'Having It All' Is A Myth, And This Is Why

by Laura Myles
A woman typing on her laptop with earplugs in her ear and a cappuccino in front of her
jacoblund / Getty

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 children as if one did not have a job.”

Annabel Crabb

Our mothers and grandmothers changed the world. They campaigned, they marched, and they fought for women’s rights, including the equal right to earn a living for their families. In many ways, they were successful. Women now make up almost half of the workforce. In Canada, more than three-quarters of women between the ages of 25-54 are employed.

As the next generation, we reap the benefit of the doors that they opened. We’ve been raised to believe that we can do anything we want to – that we can have it all. And so we try. We’re earning graduate and professional degrees in greater numbers than ever before. But even as we breakthrough new barriers in the business and professional world, we find that we are still bearing a disproportionate responsibility for the childrearing and household tasks. As a working mom, it’s hard not to think, “This is what they fought for?

Having it all, it turns out, is not all it was cracked up to be. In reality, having it all seems to mean doing it all.

Have a fulfilling career, and do not let your responsibilities as a mother affect your work life. Work harder than ever to demonstrate that you are just as ambitious as you were before children.

Be an involved primary parent. Volunteer in the classroom, join the PTA, coach the soccer team, and throw Pinterest-worthy birthday parties.

Manage the cooking, the cleaning, the schedules, the appointments, the shopping, the to-do list, the social calendar.

Exercise regularly, foster your relationship with your spouse, and, of course, make time for “me” time.

We have so many balls in the air, it feels like any small gust of wind will send the whole thing crashing down. We’re one unexpected sick day away from complete disaster.

I’m five years into this parenthood thing and, in my experience, something has to give. We simply cannot do it all, and we need to stop pretending that we can. This is not what our mothers and grandmothers fought for. They fought so that we could have choices, not so that we would be obligated to do it all.

Choose to “lean in” to a demanding professional career, and delegate more of the childcare and household responsibilities. Choose to step back to an (elusive!) part-time gig, and accept that your professional ambitions may have to be put on the back-burner for the time being. Choose self-employment, knowing that working for yourself makes it incredibly difficult to get true breaks. Or choose to stay home, recognizing that you’re giving up years of earning that can be impossible to make up later. All are equally valid choices. None is an easy choice to make.

Let go of the idea that the house has to be perfect, the cookies for the bake sale need to be homemade, and you should have your “pre-baby” body back. Choose what’s most important to you, and let the rest go. We compare ourselves to the ideal in every category, and it’s simply an impossible standard to meet.

In a perfect world, work-life balance would be more than just a trendy catchphrase. In a perfect world, seeking out a flexible work arrangement would not limit one’s career trajectory. In a perfect world, women wouldn’t bear a disproportionate responsibility for the childrearing and household tasks. Until we get there, we need to stop wearing ourselves thin, chasing the elusive goal of “having it all”.