Why we need to stop asking if we can have it all

I’m a little tired of the ‘having it all’ conversation.

Because the ‘can we or can we not have it all?’ question misses the whole point entirely.

It’s the wrong question. The question should be: what needs to change to support women to have the life that they choose?


The sticking point isn’t can women have it or not, because that question seeks a decision based on giving permission. Yes, she can, or no, she cannot. It then sparks a debate that centres on why she can or why she can’t. Or shouldn’t according to some misogynist comments I see online.

We don’t need permission to have both a family and fulfillment.

Rather, there needs to be an implicit acceptance that some women want a fulfilling work life – or need to work – as well as motherhood and that there are currently obstacles that make that reality neither physically nor emotionally sustainable.

So let’s stop debating about can we and talk instead about facilitating change to make it easier for everyone – women, men and children – to live in a way that is fulfilling, joyful, abundant and meaningful.

Because work-life balance isn’t a women’s issue – it’s a family issue. It’s a people issue. It’s a flexibility issue.

The facts are that women have increasingly entered the workforce over the past two generations and the workforce has not yet shifted enough to accommodate the way people live, not just mothers.

Females will continue to work, chase their dreams, scale the corporate ladder or go into business, and they will continue to be the ones to bear children so working mums and working families are here to stay.

If we want our daughters to have a less overwhelmed lifestyle, just as we want that for ourselves, then the discussion needs to shift to solutions because the status quo is creating a generation of stressed out, overwhelmed and frustrated women.

If instead we open up the discussion on flexibility, then perhaps both men and women can find a balance that works for them and their individual family unit.

As it stands, the current work life doesn’t match home life and flexible working arrangements for both parents opens up space for the entire family, rather than relying on the standard one-size-fits-all gender-stereotyped roles.

Business hours are still based on the past and structured on the premise that there is a woman at home taking care of hearth and home while the man is out to work. And we all know that is a long way from reality. Women’s participation rates in the workforce after motherhood have been steadily on the increase for the past 30 years (my generation) and the majority of mothers now work outside the home.

A standard 9-5 day doesn’t allow for the school run or dinner time. The standard 38-hour week doesn’t have much give in it at all, especially when you have kids in tow.

The concept that the longer hours you put in at the office, then the better employee you are is just nonsense. Replacing an hourly rate mentality with one that is project base where possible (job and finish) makes far more sense and allows for those who happen to be able to work fast, get the job done quicker and have more time for other things (like family, exercise, life!).

We are still being bombarded with narrow policy discussion that centres around the cost of childcare and benefits, rather than taking a broader view – of creating policies that open up flexible working hours for mothers AND fathers (and those without kids too just quietly); that provide incentives for businesses that think outside the 40-hour work week box and aim to create sustainable productivity practices that enable human beings the time and space for self-care and wellbeing.

Is it time perhaps that we have corporate and government leaders who value work-life balance, rather than seeing it as two separate entities and that only one has any economic value or contribution?

The definition of ‘all’ is also outdated. This debate (conversation) still revolves around the idea of a woman having children and a fulltime job/career. The ‘all’ though is a highly changeable and individual metric – it can be any combination of family hours, work or business fulfillment, but also time for self-care, holidays, travel, hobbies, friends, spirituality practice, time freedom, financial freedom, community contribution.

Trying to quantify it ‘all’ simply in terms of two dimensions of family and work is … two dimensional.

I believe the tide is turning though. Not just for our generation of working mothers, but for those women and men following after us. The next generation are far less likely to settle for inflexible arrangements, and the internet has changed the playing field forever creating opportunities for women to find other ways to strike the right combination of fulfillment and family.

More and more people are establishing their own businesses with online store-fronts and offices effectively allowing a global marketplace; and the ability to take work with you rather than going to work is a very real option for some professions and industry.

Across the board, recognising that flexibility isn’t about making life easy for women, but making life work better for families, is a fundamental shift that stands to benefit everyone.

I’d love to hear your thoughts below. Do you have flexible working arrangements? If not, how would your life be different if you did?

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