She has a successful career, comes home to a clean and tidy house, warmly welcomed by thriving children and loving husband with whom she spends quality time. As she values her social life she manages to go out for drinks with supportive and fun friends while keeping her body toned and healthy by working up a sweat on the treadmill every day.
Is this actually possible or just a foolish and utopian dream? Maybe you can think of a woman who seems to have it all. How annoying, I mean, how wonderful for those few women who appear to have cracked the mystery of how to have it all and still manage to walk out of the house with blow-dried hair.
What woman does not wish she could have it all?
The pursuit of the “having it all” dream can motivate us to work towards seeking fulfilment in different areas of life. When the answer to “who am I?” is made up of various roles and interests, I am creating a more balanced life. So if my identity is not solely tied up to my children for example, I am in a better place to handle the storm of disobeying children who shout “I hate you mummy” and the lack of appreciation and gratitude that often goes along with being a mother. A lunch with supportive colleagues or a meaningful hobby can mitigate some of those uneasy phases in other areas of my life.
But let’s go back to this imaginary woman who apparently has it all. What sacrifices, compromises and heartaches has she endured in order to keep up this juggling act
Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi talks candidly about her experiences in trying to manage her intense personal and professional life: ‘having it all’ is just an illusion that comes with painful sacrifices and tradeoffs.
With only 24 hours in the day, whatever you say yes to, you say no to something else. You may often find yourself making uncomfortable and unavoidable choices between competing demands: do I go to my child’s school play or take out that very important client for dinner? There are endless opportunities for making such difficult decisions and prioritising one role over another.
Nooyi also talks about the heavy cross most working mothers carry in their hectic day to day life: guilt.
Guilt is one of the most common talked about emotions in the counselling room. And nobody seems immune to it – not even me with all my fancy breathing techniques. My mind gives me a hard time too about being a bad mummy, putting work first or neglecting my husband’s needs.
No matter how much you juggle, compromise, or stretch yourself, guilty feelings will still come along. So best to expect this unwelcome visitor to show up, pull up a chair and leave it be. You don’t have to give it lots of attention – just notice it, thank the mind and then focus again on your busy to do list.
The women who appear to cope better with this juggling act are the best at asking for help. Practical, emotional, social support is not optional if you want to keep things in balance. Let go of trying to do it all, do it well, and by yourself – learn how to ask for what you need. Trying to be strong may not be helpful to you at all so share the burden whenever you can.
The other tricky part of trying to accomplish so much is that it is easy to get caught up in a mindless busy doing mode always thinking about what’s next. It’s like you’re there but you’re not really there (your kids will be the first to show you the error of your ways).
So make time to just be, focus on what you are doing in the moment; be fully present whether it’s playing with your child, listening to your husband or writing e-mails – rather than make a shopping list in your head at the same time. By practicing these moments of presence (or uni-tasking) you may find yourself more energised, fulfilled and less overwhelmed.
You can also try this simple exercise:
- Take ten slow breaths
- Start by breathing out as slowly as you can until the lungs are completely empty, notice the slight contraction of the body as you breathe out, notice the ribcage rise as the breath moves in again.
- Engage your senses: look around and notice what you see, notice also what you can taste, touch, smell and hear (maybe try to spot the faintest sound you can hear).
- Notice your body: observe all the different sensations be they comfortable or uncomfortable. Are you holding some tension in your shoulders, forehead, hands? Let it go as you breathe out slowly. Do a gentle stretch and slowly come back.
I really don’t think we can have it all, we are only human after all. Let’s just savour small successes and be compassionate about our personal shortcomings.
Now I better go off to tackle that thirty item To-Do list that just seems to be getting longer by the day…
About the Writer
Silvia Wetherell is Co-Founder of MumRadar. She works as a counsellor and psychotherapist in an obstetric setting and has a special interest in maternal mental health. Originally from Portugal and much time spent in England, she now lives in Singapore with her husband and two young children. Silvia is also a Postpartum Support International Coordinator and Co-founder of the support group Mindful Mums.
Silvia has the loudest laugh, loves swimming in the ocean and snuggling on the sofa with her two cats, Jaffa and Freddie.