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.
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.
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…