I don’t think women can really ‘have it all’. There, I said it. Of course, I’m open to somebody disproving this thought, but it seems to me that unless you’re willing to give up something, you’ll be spread so thinly that your mental health will suffer.
I used to be ashamed to tell people that at 15 my dream was to marry somebody rich, have children and not have to work. As I’ve grown older (I’m now over double that age. Blergh), I’ve realised that the reason I felt this way was down to TV, books and the general consensus that a woman’s place was ‘looking after the home’. This was the dream scenario.
Thankfully, a lot has changed in 15 years and I’m even more thankful that my mindset switched long before the general population’s. That meant I focused on my education, rather than assuming that I’d only be working for a couple of years before popping out some children.
You’re not fooling us
A lot of bosses hate maternity leave. They can pretend they don’t mind – because by law they can’t, but don’t think we don’t see you.
I’ve lost count of the amount of people who have had negative experiences with their work after trying to return after maternity leave. Some have been slyly coerced into different roles, others have been demoted in all but the title. One friend of mine was even told that she wouldn’t be put up for a management position if she had any time off within the next two years.
I mean, WHAT?
Day in, day out, women are hiding pregnancies until their bodies physically won’t allow them to anymore. When I was pregnant, content creator Lily Pebbles said that since having a baby opportunities to work with certain brands had diminished purely because they didn’t want a mum advertising their products.
I got lucky
I’m self-employed, as I’m sure you’re aware. I go on about it enough. I thought this was going to be an absolute nightmare for me, but I’m lucky to work with people who actually like women. I do feel like I need to give a special mention to Hoxby here. Hoxby is a collective of freelancers who work with pretty major brands. I started working again on a project I’ve been on for the past two years only to realise that I’m not ready. I said as much and instead of making me feel guilty, they simply said ‘we get it, whenever you’re ready, come back’. Er, can we have some more companies like this, please?
Having a baby is a minefield and with all of the well-intentioned plans you put in place before they arrive, you never know how you’ll deal with parenthood until you’re knee deep in another human’s faeces at 3am.
I would describe myself as extremely career-driven. I thought I’d go back to work within a couple of months. I was not prepared to be completely floored by this tiny human who I enjoy being with so much I couldn’t bear the thought of having to do anything other than stare at him.
You just never know what’s going to happen, so it seems somewhat futile for employers to expect you to make plans on your return before you’ve even had your baby. Between traumatic births and global pandemics that make us all feel a bit clingier than usual, surely flexibility is key?
We all feel the pressure
In researching for this article, I read this piece in The Atlantic entitled ‘why women still can’t have it all’. It’s a great read by a Anne-Marie Slaughter on her time as the first woman director of policy planning in the State Department. She talks eloquently about how she was sipping champagne with Barrack Obama and the only thing on her mind was her son.
She was encouraged – as a career woman – not to write an article entitled ‘why women still can’t have it all’ because it sent a negative message to the younger generations. It screamed CHOOSE. Choose a career or choose parenthood but you can’t have both.
Slaughter chose parenthood. She left Washington to be more present for her two boys, opting to work in a more freelance capacity. Even though she’s still very successful in her own right, people comment on what a ‘shame’ it is that she chose being a mum.
Personally, I don’t think it sends a negative message to younger generations. A realistic message, perhaps, but not negative. The reason I say that is because you never know what the future will bring until you’re in it. 15-year-old me would’ve been shacked up with my first boyfriend while he went out to work and I tidied the house for him. 31-year-old me shudders (violently) at the thought.
How will we manage?
All any of us can do is see how things go.
I think it’s important to have an honest conversation with your partner which involves finding a compromise between what you would ideally like to do and what you can afford to do. Then, you have to marry them up and meet somewhere in the middle.
Some people will want to go back to work, regardless of money. Work – for so many people – is something they love (and it should be, right?) so they don’t want to give it up. Others would rather stop working altogether until their children go to nursery or school.
There’s no universal right answer. There’s only what feels right in your gut (and for your bank balance).
For now, I’m going to go back part-time in January. If you’d asked me this before I had Isaac, I would’ve said I’d be back to work in February 2021. At my current rate, I’m going back 11 months later than planned. I’m still doing bits and pieces – as my clients will know – but nothing that takes up more than a couple of hours on sporadic evenings.
It feels right. I’ve followed my gut so far and I’m happy. So, while I might have to put my plans for career world-domination on hold for a while, I’m happy with my short-term plan. And, happy is all any of us can hope to be, right?