Women cannot have it all

Women cannot have it all, and that is not just because our governments and society are failing us (and they are), it is because there are just not enough hours in the day. We cannot be the ideal homemaker at the same time as having the career that we dreamed of and studied for at University.  We all have to make compromises. 

Every six months or so, I meet up with my University friends for a night out in London.  These days, a night out doesn’t involve dancing until the small hours and snogging random strangers on the dance floor.   A night out involves a couple of bottles of wine (each) and a good old catch up session where we put the world to rights.   

These days, a night out also takes us about three months just to find a date that most of us can manage.  What with my co-parenting schedule, holidays, weddings, husbands’ work commitments, competing social lives and then finding babysitters, our Whatsapp strings throwing potential dates around can go on for weeks on end.   One of my friends travels up from Winchester and stays at mine and two of my friends share a hotel room in central London.

Gone are the days where our lives are a similar tale of hangovers, lectures, unrequited love and sordid sex (or fantasies of sordid sex at least).  Every time we meet these days, I am struck by how very different our lives are. 

Women cannot have it all

The awesome homemaker

One of my friends has opted for the more traditional homemaker option and I don’t mean that to sound negative in any way.  My friend doesn’t work or have a career any more.  She is a stay at home mum, who now has about fifteen minutes of free time a day because her children are all at school. She washes, cleans, plans ahead, cooks, bakes, organises, taxis, pays bills.  The list goes on.  She is an awesome mum.  In fact, she is the kind of mum that I would like Cygnet to have, but know that I could never be.  It is not just the lack of a husband and money preventing me.

Being a stay at home mum with three children is a tough gig. I know that I couldn’t do it.  But she is rewarded; she has some very nice jewellery, exotic all-inclusive holidays and a domestic allowance.  Her husband is free to pursue his career goals.  These goals have to be high goals to support a wife and three children in a detached house in Henley-on-Thames (a very very civilised part of the South of England for those of you who don’t know it).   

The frustrated economist

Another friend had a very high profile job at the Bank of England before she had her two children.  She now works the equivalent of two days a week, over three days, in a company local to her home in Brighton. She collects her eldest daughter from pre-school every day and her son is in nursery three days a week.  Her husband works long hours in London. 

She is frustrated because she is working for people who would have been a couple of promotions her junior before she had babies.  She reached the equivalent of her current rank in her local company, within two years at the Bank of England.   

She made the decision, and is confident that it is the right one for her family, but is frustrated nonetheless.

The partners of equal compromise

Another friend and her partner (they’ve been together over fifteen years but are unmarried) have two children, one at primary school, one is not yet.  Both my friend and her partner work four days a week meaning they put their youngest daughter in nursery for three days and work flexible hours to enable them to collect their eldest from school.  It is a complex juggling act, but they just about make it work.  Both compromise in equal measure.  They even alternate their nights out.


Well, you know about me.  I am a single mum.  I work the equivalent of full time hours over four days.  Cygnet goes to nursery a bit, but for most of the week I am heavily reliant on my mum to look after him. 

When I am at work, I am acutely aware of what I am missing out on in Cygnet’s life.  It was my mum who witnessed Cygnet’s first steps, his first scoot and most recently his first poo in the potty (I am not jealous of that one!)

It is always a struggle to leave my desk at 5pm to relieve my mum or to collect Cygnet from nursery.  I make many an apologetic exit from meetings.  There are roles in my office that I know that I would never be able to do because they are totally incompatible with active parenthood.  Over time, this is having an impact on my career trajectory.  I am not bitter about it, it is a reality and a choice I have made.

Whichever option you choose, life is a complex juggling act and a series of compromises because women cannot have it all.  We need to recognise that. 

Women cannot have it all

Some of us are lucky enough to have flexible working hours and to be able to work from home.  As a single mum flexible working hours are really important.  I can work late on a Tuesday night when Cygnet is with his dad and clock up some hours to compensate for the one day a week that I don’t go into work.  Unfortunately, I cannot work from home.

Working from home is great.  It enables you to blend your career with parenting.  I read with envy blogs about women working from home and around the schedules of their children.  But, working from home is a double-edged sword.  Those working from home often work late into the night. 

I know that sleepless nights have become the norm ever since our babies decided that sleep was for the weak.  I find I can sometimes go through the night with little more than a couple of hours sleep. I know I don’t need to get worked up about not getting enough sleep.  Once I had proved that I could do a full day’s work on two hours sleep, I knew that I could do it again.  But where does it stop?  It has to stop somewhere.  Working until 3am every night to finish that project, to meet that deadline, or even to finish that blog post is not having it all. 

Women cannot have it all, but more money would help

Women cannot have it all, but an increase in our salaries would enable us to have a bit more.  A friend of mine at work said that her boss remarked that every time he gave her a promotion she reduced the number of hours that she works.  I sincerely hope this doesn’t dissuade him from promoting her further! 

Women cannot have it all, but figuring out what we can and can’t have is often a complex financial equation between partners, childcare providers, and if you are lucky enough, support from grandparents. 

According to the Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights, women can expect to earn significantly less than men over their entire careers.  This is due to differences in caring responsibilities, clustering in low skilled and low paid work, the qualifications and skills women acquire, and outright discrimination. The current overall gap for full time workers is 13.9%. 

A 2016 study by the World Economic Forum calculated that the world would not eliminate the gender pay gap until 2186.  That’s 170 years away and very depressing.  

Women cannot have it all.  There are just not enough hours in the day to be the awesome homemaker and to have a full throttle career.  Compromises have to be made, unless of course we want the compromise to be our health and our sanity…   

Accidental Hipster MumReflectionsfrommeMy Random MusingsBrilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com


    • thesingleswan
      April 3, 2017 / 8:42 pm

      Very true! Thanks for your comment. Pen x

  1. April 3, 2017 / 1:07 pm

    Hi! You’re so right that women can’t have it all, and society’s expectations are so high that we can often feel so much guilt! It sounds like you’re doing an amazing job working and making the best of it though, so well done to you! We don’t get to hear that enough as mums I think 💪🏻

    • thesingleswan
      April 3, 2017 / 8:42 pm

      thank you Nat. It is lovely to read a compliment. Pen x

  2. April 3, 2017 / 1:09 pm

    Sorry forgot to add I popped over from #RV&HT

  3. April 3, 2017 / 4:02 pm

    My mum was a stay-at-home mum, and I’ve always been irritated every time people criticise her (or imply criticism) because of that. She hated her job, and didn’t make much money. She worked out that, given the amount that childcare would cost if both she and my dad were out at work, she was better off staying at home. My dad always said she had the more difficult job, and insisted she have life insurance as well as him, because if anything happened to her, he’d have to give up work to take care of us. If my mother had had a job she loved, they would’ve made it work.

    Everyone needs to work out what’s best for them to be happy and pay the bills (preferably both at the same time – though this isn’t always possible) and not be criticised for doing what’s best for them and their family. I have two amazing, loving, parents who worked out the best arrangement they could to give me and my brother a happy childhood. There are always things you could’ve done differently, but if you can look back and think, ‘yeah, that was pretty good’ – then that’s a win. 🙂

    Cee Arr recently posted…Month in Review(s) – March 2017My Profile

    • thesingleswan
      April 3, 2017 / 8:41 pm


      thanks for your comment. It sounds like you had a wonderful family set up and very importantly a father who recognised how important your mum’s job was as a stay at home mum. Definitely a win. Pen x

  4. April 4, 2017 / 6:56 pm

    It’s kind of understandable that there is still this pay gap because traditionally it was always the man who was going to be the breadwinner – on the other side of the coin, women seem to have much more support of the courts when it comes to divorce and that’s because women have traditionally been the child carers and home-makers. Both sides of the coin would have to be very carefully balanced out to bring us into the modern world (where, let’s be honest, in the majority of cases, it’s still the same old gender roles). It’s a hugely contentious issue for both women who want to pursue a career first and foremost and men who want to be stay at home dads. I would always argue that women and men should get equal pay for the same role. I have to say though that personally I never felt the need to ‘have it all’. I just want to have some balance, some money to be able to do good stuff and provide for my kids and as much happiness as possible. For me that is ‘having it all’. Thanks for linking Pen #thetruthabout

    • thesingleswan
      April 4, 2017 / 10:36 pm

      Hi Sam,

      Thanks for your comment. I guess for me, it is really starting to hit home that ‘having it all’ just isn’t possible. I wouldn’t change the way things are…er, no that’s a lie, I would change things so that I could spend more time with Cygnet. Work and my career are definitely second order these days, although I would never have predicted that they would be so before I had Cygnet. How things change! Pen x

  5. April 5, 2017 / 1:20 am

    I totally agree that women cannot have it all. I know, I’ve tried. Something always has to give. I decided it my case that it wouldn’t be the children. I left a demanding broadcast career that I loved and had a child in my forties so I would have more family time. There are ‘just not enough hours in the day” as you say to be good at everything. It isn’t possible to have it all as a mother or you’ll develop a condition that is worse than brain fog or cooties. You’ll be “Mad as a hatter.”

  6. April 5, 2017 / 1:25 am

    I totally agree that women cannot have it all. I know, I’ve tried. Something always has to give. I decided it my case that it wouldn’t be the children. I left a demanding broadcast career that I loved and had a child in my forties so I would have more family time. There are ‘just not enough hours in the day” as you say to be good at everything. It isn’t possible to have it all as a mother or you’ll develop a condition that is worse than brain fog or cooties. You’ll be “Mad as a hatter.” #mg
    Over the Hill Mom recently posted…Heads or Tails: Picking the Right Family DogMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      April 5, 2017 / 12:36 pm

      Thank you. I am glad that I am not the only one who has struggled to figure out how everyone else actually manages to do it and then realised that you just can’t. thank you. Pen x

  7. April 5, 2017 / 12:37 pm

    we were told we could have it all, but so true it was false advertisement. We can’t, not enough hours in my day EVER. But what we can do is know we are awesome and it is great that we all do different things. If we spread ourselves too thin we burn out, so we just need to focus on key things that matter most and if the other stuff isn’t day well bad luck. My high school friends and I catch up when we can, we all lead very different lives, but we respect each others choices and support each other when things feel like shit. Great read! #mg
    Mackenzie Glanville recently posted…Short and Sweet #mg link up timeMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      April 5, 2017 / 8:08 pm

      Thank you Mac. Pen x

  8. April 5, 2017 / 10:50 pm

    Such a thought-provoking post. I think it’s about compromise and being kind to ourselves, about quality time over quantity and simply, trying our best. It’s an endless juggle, working in a flexible way with my blog has given me a career that works around my family and I feel lucky about that. I realise not everyone can or wants to work online. It was the solution for me after being a TV Director, a job that was totally inflexible. Equality in the workplace and in life ,seems so far off, I thought we’d have progressed far more than we have by now x
    Honest Mum recently posted…Brilliant Blog Posts 6th AprilMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      April 6, 2017 / 8:05 pm

      Hi Vicki,

      You are really lucky, although I appreciate you create your own luck and you most definitely have, to have the job and career that you do that you can fit around your family life and your children. Well done you! I agree that we should have progressed far more than we have by now. Pen x

  9. April 6, 2017 / 5:02 pm

    Really thought provoking. I try to do it all, I really do. I work mornings part time in a job I hope will end up being a career in social media managament (when the little one starts school) then rush home to collect my Little Man from wherever he is that day. I then spend my afternoon’s being Mum and housewife and then in the evenings it’s all about the blog. I’ll be honest, I’m bloody knackered and it wasn’t until I read this blog that I realised why. I’m trying to do it all and there just isn’t enough hours in my week, let alone my day! #AnythingGoes
    Jaki recently posted…Five Family Problems And What To Do About ThemMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      April 6, 2017 / 7:59 pm

      Yep, you are doing a lot and it is knackering. Well done. Take care. Pen x

  10. April 7, 2017 / 12:11 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. If I focus 100% on my career I would be neglecting my family, that’s just reality. We all make compromises, I suppose it’s about being aware you’re making these compromises and that they are right for you and your family

    • thesingleswan
      April 7, 2017 / 8:47 pm


      Yes, you are right. Success is about making conscious choices rather than letting those choices be made for you. Pen x

  11. April 7, 2017 / 6:06 pm

    We certainly do try and have it all and then burn ourselves out! It’s just not possible unless we could all clone ourselves into about 3 more of us. It just goes to show how ambitious we all are though, because we always strive for more! #RVHT

    • thesingleswan
      April 7, 2017 / 8:45 pm

      Hi Emma,

      Yep, you are right. I’ve I could clone myself 3 times I reckon I’d be able to do it all. Pen x

  12. April 8, 2017 / 11:46 am

    It’s so difficult isn’t it? I remember crying with my first child because she learned to clap whilst I was at work. She learned to walk too – I was only part time! My youngest has been in full time childcare from being only a few weeks old – now he’s at school and our circumstances are different because his father is too ill to work at the moment. I’ve worked mostly from home to work now assessing qualifications, but it has it’s ups and downs for me too. Sometimes I’m so tired, I just don’t feel motivated. I’m self-employed so the money isn’t guaranteed – last year between August and November, I got paid £90 as the work during that period my subject area dried up and the colleges had funding issues to iron out. My work has been steady ever since which is great. I’m almost finished my course that will mean I’m a fully qualified teacher and I have English degrees so I’m hoping to be able to expand my business if I’m honest – maybe do some freelance teaching face to face, some online teaching, and carry on with the assessing. I could possibly even train others in business skills because I have quite a lot of qualifications, experience and skills. I would love to write my own courses. The flexibility is there with working from home, but I have three children and sometimes working from home is too convenient — because they have to come first. I also have to take the work as it comes, so sometimes I can be working until 3am and still have to get up and do the school run. I also find that I cannot switch off if I have work to do – because it’s too easy to pick up the work, log into the system and pick up emails etc… I can’t relax at all. My housework sometimes suffers as a result.

    Obviously, it is ideal but there are changes I wish I could make. hopefully in the future, I can adapt my business in a way that suits me more. I must admit, that I got paid better wages when I assessed in the community – sometimes I feel like I have the p*ss took out of me because I work from home as the wages are lower, and the way I get paid means that if a learner drops out, I sometimes don’t get paid. Would I prefer to be in work? The truthful answer is no, not full time as I do enjoy the flexibility as it’s so hard being a parent and having to work. I mean even to the point of seeing school assembly or play, or parent’s evening, or when your child is sick, it’s so useful. Other than myself and my husband, there is nobody to care for our children in the family.
    Janet recently posted…Thinking about home educationMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      April 8, 2017 / 7:37 pm

      Goodness me Janet, you have a hell of a lot on your plate. You must be absolutely exhausted. It sounds cliché but I really don’t know how you do it. Hats off to you Janet. I think you are a superstar. Pen x

  13. April 23, 2017 / 7:29 am

    Absolutely love this! It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while and k have a post sitting in my drafts about it all. You may just have given me the confidence to publish it…
    Mrs Lighty recently posted…Lessons Learnt from Renovating a HouseMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      April 23, 2017 / 8:24 pm

      Thank you! Yes, go ahead and publish. Pen x

  14. April 23, 2017 / 6:52 pm

    Life is far too complicated and I agree there’s no happy medium. When I was a single mum of one, I worked 4-5 days a week depending on how often I had to cover other staff. I barely saw my daughter and her dad would see her a lot at weekends. It was hard, I juggled and missed out on a lot. I was frazzled and angry and skint.

    Now with child two I have been able to give up work and attend uni two days a week, his dad works so that I can mostly stay home, but I still have no free time. I enjoy being able to stay at home but despite my best efforts, my house is never tidy and I am never not tired. I know it’s worth it but how does anyone manage?

    #RV&HT is back tonight (Apologies for the late comment, I thought I already had!)
    Jenny (Accidental Hipster Mum) recently posted…Want To Push Your Business Forwards? Tech This AdviceMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      April 23, 2017 / 8:18 pm

      Hi Jenny,

      thanks for your comment. There is no perfect answer is there really. Thanks for sharing your experience. Pen x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge