Can I have it all or has something got to give?

It’s February 2016 and I’ve been back at work after Maternity Leave for about three weeks. One of the female managers who I don’t really know asks me how I’m getting on. I’m honest and say it’s good to be back but it’s a bit of a shock to the system and I’m still finding my way. She nods empathetically and then says to me “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have it all. You can. I’ve never met any group of people more productive than working mothers.”. It was meant with a helpful and supportive sentiment and it was a positive thing to hear. However, I’m not sure if it was necessarily the right thing for me to here. You see, in the last 14 months I have pondered a lot on life and balance. And on that phrase that gets thrown at all new mothers:

“You can have it all.”

Two years into my life as a mother, I have come to the following firm conclusion: I can’t have it all. It’s taken a me a long time to get my head into a clear and reasoned place on this. And I’m not saying that this elusive “All” isn’t possible for others; I’m speaking from my own experience and perspective here. But the problem with the phrase “You can have it all.” is it means nothing. Seriously, it means nothing. Because “all” is absolutely and completely subjective. Your “all” isn’t the same as my “all” so who knows if a person can realistically accomplish everything they want.

Around the same time I went back to work, I stumbled upon this quotation from Annabel Crabb’s ‘The Wife Drought‘: “The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s child as if one did not have a job.”. I’ve yet to read the full book (Note to self: make more time for reading books.) but it stuck with me. Because before I even contemplate all of the other dimensions of my life, work and motherhood immediately come into conflict on a regular basis. As I finally sit down to start write this I am 5 days into caring for Little H with chicken pox. I had to take 2 days annual leave at no notice. I’ve not been able to leave the house for the majority of the time. Little H has had to be my number 1 priority. But that leaves me behind at work and feeling slightly exposed for my sudden absence. Even though, all credit to my boss and colleagues, nobody made anything other than supportive and kind remarks.

I’ve always been a competitive and goal driven person. Someone who always strives to do far more than is possible in the time she has. So if I were to sit and define my “All”, it would look something like this:

1: Be there for Little H whenever she needs me;
2: Be with Little H more across a week than I’m at work;
3: Get properly fit again, like back in my rowing days;
4: Step up to the next rung of the ladder at work;
5: Bake regularly;
6: Continue publishing a couple of blog posts per week and getting readers;
7: Use my Spanish more;
8: Brush-up on my very rusty and out of date coding skills;
9: Read more books, both fiction and non-fiction (including books to improve my skillset at work)
10: Invest more time in the garden to bring the new one to the same / better standard as our old one, including growing some vegetables again;
11: Start using my telescope again and better understanding how to read the sky;
12: Decorate the house;
13: Go to bed at a reasonable hour;
14: Enjoy a sit on the sofa with a cup of tea and some telly now and again with Sam;
15: Listen to more music like I did in school / uni days.

I’m stopping at 15 because I’m already feeling an equal mix of excited, overwhelmed and a little bit like a failure. You see, there are only 168 hours in a week and I just can’t fit everything in. Sure I can make productivity gains here and there. I can go for an 80% solution rather the 100% solution. But I have always been a rather efficient person so at best I grab an extra 10 minutes for another cup of tea. I did the sums and I have approximately 2 hours a day to do things beyond caring for Little H, working, commuting, housework, cooking etc. That will drop when Little H gives up her nap later this year.

So ambitions are a wonderful thing but in reality I’ve come to accept that I can’t do everything I would like to do. For me, it’s all about having clear priorities so that when I find myself torn, I know where my focus needs to lie. I wrote these priorities back in my early days as a working mother and they still remain true. I am learning to stop comparing myself to those in different situations and who have a different focus. It’s not always easy. It doesn’t come naturally. But I get better at it with time. The more time that passes, the more contented I feel. And the time constraints of today that come with parenting a young child won’t remain forever. So there will be plenty of time in the future for everything else on that list of mine!

There are various other bloggers who inspired to me finally ‘pen’ this post:

Are you really happy?’ by The Mum Project – I really believe we need to ask ourselves “Does this make me happy?” more when making even the smallest decisions in life.

Lucy from Leaning In who is constantly pushing the boundaries on how to balance work and motherhood. If it is ever possible to having it all at home and professionally then Lucy will without a doubt find the way of doing it!

My job has flex…But it’s just not working‘ from Bridie by the Sea – A post Bridget published whilst I was writing this. It really resonated because it shows that even when you seemingly get everything you want, sometimes it’s not actually what you really needed.

This post has been linked-up to some of the amazing linkys below:

Tammymum   Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

3 Little Buttons   Mummuddlingthrough

My Petit Canard   The Pramshed

26 comments On Can I have it all or has something got to give?

  • Angela, this is brilliant! You’ve pretty much summed up exactly what has been running through my head for a few weeks now. I am currently a SAHM mum but have been thinking about returning to work, all the while wondering how I could make it work for the best not only only for my family but for myself. Before becoming a SAHM I was always very career oriented so my ambitions have been very much on the back burner. Leaving work was my choice and it’s a decision I am happy with – but Molly will be 3 in July so it might be time for me to at least start to consider returning to work…

    Instead of me thinking to myself, ‘do I want a career or do I want to be a SAHM, maybe I should make a definitive ‘all’ list like you have so I can really set out what exactly it is I want. I want to work, but I don’t; I want to pursue my hobbies, but do I have the time; I want to take time for myself, but then I feel guilty about it…

    My problem is that I want all the things I wanted pre baby but in reality these things may not be possible now – but saying that, my priorities have changed so do I really want what I wanted before? I really don’t know, but I know I need to clarify it to myself for the sake of not only me but my family too.

    Anyway I am waffling on but this is a brilliant post and has really got me thinking about what my priorities are. Sorry for the longness of my waffling.. haha #familyfun
    Sam – StressyMama recently posted…Easter Bonnet CraftingMy Profile

    • I’m so glad it resonated with you! It’s such a difficult thing isn’t it – trying to balance everything you need and want to do is so hard. I definitely recommend sitting down and thinking about priorities for both now and the long term before making any major changes. They also come into their own when you find yourself trying to do too much! Remember to be kind to yourself though and not feel guilty for having a bit of ‘you’ time! Thanks so much for reading and for your lovely comment. Good luck with deciding your next move and look forward to reading about it on your blog! xx

  • Oh I thought I had it all when I had my three children, a career I adored and a full time nanny – in reality I didn’t. I felt like I couldn’t give my best to work and I couldn’t give my best to the children. I lied to myself for years though as I wanted to believe it. I’d educated myself to the hilt – I had all the qualifications and the letters after my name. I had giggles and drinks with the girls after work in London. I had the designer clothes and bags. I met hubby for lunch in swish cocktail bars and I had the three gorgeous children at home. That harsh reminder that I did not have it all was one holiday when I realised that they would grow before I knew it and I would have missed out on being their mummy – and just like that I handed in my notice – I’ve never looked back and I believe now that I have it all far more than I ever used to. I loved reading this post and it’s great to listen to other women working through these issues of motherhood and career. I wish you all the best with your decision xx #FamilyFun
    justsayingmum recently posted…The Tab That’s Open On My LaptopMy Profile

    • That’s so lovely to hear that you made such a sudden change when you finally realised you didn’t have what you want. So many people still think staying at home with the kids is conforming to an old stereotype when in reality it was an active choice! I’m glad you got to embrace and enjoy your children growing up. Whenever I feel like I want more at work, the feeling is quickly quashed when I pick up Little H from nursery and we play at home. Or when we have fun on our days at home together! Thanks for reading and sharing your experience. I love to hear when people follow their instincts and get the life they are happy with xxx

  • I feel like I can really relate to this. There’s so much that I want to achieve, but when I let myself plan I feel like I’m drowning in my own thoughts. Maybe when they get to school things will seem simpler, but maybe that’ll be a whole new ball game! #coolmumclub

  • I never was the career-oriented type but staying at home with my kids after the birth of my first was an active choice, and one I’ve never regretted. I started following on Facebook Vanessa Olorenshaw, of the Purplestockings-Liberating Motherhood movement, and what she says and writes really resonates with me as a mum who chooses to stay at home.

    • That’s wonderful that you have no regrets and have fully embraced your life choices. It’s refreshing to hear of people who have done that successfully! Thanks for reading x

  • When I was made redundant from my part time job I was devastated – it was never the plan but now I see it as some kind of divine intervention! I too used to believe I could have it all, then realised maybe that it wasn’t to be for me. I had to take a step down in my career before getting the chop.
    We all are just doing our best, however that may present itself in each unique situation. And, as you say – nothing lasts forever.
    Thanks for sharing with #coolmumclub
    MMT recently posted…#coolmumclub Linky week 61My Profile

  • Oooh this is such a talking point that I could go on about for hours. You’re so right though, it is subjective, so very subjective. I am like you, of the opinion that at this precise moment in time, I can’t have it all. Perhaps I will be able to at some point but right now it very much a case of balance and doing the best with the time I do have, in every aspect of my life, be it, child raising, working, cooking, cleaning, leisure time – you name it lol. Thanks for joining us at #familyfun xx

  • This is it. I’ve felt it recently since starting work again (albeit from home) that I’m trying as hard as I can to put my everything into work, home & blogging, but it just isn’t possible and I’m failing at all 3 at times. I’m not sure it is possible to have it all ALL the time, but I’m sure there will be times when it is possible (or a little more so than it is now with 2 young children). Thanks for linking up to #MarvMondays. Kaye xo
    Kaye recently posted…Marvellous Mondays #68 — Share the blogging love!My Profile

    • It’s tough isn’t it. There is a continual need to achieve when we’re also juggling the needs of little people who demand all and everything! Hope things get better for you as you get used to the new set-up. But be kind yourself! #MarvMondays

  • I could have written this. I went back in Jan and although I have alot of flexibility, I also feel very tied, stressed and guilt towards not giving my job or the kids 100%. thanks for joining us for #marvmondays x
    Fran Back With A Bump recently posted…Marvellous Mondays!My Profile

    • Yeh, it’s really tough. Everytime I feel like I have about reached a balance, something changes or happens which throws it all out the window. Thanks for reading xx

  • I agree. i think the notion of doing it ll has left us exhausted and feeling like we are failing. Women should be able to do ANYTHING, they set their minds to, but it is impossible to “do it all”. You cant work a fifty hour job in the same way you once would, whilst meeting all your own needs, your childs needs, your partners needs etc etc Compromise and at times, altering our own expectations is essential in my opinion #marvmondays
    Jo recently posted…Coffee & Brunch Spots in Surrey- 10 of my FavouritesMy Profile

    • Definitely. I think that’s possibly the biggest hurdle – altering your own expectations! Sure, there will always be people demanding unreasonable things of us, but if we reach a point of confidence with our life then it’s easier to bat those things off. Thanks for reading xx

  • I’m not sure it is possible to have it all – there are only so many hours in a day! I’d love to get back in the gym, write more, volunteer – but the reality is that I have 2-3 hours of free time at night after my daughter goes to bed. I’d like to spend more time with her too, but I’m working almost full time. I’m managing, but I definitely don’t feel like I’m ‘having it all’. #DreamTeam
    The Squirmy Popple recently posted…What I learned about terrorism from a wicker basketMy Profile

    • Well you’re certainly not alone. I get a bit of ‘me’ time during naps but my daughter is showing signs of dropping her last nap so I’ll lose that soon too. I wish the phrase “You can have it all.” had never been mentioned!! Thanks for reading x

  • I think whoever came up with that phrase did more harm than good. Now we have an entire generation of mothers who strive to have it all and if they don’t have it “all” then they feel like a failure because they must be doing something wrong. #DreamTeam
    Heather Keet recently posted…April movie event…My Profile

    • YES! You’re absolutely right. Whoever coined that phrase was either a) from a different era or b) a complete wally! I think social media has a lot to answer for. And our own inabilities to feel confident in our life choices. Thanks for reading x

  • It’s very difficult but I guess something has to give when you have kids but it does get easier to find more time as they get older fab post #dreamteam

  • I can relate to this post so much. I work three days a week which does work quite well…however I have had to wave goodbye to any career progression at this stage in my life as I’m aware that I can’t give my all to my job anymore. I’m not able to stay late at work or put in hours at home like my childless colleagues (and I don’t want to!) I’m also aware that I’ve become completely unreliable having to take time off whenever my daughter’s ill. However, the two days that I have off with my daughter are now much more fun than when I had the whole week. I’ve also recently decided to get a cleaner as the housework is just not a priority on those days…I’m not sure I can have it all but we need to ask whether we are happy as that’s what’s important. Fab post x #coolmumclub

    • You’ve almost described my life completely. It’s hard to accept it isn’t it. But I think once you make peace with it then it becomes a bit easier. I also feel my 2 days at home with my daughter are even more fun and special because we’re at work / nursery for 3 days. We’ve not got a cleaner but at times it is tempting… Thanks for reading xx

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About Me

About Me

Hello, I'm Angela. I'm Mum to two small people (6 & 3). I'm a Gardener, houseplant obsessed and addicted to tea. By day I work in tech and also look after my littles. I'm trying to get our family to live a more sustainable life. I also have far too many opinions...hence the blog. You can read more about me here. You can also follow me on Instagram for mainly plant spam. Hope you enjoy reading!

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