pregnancies weren’t blooming at all) and picture perfect families, and all that talk of me time. When exactly should I have me time? Who will have the kids or do my job while I indulge in me time? Or do other mums just pee off at the weekend and leave hubby to it, thus never having family time? All this talk creates expectations and when your life falls short, disappointment creates tensions and frustrations.
    There is also more expectation on women to be working these days, I’m still not sure if I couldn’t see myself as a SAHM because of these expectations or because or because of my own choice.

    • I think we underestimate how much we are influnced by what we see in the media and how it subconsciously impacts our decisions – being rubbish at some parts of our lives is a trade off for being brilliant at other bits I believe

  • I agree with you wholeheartedly. I like how you pointed out that yes, we can pursue lots of things, but only if we’re prepared to make big compromises, especially in relation to time with family and friends. I totally agree that we each need to stop and reflect on what is truly important to ourselves as individuals, and that we might also need to be patient about the pace at which we achieve our life goals. In recent years I’ve come to believe that women CAN attain multiple, challenging goals – just not all at once.

  • Frankly I think that was a fab post, as always! Indeed Sex and city has a lot to answer for! I’d rather fancy popping along to the awards it sounds like real mummy fest hoot! xx

  • This is such an insightful post. I’ve been thinking a lot about what “having it all” means to me too, not least because I’ve begun the hunt for a childminder. I’ve finally accepted that no, I can’t work to help support our family without *some* childcare arrangement. It’s been tough to finally make this decision but, on so many levels, work is important for us as a family. I just need to keep remembering that when mother guilt creeps in.

    • I believe mother guilt is what you make of it – it is ridiculously hard to work without any childcare, you just can’t concentrate on both things at the same time

      Good luck finding the right person – the right childcare can make life much, much easier

  • Who was it that said: You can have it all, but just not at the same time. I’ve been so back and forth about being a stay at home Mum but I’ve realised I can have a second phase working in some form (if I’m not totally unemployable!)

  • Great post and exactly what I need to read right now. We have to make choices it’s really that simple. But deciding what to choose is anything but simple. I feel so restricted on my blog now. I know my Boss reads it occasionally and it means I can be less honest than I used to be so I lack the support these sort of posts offer. Thanks for sharing this xx

    • It is so hard when you lose the ability to blog freely – have hated that there are things even I don’t feel I can talk about and I miss it so much

      We need to keep saying to each other that it is hard but that if we want to we can find a way through

  • I always think that as long as everyone in my family is healthy, the rest is only superficial. Although the material things do make things sometimes seem better, its only when you are faced with thing you have no control over, like illness sthat you realize what matters.

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