My husband has it all. So do I. What are you going to do about it?

Disclaimer: I really don't mean this to come across as a criticism of stay at home mums - only those people, men or women, working or not, parents or not, who claim that it's the only valid choice. Also, I don't normally read Good Housekeeping or the Daily Mail!

J has two children and a full time job. J is, on the whole, happy, fulfilled, and wouldn't dream of giving up either children or career. 

How likely is this scenario?

Well, according to some people, including actress Emma Thompson in an interview for Good Housekeeping, and Lorraine Candy in the Daily Mail, it is highly unlikely for about 50% of the population of developed countries, and highly likely for the other half. Does it depend on how fulfilling the job is, how well-paid, how good an access to childcare A has, and A's other living conditions? You'd think these things would make a difference - working in a factory 10 hours a day to support three kids single handedly while living in a tiny flat may make for a slightly less satisfying life than an interesting writing or teaching job, a partner who also earns, two kids and a house.
But no, it's a lot simpler. If you're a man, you can have a career and a family. If you're a woman, you can't.

A woman, no matter what she says cannot have it all, according to these clear-minded people. A man, on the other hand, can. Or at least, a man should work: that's his life, even if he's a father. But a woman has to put husband and children first. If she fails to do that, she will pay, not because society will blame her, but because she will find it too hard and will be fundamentally unfulfilled. Probably, she'll end up popping pills or hitting the gin to help cope with the stress and the dissatisfaction.

Why? Well, the stress thing I get. Yes, it's hard to work and look after the children and do all the housework and cooking. So I don't reckon a single mother particularly likes it when people refer to her as ' having it all'. Doing it all more like. The rest of us? The married ones, or the ones with partners who take equal responsibility for bringing up their kids? Who said we had to do it all? Is your husband fundamentally incapable of pushing a hoover around, cooking pasta, putting clothes on a child? Or are you so damn good at those things that you don't want anyone else to do them? Or is his job so much more important than yours that he has to work long hours while you do everything at home?

He gets paid more, you say? Why is that, then? Is he more clever than you, a better worker? Or was he just clocking in more hours in the office while you took time off to have a baby? So maybe now he can take a bit of time off so you get the chance to put your career back on tracks while he takes the kids to school in the morning.

No? You say you don't want to do that? You prefer to spend more time with your children and don't have a career you care about that much? Well that's great. That's your choice, and I'm glad you have it. A couple of things though. Just because you want to make that choice doesn't mean you can criticise other women who don't. If you really feel that young children must be looked after by a parent then have a go at the fathers. Us mothers have taken plenty enough shit already. Also, have you considered whether the father of your children has that choice? Just because he's a man doesn't have to mean he loves his work. Just because he's a man doesn't have to mean he'd not like to spend more time with his kids. But if you stay at home while he has to earn, he probably can't.

Sure, a woman should have certain privileges when it comes to making the choice of staying home with young children. After all, you carry them around in your womb for nine months - you might like a bit of time to get acquainted with them, make sure they're as comfortable outside as they were inside, finish the job you started. But there comes a point when you're no longer the only person who's suited to that job, and when your partner might feel he's just as qualified. Or when you might both feel a professional child-minder is just as qualified.

So yes, I have it all: I work and look after my kids. My husband has it all too - the exact same deal. We're happy. We don't think child care or housework is my responsibility rather than his, or that I have more of a right to be close to our children than he does. Our children? They're happy too. They get to spend time with both their parents after school - they don't have an omnipresent mother or an absent father. They spend time with a child-minder too, a couple of afternoons a week. They get on with her just fine and miss her during the holiday. They get to do things with her that they don't do with us. Because we're not omnipotent, or omniscient. We can't be every thing to our children all the time. And that doesn't really bother us.

Emma Thompson says that 'having it all' is a 'revolting concept' (I kid you not). Lorraine Candy reckons that choosing whether or not to have a career when you have kids is like deciding which wire to cut when you're dismantling a bomb. But no, it's not revolting, and it's not like dismantling a bomb. If your career fulfils you, there's no reason you can't have children and it. You just have to make sure your children's father pulls his weight, and find a child-minder you can trust. The only thing that makes it hard is people telling you that you can't and that you shouldn't want to do it. So, Emma, Lorraine: shut the fuck up, will you?

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Michelloui said...

I think 'having it all' is a very subjective concept!

I have it all because I get to stay at home, run the house and the admin for it's many occupants, be at home for any children that need me, do the gardening, experiment with meals not just look for the quickest thing to put on the table after work, meet friends for coffee about once every two weeks...AND I also work part-time (from home).

This is a good balance for me. I am happy and I think of myself as having it all. But if I were a big career girl I would most likely be disappointed with this combination, and therefor would claim that it is impossible to have it all!

Sandrine said...

Michelloui: I think you're absolutely right. Having it all means being able to live your life as you see fit, and not because someone else decides that as a woman, you should do x and y. Also, I do think it's harder for someone who's a hotshot lawyer or works in the city, or some other kind of high pressure, big money job, also to have a fulfilling home life. But that goes for men as much as women, and really shouldn't be held against women who want to work and be mothers, as it often is.

Melanie said...

This crap that people put out there is just a way to hold women back and make them feel guilty for having successful careers. Tons of big shot career women also think that they have it all. Just because someone is staying home doesn't make them any better of a mother or a more fulfilled person than anyone else. I would feel depressed and like a wife on "Mad Men" if I had to stay home and take care of the kids and house all day.

Looking for Blue Sky said...

And why is it so often women criticising other women? I think that every family has to do what works for them. Some families have choices so that mothers and fathers can work outside the home or not. And that is great for them. Others either have to work to pay the bills: or cannot afford the childcare to be able to work even though they may want to. I would not criticise anyone's choice: unless they are being a martyr about it anyway!

Sandrine said...

Melanie - Yes, I do feel people are beating up on women to make them fit into a mold that only a few would actually feel comfortable with. Conversely, I reckon there are some men out there who'd be much happier as stay at home dads, and they're just not given the chance, because they're being made to fit in some other mold. Sexism is stupid.

Sandrine said...

Looking for blue sky: You are absolutely right. Both the Mail and Good Housekeeping made it sound as though being a working mother is always a choice - an unwise one at that. They seem to forget that just like men, most women who work do so because they have to pay the bills! But beating up on women who choose to work or not is ridiculous anyway. At least women who work try to fit in time for their children too. Is that true of the majority of men who work? I don't think so? (But also, as I was saying to Melanie, some men might just prefer to be SAHD and don't really have that choice.)

JulieB said...

Interestingly was thinking along the very same lines over the weekend. Fantastic post - agree so, so much.

Sandrine said...

Very glad you agree. There seems to be a lot of backlash against working mothers just at the moment. But you'd really think that people had realised by now that women weren't the only parents out there!

PhotoPuddle said...

Just like breastfeeding and natural births it's just another thing women can't get right whatever they do. I am a firm believer that you have to do what works best for you and your family. If that's going to work then go for it and if it's staying home that's great too.
I am a stay-at-home mum and at the moment I really believe I have it all. I get to spend every day with my little girl as she experiences her first few years in this world. I was never really a career woman so it's great to be able to have a couple of years off work to focus on other things. I have many more years of work left ahead of me and hopefully when I do go back I'll be more focused and dedicated on whatever it is I choose to do next.

Sandrine said...

PhotoPuddle: yes, whatever we do, someone will complain! I think that when it comes to being a working mother and 'having it all' a big part of the equation is whether you have a job that you're passionate about and that allows you to spend time with your family. I don't suppose I'd have counted myself lucky to work if I'd had a boring job that took up all my time! But then again, nor would my husband. So for me, having it all, means being in a position to enjoy your life to the full, and for some people, for some period in their lives, that means not working and spending time with those they love instead!

blue milk said...

Interesting post. I love hearing how other feminists are managing their home lives with their partners.

Sandrine said...

Thanks for dropping by Blue Milk - I'm a big fan of your blog.
I think it's a lot easier to organise your home life as a feminist when both partners have similar jobs, and are at the same stage in their career. That way no one can say 'but I earn more money' or 'I really need to put in more hours right now'. Still, it takes a lot of organising to share every thing out equally. But it's worth it and I wouldn't have it any other way!

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