On having it all (or not)


“It’s not possible to have the top job, all the perks, four kids, a great social life and a marvellous house. It’s just not.” – Alexandra Shulman, Editor of Vogue

I was reading The Sunday Times magazine this weekend and came across this quote. In one sentence, Shulman summed up what I spent a whole year grappling to come to terms with.

It’s true. I know this because last year I tried it. Okay, a mini version of it. (I am no Nicola Horlick.) I had one child, a full-time, full-on senior position at a best-selling glossy, a home, and a husband who works all too often bonkers hours (for which read: willing but often simply unable due to weight of work to share what my friend Fiona calls the ‘domestic admin’).

I spent the entire year feeling like I was running a race. A race I could never, ever finish (or, indeed, win).

I ran around the house before and after work and at the weekends, madly trying to fit household tasks into tiny slots of ‘free’ (bitter laugh) time. I (guiltily) left my desk bang on time every evening so I could run to the tube to get home in time to put my daughter to bed, perfecting a gentle canter home so I could grab two extra minutes of what I would kid myself was ‘quality time’ with her. I was a distinctly below-par friend: forgetting birthdays, being late, cancelling at the last minute because I was too stressed/tired/had too much to do (sorry friends). I was an often-grumpy wife (sorry husband). I was always stressed. I was good at my job (I hope) but a pretty poor second in my other roles.

I appreciate that this (and more) is what a lot of women do every single day. And I bet some of them do it with considerably less of a support network than I had – hands up, I was lucky.  They make it work – and my admiration for them is fathoms deep. But, my God, the relief when the year ended and I had TIME again. Time to spend with my daughter, to make my home lovely, to cook dinner without it being a chore, to not mind if my husband had to work ‘til the small hours and be able to support him without inwardly grumbling (okay, maybe outwardly, too)….

“You can’t!” A friend said, when I told her I was going to become a part-timer. “You’re the only working mother I know who works full-time! Don’t leave me alone on the battlefield!”  Her point is a good one: the troops are ever-thinning. Amongst my friends with children there are a solitary two who work full-time. The rest all work part-time, and many not at all. For some, it’s the prohibitive cost of childcare (Tax deductible childcare – any thoughts on that Mr Cameron?), but for many it’s that the thought of trying to fill every role – and falling short.

Here’s what I realised when I stopped running and stepped out of the race: you can love your job (and I do) but it might not fit with your life. And taking a step back from full-on work might not be the best thing for your career (only time will tell) but it can be the best thing for you, your family and your relationships.

For more on this, read Gaby Hinsliff’s thoughtful, insightful Half a Wife: The Working Family’s Guide to Getting a Life Back. There were times last year when half a wife would have come in REALLY handy.

I would love, love, love to know your thoughts on this. How you manage the eternal conundrum – and how you feel about the choices you’ve made (or would make)?

IMAGE: From Working Mother

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