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Can you have it all?

June 1097A

The wonderful thing about BritMumsLive is that you think and learn and discuss so much that your brain, heaving with all that new information, feels like you’ve finished a gourmet feast; to the point where you just need to take a little sit down and let it all sink in.

In the ‘Can women have it all?’ session I think I wrote the fewest notes, but was challenged the most, and it’s stuck with me this week, as we balanced nursery opening times with train times to and from London for a work conference, and organised childcare for a couple of necessary extra working days in the weeks ahead.

All of the panel, the bloggers of Muddling Along Mummy and Family Affairs and Other Matters, together with Michelle Chance, a fellow lawyer and head of the Association of Professional Working Parents and Eleanor Mills of the Sunday Times, spoke with what feels like rare honesty about the uneasy balancing act we all wobble through to find what’s best for our families, and those moments where the our two most-worn hats collide.

So can we have it all? Well it depends what you mean by ‘all’.  If you believe the media hype then to be a good mum I need to work full time to be a role model to Kitty to show her the advances feminism brought to women’s causes, to teach her that she can reach for the stars and have anything and be anything that she wants to be.  Oh, but I also need to be a full time parent to ensure that she’s confident, well grounded, fully attached and doesn’t need counselling for all this apparent abandonnment in her later years.  Oh and just in case that isn’t enough then all her food should be homemade, organic, preferrably homegrown and containing a good portion of lentils, my house should be spotless, and I should be at all times dressed imaculately, having simply smiled my way back to my pre-baby size.  It’s exhausting just to write, let alone try to live it (although I will admit that the three of us shared our first eight homegrown strawberries for lunch), and if that’s ‘all’ then frankly I don’t want it.

It’s an exagerated stereotype, but if I really genuinely wanted a scaled down liveable version I could have it all – just not all at once.  On my fully Mama days I can spend time lying on the floor creating Duplo treehouses and ‘feeding’ honey to Tigger and Pooh, loading the washing machine with the small helping hands of my chief assistant, running the errands that keep our household just about ticking over, and even occasionally making cake, and on my working days I rule the world (well not quite).

I’d say that I do have it all; I have the luxury of having been able to return to work part time for a very family friendly employer, the pleasure of seeing Kitty enjoy her time at nursery, and the memories and anticipation of our days together.  My home is well loved and lived in, I currently have grassy knees from an impromptu afternoon cricket match in the garden and occasionally supper comes courtesy of a very nice man in a van from one of a number of local establishments.  For our little family, this keeps us (mostly) balanced and happy.

When asked, the panel voted two in agreement that we can have it all, as long as we know what we mean by ‘all’, one was against, and one undecided.  I’m with the majority; if we know what we want, and that’s we as a family, not we as an individual, we can make it work.

But crucially, one family’s ‘all’ is another family’s ‘aaargh eek they did what!’, and if I have any conclusion at all after rambling on at such great length, it’s that the first step towards any of us ‘having it all’ is to throw the stereotype of ‘all’ far far out of the window and stick to the facts – we’re all doing the very best we can, and you can’t ask more than that.