I feel like a party-pooper for saying it, but I don’t think it’s possible for women or men to ‘have it all’. In fact, I don’t think it’s a good idea for women or men to aim to ‘have it all’. You go through life making decisions, and along the way some sacrifices have to be made. Will you have children? Will you put them into nursery so you can work? Will you go for a promotion? Will you buy a house? Will you move to live abroad? All these decisions come with a sacrifice of some kind, whether it is about how much money you have, what kind of career you build, or how much time you spend with your family. It is typically harder for women to mix work and home life, because we still tend to do the majority of the childcare and the housework. But at the same time I think it is hard for men to break away from expected gender roles as well, it’s just that they have to do it in the opposite direction.
Just after we had our first child, my book Getting the Buggers to Behave took off and I was being offered lots of training work. At the time my partner was in a high powered role, with job security and a great salary. We had to make a decision about whether to prioritise my career or his, because with all the travel I was being asked to do, we couldn’t manage both. So he packed in his job and we set up in business together, and he took on the majority of the childcare and the task of running a home. While I was breast feeding our first baby we would travel the country together for INSET bookings. Our baby wouldn’t take expressed milk from a bottle, so my partner would look after him somewhere in the school during the day, and I would breast feed him in between sessions.
We are lucky enough to run our own business – I regularly remind the kids how fortunate they are to have us around as much of the time as they do. But this choice comes with sacrifices as well. There is no job security, and you can’t afford to be sick, because you don’t get paid if you don’t work. We could earn more money and have more security if we both worked for someone else. But being your own boss means you get control over how you spend your time, plus you can speak your mind more easily as well. Last year we took our children out of school and went travelling with them. This meant a period of several months where I couldn’t earn much money at all. Perhaps the book of the trip will make us our fortune, but we did it because it was something that we wanted to do, not because we wanted to make money doing it.
I’ve been mulling all this over, since Michael Wilshaw made a speech about the early years, earlier this week. He seemed particularly keen on the idea that we should get as many two year olds into schools as we possibly could. With the Government bringing in 30 hours of free childcare for ‘working parents’, there is clearly a drive to get new parents back into work a.s.a.p. But here’s the thing. When you decide to have children, you sit down with your partner and you talk it over. And (if your circumstances allow) you could decide to prioritise time spent with your small children, over career prospects or money in the bank. You might not; but you could. Because you can only spend time with your children once, and they don’t stay small forever. We all make choices, all of the time. And we don’t need to ‘have it all’, but we do need to decide what it is that we truly want to have.